Exactly four years to the day, a call from Mumbai in the wee hours shattered our existence announcing the gruesome murder of our daughter Pallavi. The call was from her fiancé Avik Sengupta, to whom she was to get married shortly. Pallavi was very particular that the marriage has to be in winter to allow her to dress up in the bridal finery and jewelry of her choice, which of course was being planned, designed and collected by her mother for over a decade. Little did we know then that her bridal finery would continue to languish in the almirah.
We thought we were the most affected by Pallavi’s death, but there was Avik, who silently suffered her violent death and not being able to cope with the loss, left this world on November 14, 2013. RIP both, wherever you are.
The Mumbai police arrested the culprit, Sajjad Mogul, outside the Mumbai Central railway station as he was about to board a train for Kashmir. Charges under sections 302 (murder), 354 (assault or criminal force to woman with the intent to outrage her modesty), 449 (house trespass in order to commit offence punishable with death) of IPC and Section 37 (1)(A) read with 135 of Bombay Police Act 1951(possession of knife in contravention of ban) were brought against him by Mumbai Police. In the trial before the court of the sessions for Greater Bombay, Mogul pleaded not guilty.
The additional sessions court of V.V. Joshi found the accused guilty and sentenced him to rigorous imprisonment for life. Though the case met every parameter laid down by the Supreme Court for awarding capital punishment and the prosecution pleading for death penalty, the sessions court did not award capital punishment to the convict. The Maharashtra government appealed before the Mumbai High Court for enhancing the punishment from life to capital punishment. The appeal is pending for hearing for about two years now.
Mogul was lodged in Nasik jail from where he managed to get out on parole, that too without any police protection, on or around February 28, 2016 for 30 days, at the end of which he did not return. Divisional Commissioner of Nasik, Eknath Rajaram Dawale, said he allowed parole on the recommendation of the jailor. He had not bothered to consult Mumbai Police, seek permission of the Mumbai High Court and/or the state government, despite an appeal of the state government for capital punishment pending for hearing. His explanation was baffling as it was his responsibility to examine all aspects of the case before ordering the convict’s parole. His action not only nullified the hard work done by Mumbai Police but also created an embarrassing situation for the state government by facilitating a convict, against whom the state itself has gone on appeal, to escape from justice.
All this could have been avoided if the sessions court had abided by the guidelines laid down by the SC in defining the “rarest of rare case” for awarding of death penalty and had awarded the same to the accused.
The convict, Mogul, was employed as a security guard in the housing complex where Pallavi and Avik lived. He harboured for some time the sinister motive to attack the victim to satisfy his lust, as is evinced from the statement of Avik and the confession of Mogul’s colleagues. The convict had planned to kill Pallavi after committing the crime so as to leave no evidence of his involvement. He sensed an opportunity on the fateful night when, unsuspectingly, Pallavi replied to his query on the whereabouts of Avik. He would not return before the next morning. He came after midnight, armed with a knife, to commit the crime. When Pallavi fought to save her dignity and honour, the brute stabbed her 16 times and slit her throat. It requires planning and a depraved mind to commit such crimes, which only seasoned criminals possess.
Pallavi was a young, responsible member of society. As an accomplished swimmer she had represented her schools and states. A law graduate, she was working as an executive in a firm. The uncommonness of this crime that a security guard responsible for protecting the victim had committed, is enough reason to necessitate the death penalty for the convict.
Surprisingly, the sessions judge could not see any of these telling facts. She wrote in her judgement “16 times stabbing is cruelty but not extreme cruelty…”(to merit death penalty)! Exactly how many times must a victim be stabbed to merit extreme cruelty in your dictionary, Justice Joshi?
While disagreeing with the demand of the prosecution on award for death penalty, she further wrote, “when the accused saw Pallavi in scanty clothes, he was sexually excited… therefore aggravating fact of pre-planning is not there”. This, the judge reasoned, despite the witness Khalid’s deposition that Pallavi was wearing a half pant and half shirt. Pallavi was dressed comfortably to beat the humid August weather in Mumbai inside her own house.
The reasoning by the judge that the convict was consumed by lust only by seeing her in these “scanty” clothes is plain insulting.
The judge did not see any pre-planning in the crime though the facts of the case reveal meticulous planning. She believed Mogul was a first-time criminal capable of committing sexual assault and murder on the excitement of the moment. The judge held the young age of the accused as a mitigating factor for not awarding capital punishment despite the SC holding that when the crime is that which is committed out of a heinous perversion evinced from the facts of the case, the death sentence can be awarded despite the young age of a convict. Mogul was an adult.
The stink that emerges from the judgment is the convenience with which the judge ignored the observations of the SC when they were in favour of the victim while adopting them when in favour of the convict. That’s how there has been a serious miscarriage of justice in this case.
If we view our criminal justice system through this case, we may conclude the arms of law in our society are more considerate about the rights of the criminals who perpetrate crimes such as rape and murder than with the security of life, dignity and honour of our women. It is not that we lack legal provisions to tackle crimes against women; it is our mindset which has become immune. Otherwise, what stops the immediate suspension and initiation of criminal proceedings against officials involved in giving parole to Mogul? How does one explain the pendency of the state government’s appeal before the high court for almost two years? Why did it take almost two years for the sessions court to decide on the case?
We must show courage of conviction in stopping crimes against women by taking drastic and severe actions against perpetrators. Legal provisions have to be more specific so that judicial nuances do not come in the way of awarding stringent punishment or delay judicial interventions. The fear of law has to be seen and felt. Any tampering in the process of administering the rule of law should automatically lead to criminal proceedings against the officials involved. The judicial process and award of punishment should be completed in three months from the day of the filing of chargesheet and the process of appeal up to the SC should be completed in the next three months.
Crime has to be “killed” by the severity of the punishment to the criminals. Simultaneously, there is a need to detoxify society from crime against women by sensitising children in the school. The provisions of law and its severe impact may be made part of the school curriculum. There needs to be a complete ban on crime against women in our movies. Policymakers, administrators, judiciary, educationists and all others need to act in unison to ensure zero tolerance of crime against women.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines