A Delhi court on Saturday convicted two men accused of raping a five-year-old girl in east Delhi in 2013, observing that “the crime against the victim was committed in a most grotesque and revolting manner and the collective conscience of the community was shaken”.
Right after Additional Sessions Judge (ASJ) Naresh Kumar pronounced the order, the two convicts, Manoj Shah and Pradeep Kumar, assaulted journalists recording footage on their mobile phones outside the courtroom. The two men were whisked away by police, following which the ASJ summoned the chowki in-charge to apprise him about the assault. One woman journalist told the court that Manoj slapped her on the face. The ASJ asked the journalist to file an FIR in the matter.
Manoj and Pradeep were convicted under Sections 376 (D), 376 (2) (i), 363, 342, 201, 307 and 34 of the IPC and Section 6 of the POCSO Act. The offences carry a maximum punishment of life imprisonment. The court fixed January 30 for arguments on quantum of sentence.
While reading out his order, ASJ Malhotra said, “In our society, minor girls are worshipped as goddesses on certain occasions but in the present case, the victim child, who was aged 5 years at the time of the incident, had experienced exceptional depravity and extreme brutality. The crime against the victim was committed in a most grotesque and revolting manner and the collective conscience of the community was shaken, “ ASJ Malhotra said while pronouncing the verdict.
The victim’s father told The Indian Express, “I am happy with the verdict. It took us a long time to fight this case. My daughter is far removed from all this. She does not remember what happened to her. We do not talk about it. I want her to lead a normal life.”
In 2013, while the girl was playing outside her house, the two men, her neighbours, allegedly lured her to their building and raped her. Then they allegedly fled believing the victim had died. Almost 40 hours after she went missing, she was rescued from Manoj’s house after a resident heard her crying.
The police said some foreign materials – three pieces of a candle and one bottle of hair oil – were retrieved from the victim’s private parts.
The Delhi Police had been accused of shoddy investigation in this case after they failed to question the residents of the area after she went missing. Three police officers were suspended for their negligence. After a public outcry, the Delhi Police managed to arrest Manoj and Pradeep from Muzzafarnagar and Darbhanga respectively in Bihar in 2013.
The trial in the case, which took place months after the December 2012 gang rape and murder case, lasted more than six years – there were 56 prosecution witnesses to be examined and seven judges heard the case. According to court records, it took more than five years just to complete the prosecution evidence.
While holding the two guilty, the court had mainly relied on circumstantial evidence. Police had found a blood-stained shirt and a carpet with blood stains at the crime spot, tying it to the accused persons. Police also recovered from Manoj a piece of paper with the name ‘Raj’, an alias used by Manoj, along with the latter’s phone number. They also submitted a forensic report that confirmed that this piece of paper was torn from a diary recovered from Manoj.
In an attempt to fast-track the case, ASJ Malhotra, who has heard the case since February last year, had been hearing arguments daily for the last two months.
The trial was also kept in limbo for some time after Pradeep moved an application before the Delhi High Court claiming that he was a juvenile at the time of his arrest. The trial court took three years to decide his application of juvenility and on April 12, 2017, transferred the case to Juvenile Justice Board (JJB). Pradeep was granted bail by the JJB in June that year.
Following this, the mother of the rape victim moved the Delhi High Court against the trial court’s order. In 2018, the High Court declared Pradeep was not a juvenile and sent him to trial before the sessions court.
It also took almost a year for the POCSO court to complete recording of the statement of both the accused, from December 5, 2018, to September 25, 2019, following which the prosecution and the defence counsel completed their final arguments in December last year.
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