Half-sisters Renuka Shinde and Seema Gavit, set to become the first women to be hanged in India, and their late mother were thieves who kidnapped children, used them to divert public attention, and murdered at least five of them, including one by banging his head against an electric pole.
Charged along with their mother Anjana with the kidnapping of 13 children and the murder of 10 of them, they were convicted by the Supreme Court in 2006 of five of those murders besides the kidnappings. Last week, President Pranab Mukherjee rejected their mercy petition.
According to the sisters’ defence counsel, the murders had been committed by their mother, who died two years after their arrest in 1996.
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The reason for kidnapping the children was to take them to crowded places where one of them would try to pick people’s belongings. If the thief was caught, the person carrying it would either try to evoke sympathy through the child, or create a distraction by hurting it. According to one of the instances cited by the prosecution, Anjana flung kidnapped toddler Santosh to the ground when Seema had been caught trying to snatch a purse. It gave him a head injury but the sight of the bleeding baby created enough of a commotion to allow Seema to flee.
Santosh eventually became the victim of the first of the murders for which they would be convicted. To stop him crying, Anjana banged his head against an electric pole. They disposed of his body near an old rickshaw heap.
Their victims varied from a daughter of Anjana’s former husband to a beggar’s baby. The police described how, in Thane, Renuka took a beggar’s child in her arms and gave her money to buy milk for the child, then slipped away after she left. This child would later be abandoned at a temple.
“They very cleverly executed their plans of kidnapping the children and the moment they were no longer useful, they killed them,” a bench of K G Balakrishnan and G P Mathur observed while confirming the death penalty. “They had been a menace to the society and the people in these cities were completely horrified and they could not send their children even to schools. The appellants had not been committing these crimes under any compulsion but they took it very casually and killed all these children least bothering about their lives or agony of their parents.”
Lives in crime
Renuka is now in her late forties and Seema in her late thirties. Their mother, who died soon after their arrests in 1996, hailed from Nashik and, according to the prosecution, fled to Pune with a truck driver, who deserted her soon after Renuka was born. “We don’t know how she survived but she must have done it by stealing. That’s the only skill she had,” said K M Bomache, lawyer for approver Kiran Shinde, Renuka’s husband.
Anjana married a retired soldier, Mohan Gavit, but after Seema was born, he too deserted Anjana and married again in Nashik. Anjana took her daughters to Nashik but couldn’t persuade him to take them in. The prosecution says Anjana carried out a number of thefts in that city using her younger daughter as a bait.
They left Nashik after about a year. The kidnappings and murders followed in Pune, Thane, Kalyan, Kolhapur, and Nashik over the next few years, with most of the cases registered in Kolhapur, where they were later tried in the sessions court. They were arrested in Nashik for the kidnapping of Kranti, daughter of Mohan Gavit by his later marriage. They were charged with Kranti’s murder too but not convicted.
Kiran Shinde had married Renuka in 1989 in a temple near Shirdi. He drove the getaway car in the kidnappings.
Defence lawyer Manik Mulik, who insists the sisters were not “even 1 per cent” involved, says: “The case against the sisters is mostly based on the statement of approver Kiran Shinde. When he was arrested, he gave a confessional statement before a magistrate naming Anjana as having carried out the kidnappings and killings with the sisters having little role to play. As Anjana died even before the trial began, the police made him change his statement before the court. In the new statement he blamed his wife and sister-in-law.”
In 1996, the three travelled to Nashik and stayed with the family of Mohan Gavit. After a few weeks, they kidnapped his nine-year-old daughter, Kranti. According to the prosecution, the child was killed and her body dumped in a sugarcane field at Narsoba near Pune. Investigating officer Mandaleshwar Madhavrao Kale submitted to the court that the three returned after a few months, unaware that Gavit’s wife Pratima had lodged a police complaint.
In an interview given to Tehelka magazine in 2006, Kale said the sisters had planned to kill Pratima’s other daughter too. “Pratima alerted the cops, who then nabbed Renuka and Seema. The sisters confessed to killing Pratima’s daughter in Pune under their mother’s instructions. The sisters led us to the mother. From the belongings we seized, we found more clues. There were many cases of missing children, registered during the same time between 1990 and 1996. We investigated and found that in many of these cases which happened in Pune, Nashik and Kolhapur, the trio was involved,” the magazine quoted Kale as saying.
The case was transferred to the state CID, which then prosecuted the sisters for kidnapping 13 children and killing ten of them. The trial court that convicted them of six murders cited lack of evidence in the other four.
“Just before they were sentenced to death by the trial court, the judge asked them to make a statement. They chose to remain silent,” lawyer Mulik said. The high court upheld the conviction in five murders; the Supreme Court went with this view.
“When their appeal was pending in Bombay High Court, I met them in Yerwada Jail. They kept telling me they were innocent and were sure they would be acquitted,” Mulik said.
SERIAL MURDERS & THE VICTIMS:
April 1991: The first victim is Santosh, a year old when he had been kidnapped in July 1990 from a beggar at the state transport bus stand in Kolhapur. His head was banged against an electricity pole.
April 1991 to November 1996: 11 more children kidnapped, police chargesheet Anjana and daughters Renuka and Seema for killing 8 of them (conviction finally upheld is for 5 murders).
October 1996: 10th victim is Kranti, daughter of Anjana’s husband with another wife. Anjana and her daughters chargesheeted for kidnapping her and killing her near Pune, but sisters not convicted of this murder.
ARRESTS & DEATH
November 19, 1996: Anjana, Seema, Renuka arrested along with Renuka’s husband, Kiran Shinde, who would later turn approver.
1998: Anjana dies of illness at age 50.
June 29, 2001: Sessions court convicts sisters of kidnapping 13 children and killing 6 — Santosh, Anjali, Raja, Shraddha, Gauri, Pankaj.
September 9, 2004: High Court upholds the conviction but acquits them of the kidnapping and murder of Raja.
August 31, 2006: Supreme Court confirms death sentence.
August 14, 2014: President Pranab Mukherjee rejects mercy petition.