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.
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 continued…