One arrested and hunt is on for four; photojournalist still in hospital

As Mumbai struggles to come to terms with one of the worst cases of sexual violence in recent times, the police made the first arrest for the gang rape of a photojournalist on Thursday. Chand Babu Sattar Sheikh (19) is in custody and four other accused have been identified.

The victim is still in hospital but is said to be “stable.” In a city which prides itself on women safety, this case bears a chilling similarity to the gang rape of a young woman on a Delhi bus last December.

The crime has triggered outrage across the country. People from all walks of life, political parties, media associations and Bollywood were one in demanding the harshest punishment to the perpetrators.

Hundreds of people, including members of several journalists’ associations, staged a silent protest in South Mumbai. Some wore black armbands, while others carried placards reading “Stop rape” and “City of shame.”

The issue had its echo in the Rajya Sabha.

The police said the 22-year-old photojournalist and a male colleague, who were interning with a city publication, entered Shakti Mill in Central Mumbai at 6 p.m. on Thursday. The colleague had a camera. Two of the accused accosted them and accused the interns of trespassing on railway property. On the pretext of taking the two to officials, the accused separated them. The young man was hit with a belt and tied up. The photojournalist was dragged behind some trees 15-20 feet away. The duo called three others and she was gang-raped. The woman regained consciousness at 8 p.m. and she and her colleague informed their families and office. They later went to Jaslok Hospital, which alerted the police.

“The arrested person has admitted he was there. He has named the rest. All the accused seem to be inhabitants of the area,” said Police Commissioner Satyapal Singh. Two of them had property dispute cases against them.

According to one account given to The Hindu, the arrested person, so confident he would not be caught, did not even bother to flee the area. The police had called his brother in for questioning since he had a few cases against him. The accused followed him into the police station. “As interrogation progressed, he confessed to the crime and named the rest,” police sources said.

The police say the description provided by the victim’s colleague helped them draw near-perfect sketches of the accused. “The description he gave us was so perfect that once the sketches were circulated, our informants easily identified them,” said a police officer on condition of anonymity.

In fact, the police say, the victim has been remarkably brave. “She did lose her composure initially. Her family supported her well. We were amazed by the way she controlled her emotions in few hours and gave us details of the accused,” said an officer.

Women’s groups say the case is yet another reminder of poor investigation into crimes against women, even in a city which has a large number of working women.

In 2012, Maharashtra reported the sixth highest rate of crimes against women in the country, according to the National Crime Records Bureau. The conviction rate was as low as 12 per cent in 2011, according to official figures.

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