On a cloudy day in a quiet neighbourhood on Pune’s outskirts, a young man in a puffy jacket and sunglasses rode a red motorcycle on the mushy road leading to his 1BHK rented house. As the 25-year-old, slightly built and shy, dismounted and removed his dark glasses, his three younger stepbrothers waiting inside greeted him.
In a house with little furniture except a plastic chair and a table to place a television set, he leant against the wall while the younger ones sat on the floor.
“The three of them remember nothing about our mother’s past. They were too young,” he said. Pointing at his youngest brother who is in class IX, he said, “He was only six months old when Mummy was taken to jail. I had to be their mother and father both.”
The three younger brothers visit their mother Renuka Shinde and aunt Seema Gavit at Yerwada central prison for 30 minutes every fortnight. A recent change in prison rules, however, no longer permits their elder brother to visit her as his surname doesn’t match. “I have not been able to visit her for seven or eight months,” said the eldest, born of Renuka’s first marriage.
The boys know their mother and aunt have been handed the death sentence and that the President has turned down their mercy petition. The half-sisters, set to be the first women to be hanged in the country, have since moved Bombay High Court for commutation citing an inordinate delay in deciding their mercy plea, and the government has told the court that it will not execute them until the matter is disposed of.
“I was about 10 years old when we were sent to a children’s remand home in Kolhapur and Mummy, Mavshi (aunt) and Aaji (grandmother) were arrested. That is where we were raised,” said the eldest son.
Renuka and Seema were arrested on November 19, 1996. Along with their mother Anjanabai, since deceased, they were accused of kidnapping 13 children between 1990 and 1996 from various places in Maharashtra, using them to gain sympathy after committing thefts, and later killing many of them. Of nine murders, the sisters and their mother were convicted of five.
“I have memories of my mother and my aunt. We all lived together when I was young,” the eldest said. “I am the only one who has read the chargesheet. It’s hard to believe that my mother and aunt could be held guilty of such crimes.”
Renuka married Kiran Shinde, her second husband, in 1989. Kiran, who allegedly drove vehicles in which the children were kidnapped, turned approver against the sisters but proceedings against him, too, are pending in Bombay High Court.
The boys keep no contact with him. “He never came to visit us at the remand home or anytime after that,” says the second eldest, 22. “A police officer once told me that he lived in Hadapsar. But Hadapsar is such a big town, how were we going to locate him?”
While still in a children’s home in Kolhapur, the boys were continued…