Mumbai court holds three common accused in the gangrape cases guilty under section 376E, which carries the maximum penalty of capital punishment

The three repeat offenders convicted of gang-raping a photojournalist on the Shakti Mills compound here in August 2013 may face the death penalty after a city sessions court here on Thursday passed a landmark verdict holding Vijay Jadhav, Qasim Sheikh alias Bengali and Salim Ansari guilty of the additional charge under Section 376 (E) of the Indian Penal Code.

This is probably the first conviction in the country under the amended law, introduced on the suggestions of the Justice Verma Committee in the wake of the December 16, 2012 Delhi gang rape. The quantum of sentence will be pronounced on Friday.

On March 20, the sessions court convicted five adults, including Mohammad Ashfak Shaikh and Siraj Sheikh, of the gang rapes of a telephone operator and the photojournalist on the Shakti Mills compound last year. Of the five, Jadhav, Bengali and Ansari were involved in both cases.

Principal sessions judge Shalini Phansalkar Joshi observed that the objective of the Legislature was to send out a “strong signal” to society that such offences must not recur. “The Legislature wants to ensure that such tendency is crushed and therefore this court accepts the prosecution’s case.”

She said: “Previous conviction may be a few minutes old, or a day or a few years.” Had the intention of the Legislature been to specify the time (days, a year or decade), it would have said so. “The Legislature has wisely used the words ‘previous conviction’.”

The judge said, “The general definition of ‘repeat offender’ provided in the dictionary cannot hold for 376 (E).”

“If the intent of the Legislature was that repeat offence meant an offence committed two, three [or] four times, the Legislature would have said so,” she added.

The prosecution relied on the testimonies of two witnesses. On Wednesday, three other witnesses were recalled by defence and examined.

“Even the United States has taken a serious view of such offenders. In India, this Section was introduced for sending a strong signal to repeat offenders of rape or gang rape and also to like-minded persons,” special public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam told this reporter.

The court, on March 21, framed the additional charge after the prosecution, through Mr. Nikam, moved an application to invoke Section 376 (E) for seeking enhancement of their sentence.

Accepting the prosecution’s case, the additional charge was then framed by the court.