AFTER THE special court awarded him the death sentence for killing Preeti Rathi, Ankur Panwar, the 26-year old hotel management graduate, remained standing in the witness box. Panwar, who was Preeti’s neighbour in the Bhakra Beas Management Board quarters in Delhi for over two decades, had maintained throughout the trial that he was falsely implicated.
After he returned to the back of the courtroom where the accused are seated, Panwar kept standing as lawyers, media persons and Preeti’s relatives began to leave the room. While crossing Panwar, Preeti’s younger brother, Hitesh had an exchange of words with him and tried to hit him. The police escort party had to slap Hitesh to separate the two.
Later, Panwar broke down a few times. Panwar, whose mother Kailash Devi was in the city on Tuesday when he was pronounced guilty, was alone on Thursday. “I was ready for a lie detector or narco-analysis test. I kept insisting for a CBI inquiry and still do. I am not scared of being sentenced to death but I know I have not done this,” he said.
Panwar said one of the eyewitnesses in the case, Preeti’s uncle Vinod Dahia, who was travelling with her from Delhi to Mumbai, had given a statement to the police in May that he had seen the attacker on the train. In January, when Panwar was arrested, Dahia identified him as the attacker.
“I was very regular at the Rathi household even after Preeti’s death and when her body was brought home. How is it that the uncle did not recognise me then and tell the police that I had killed her?” Panwar asked. The second among three siblings, Panwar said his family’s condition prevented him from getting the support system needed to defend himself.
“My father is handicapped and could not travel to Mumbai. Nobody else could come and run around for me. I could not get proper defence for most of the trial. My family had approached various authorities, including the home ministry, but got no help,” said Panwar.
His family members too alleged that the crime branch had falsely implicated him. “Preeti was like my own daughter. I too want her to get justice, but sentencing an innocent man to death will not do that. My son was with me on the day of the incident in Delhi. We will prove his innocence before the Bombay High Court,” said Narayanlal, Panwar’s father, who works as a telephone attendant in Delhi. Ankur’s elder sister, Anju, said that the prosecution case that he was in love with Preeti was false.
“He used to call her Didi and the two were not even in the same city. Preeti was studying outside Delhi and Ankur was in Odisha. Did the police show any calls or texts between them? We are financially poor and could not get a good defence for him in the beginning. Our lives have come to a standstill since his arrest,” Anju said.