Mumbai Local

Court cites reasons for death penalty in acid attack case

Preeti Rathi  

“A strong message needs to be sent to the miscreants of such crimes against women that such crimes shall not be tolerated,” recorded a special women’s court last week, after it awarded the death penalty to the convict in a May 2013 acid attack case.

“This crime is first of its kind in India,” Judge Anju S Shende, said on her last day at the City Civil and Sessions Court. “If the rising trend towards such crime is not checked at its inception, it will have monstrous effects on society, and soon it will spread widely.” In a landmark verdict, the court, on September 6, convicted 26-year-old Ankur Lal Panwar for throwing acid on Preeti Rathi on May 2, 2013, at Bandra Terminus, with the intention of causing burns and committing murder. Ms Rathi, who hailed from Delhi and had arrived in Mumbai to begin her career as a nurse, died of her injuries on June 1, 2013. Her post mortem report recorded multiple organ failure due to the corrosion caused by the acid.

In a 150-page order, the court said, “Without a shadow of doubt, this (crime) falls in the category of the rarest of the rare case. The incident is extremely gruesome, revolting, and horrifying. This court is not in the knowledge of any case in which a crime of this nature has been committed and the accused is sentenced, till date. Therefore, deterrent punishment is the need of the hour. Being fully aware of the nature of the death penalty, the court has reached the conclusion to award the death sentence to the accused.”

Drawing a parallel with rape, the court said, “The height of brutality in acid attacks was more than those in cases of rape. Rape destroys the soul of the victim. But she can be kept in isolation, without disclosing her identity, and can be rehabilitated. But for an acid (attack) victim, she has to move around with a destroyed body.” The court then ordered, “The accused is to be hanged by neck, till he is dead, subject to the confirmation of the Bombay High Court.”

While organisations working for acid attack victims are cheering the judgment, women’s rights lawyers say that the death penalty does not necessarily act as a deterrent.

Senior counsel Gayatri Singh, who had represented an acid attack victim at Bombay High Court, said, “The death penalty doesn’t help at all. This is like an eye for an eye; how would it help in solving our societal problems. I am not saying that wrong was not done to the woman, but instead of taking a retributive approach, you should have a more rehabilitative approach. You need to punish the person, but death penalty is not a solution.”

Flavia Agnes, a women’s rights lawyer, told The Hindu, “Time and again it has been proved that the death penalty does not act as deterrent. It is like private vengeance. So many countries have eliminated the death penalty, and we just keep on increasing its ambit. In this case, the woman died, but in the Shakti Mills rape case, they gave the death penalty. That’s even more terrible.” On the other side, a volunteer who works with acid attack victims told The Hindu on condition of anonymity, “It’s important to look from the victim’s point of view. When you do that you realise that death penalty is important. Acid attack victims undergo grievous hurt, and that does not go away by mere counselling. The convict will be awarded the death penalty only after confirmation from the High Court, so let’s wait until then. But I can tell you that acid attack victims will be delighted if capital punishment is confirmed.”

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Printable version | Oct 20, 2021 12:23:13 PM |

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