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Above: A man walks past graffiti depicting a message against rape of minors/Photo: UNI

Though Madhya Pradesh has set up fast-track courts and incentives to ensure quick punishment and the death sentence to minors’ rapists, rape cases have only increased 

By Rakesh Dixit in Bhopal

Three mind-numbing incidents of rape and murder of minors recently have not only caused massive public furore in Madhya Pradesh but put a question mark on the efficacy of the death sentence as a deterrent to curb such barbaric crimes.

On June 7 in Ujjain, a five-year-old Dalit girl was raped and murdered by a 19-year-old youth whom she called uncle. Accused Shiva Rao Maratha abducted the girl from her shanty, raped her and bludgeoned her to death to hide the evidence. The father of the victim, a brick kiln worker, had lodged a complaint with the police on June 7 stating that his daughter was missing since early morning. In the afternoon, the disfigured body of the victim was found floating in the Kshipra river. The accused, who used to sell flowers at the famous Mahakal temple, confessed to the police that he was addicted to watching porn clips on his mobile and that led him to commit the crime.

A day later in Bhopal, a nine-year-old girl was raped and murdered. Her body was found in a local nullah in the wee hours the next day. In this case, the accused, Vishnu Prasad, confessed to having committed the crime under the influence of liquor. He was arrested a day later from Khandwa district. The victim, a student of Class III, had left her home to fetch pan masala for her father. She returned around 9 am and went outside again. The accused lured her by offering to buy the pan masala and took her to a secluded place where he raped her before strangling her to death and dumping the body in the nullah.

On June 9, a few hours after the body of the nine-year-old girl was found, a 16-year-old raped a four-year-old girl in Barhi village of Jabalpur district. The accused picked up the girl at around 12.30 pm while she was playing in her home and forced himself on her in an empty house. The teenager was caught by villagers while running away and handed over to the police. The victim is under treatment after sustaining severe internal injuries.

The victim of the Bhopal brutality could have been saved had the police acted promptly. Seven policemen,

including an officer, were suspended for negligence.

The family of the victim alleged that one of the policemen told them not to worry as the girl might have eloped with someone and would return later.

The Bhopal and Ujjain rape and murder cases have been put up in fast-track courts for speedy trials. As per the promise of Chief Minister Kamal Nath that charge sheets would be filed within 48 hours, the police moved the courts within that time-frame. Verdicts in the cases are likely soon as happened in similar cases in the past. But the big question remains: will that strike enough fear into potential rapists?

The track record of death sentences in such cases doesn’t inspire much confidence about the safety of minor girls in the state. Despite fast-track courts having been set up to ensure quick punishment to minors’ rapists, the blot on Madhya Pradesh as the number one state in rape cases has only deepened over the years. Madhya Pradesh police data shows an increase in rape cases from 263 in 2017 to 315 in 2018 and 116 by May 2019. Fast-track courts have, no doubt, awarded the death penalty in cases of minors’ rape and murder in double quick time, in some cases just a few days after filing the charge sheet, but the cases have got tangled in higher courts after review petitions filed by the convicts.

Since 2012, fast-track courts have pronounced death sentences in 39 cases of rape and murder of minor girls. In the last one-and-a-half years alone, trial courts have handed capital punishment in 26 such heinous crimes. But none of the convicts has been executed so far. Of the 26 pending death sentences, in 17 the accused were convicted for rape and murder. In the remaining nine cases in which the victims survived, the convicts were sentenced to death under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act.

At present, 23 cases in which the trial courts had awarded the death sentence are pending with the Supreme Court. Some cases are awaiting verdict in the High Court benches of Jabalpur, Gwalior and Indore. Jabalpur and Indore central jails have 13 convicts each facing the death sentence, while six are lodged in Gwalior, five in Ujjain and two in Bhopal central jails.

Mahendra Singh Gond of Satna district, a 25-year-old schoolteacher who raped a four-year-old girl, was close to becoming the first man to be hanged under the new law providing for death penalty to child rapists. He was to be executed at 5 pm on March 2 in Jabalpur central jail. However, the Supreme Court stayed the death sentence on February 15.

Ever since Madhya Pradesh became the first state to pass a bill providing for the death sentence to rapists of minors, trial courts have begun to award capital punishment with alacrity. Some of the cases are illustrative of this. (See box)

Crime & punishment

Cases in MP where trial courts have awarded capital punishment

  • Mandsaur’s Irfan alias Bhaiyyu Mewati, 20, and Asif Mewati, 24, accused of raping and leaving a seven-year-old girl dead on June 26, 2018, were awarded capital punishment on August 21, 2018. The local bar association passed a resolution not to defend the duo.
  • In Sagar, Naresh Devsingh Parihar, 40, was sentenced to death for raping a 10-year-old girl on August 14, 2018, barely 27 days after the crime was committed.
  • Karan alias Fatia Bharat, 19, was arrested for raping and killing a four-year-old girl on December 15-16, 2017. He was sentenced to death on May 17, 2018.
  • In Sagar again, Rabbu alias Sarvesh Sen, 22, was held for raping and killing a 14-year-old girl on December 7, 2017. He was sentenced to death on August 20, 2018.
  • An autorickshaw driver, Rajkumar of Katni town was accused of taking a four-year-old girl he drove to school to a secluded spot on July 4, 2018. He kissed her and penetrated her with his finger. He was sentenced to death on July 27, 2018.
  • Gwalior’s Jitendra Kushwah, 25, allegedly raped and killed a six-year-old girl on June 20, 2017, and was sentenced to death on July 27, 2017.
  • Bhagirath alias Naran Patel, 40, accused of raping a seven-year-old girl on May 21, 2017, was sentenced to death on July 7, 2017.
  • In the case of Sunil Adivasi, 22, accused of raping and killing a nine-year-old girl on April 13, 2017, the death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment by the High Court on August 17, 2017.

Prosecution officers of Madhya Pradesh have earned Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s praise several times for securing death sentences from courts to such “pishach(s)” (devils) within a week of the crimes being committed.

However, execution is still a far cry. The cases have to move up several legal ladders, not to mention the president’s clemency power. This process will take years. How many of these cases will be upheld, quashed or changed to life imprisonment waits to be seen. In two cases, the MP High Court and the Supreme Court have commuted the death sentence to life imprisonment. In Gond’s case, a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi on February 14 put on hold the Madhya Pradesh High Court order.

Meanwhile, the prosecution directorate of Madhya Pradesh is eyeing four “world records” it believes it created in 2018—maximum number of death sentences secured in one calendar year (21), fastest trial that resulted in capital punishment (five working days in a case in Katni), fastest trial that led to life imprisonment (three days, in Datia) and the fastest trial in a juvenile court (one day, in Ujjain).

Talking to India Legal, Rajendra Kumar, director, prosecution, claimed that the directorate had achieved another world record—launching an e-prosecution mobile app which he had introduced a year ago. This app is a work evaluation system of the prosecution staff. Marks are given based on app-based evaluation and awards are announced at the end of the month. It tracks the daily activities of some 1,000 government prosecutors across the state.

The reward system provides 1,000 points for a death sentence, 500 for a lifer and 100-200 for maximum punishment in lower courts.

The directorate also honours “best prosecutors” and “pride of prosecution” every month to those who have collected over 2,000 points. Those who fail to get more than 500 points per month are warned to improve their performance.

This has resulted in competition for earning more marks and has improved the conviction rate from 20-25 percent till 2017 to over 60 percent, claims Kumar. “Conviction rate has gone up to as high as 61 percent in cases coming under the IPC and even higher in criminal cases under the CrPC and other acts,” he said.

The spate of capital punishment verdicts, however, has not helped reduce rapes in Madhya Pradesh as it still bears the egregious tag of topping rape cases in India.

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