Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Killer sisters

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While the mercy petition of  two Kolhapur sisters who murdered 10 kids was rejected, why wasn’t their psychological  condition evaluated?

By Ritu Goyal Harish in Pune

 Very rarely do women commit crimes so heinous that society feels a sense of revulsion. Serial killers and half-sisters Renuka Shinde, 41, and Seema Gavit, 39, are two such persons and they will go down the annals of history as the first women to be hanged in independent India. Though President Pranab Mukherjee rejected their mercy petition early this month, their execution has been stayed by the Bombay High Court till the disposal of their petition seeking commutation of death sentence to life imprisonment. The next hearing is on September 9.

Given the enormity of their crimes, there are few sympathizers. How could they find any sympathy? After all, they kidnapped and murdered over 13 toddlers, using them to distract crowds when in danger of being caught while stealing. Even the advocate, who was representing them, was shocked at their cold-bloodedness.

Horrific acts

So vile were their acts that it attracted the censure of a Supreme Court (SC) Bench of KG Balakrishnan and GP Mathur, who said: “They had been a menace to society and people in these cities were completely horrified and they could not send their children even to schools.” One would hardly have expected such barbarity from women.

It all started in 1990, when Renuka, who was married to one Kiran Shinde, was caught stealing at a temple in Pune. She ingeniously used her son to defend herself and pleaded with the crowd that she was a mother and couldn’t possibly be a pickpocket. She was let off. This gave the gang, which included Shinde, the idea of using children as pawns in their acts. Thus began their journey from being petty thieves to murderers (See Box). Between 1990-1996, Renuka, Seema and their mother, Anjana, kidnapped more than 13 children from Pune, Nashik, Thane, Kalyan and Kolhapur.

In 1996, the trio was charged with the kidnapping of 13 children and murder of 10 of them. Anjana died before the trial began. The district and sessions court in Kolhapur sentenced the sisters to death. Their appeal was rejected by the Bombay High Court; and by the Supreme Court in 2006.

The SC Bench observed: “They very cleverly executed their plans of kidnapping the children, and the moment they were no longer useful, they killed them. The appellants had not been committing these crimes under any compulsion, but they took it very casually and killed all these children, least bothering about their lives or the agony of their parents.”

Sisters in arms (L-R) Seema Gavit and Renuka Shinde, who killed toddlers to distract attention during their stealing bids.

Even those meant to help them found it difficult to sympathize with them. One of them was Pune-based advocate Asim Sarode, who assisted them in filing the application for clemency with the president after the SC rejected their appeal. Sarode says: “I am a human rights lawyer and I advocate that death penalty won’t stop violence. But meeting them shook my faith in this belief.”

Deadly duo

Whenever he would meet the two sisters, he would spend sleepless nights, restless at how inhuman humans could be. At one point, he even called his wife and asked her to keep a watchful eye over their own toddler.

“It created a fear in my mind when I met them,” he says. The sisters, he says, showed no remorse or shame. “Neither on their face nor in their body language, did I see any repentance for what they had done to so many children,” he adds.

Even inside jail, the sisters were scheming and plotting. “After their mother died, they blamed her for the murders,” reveals Sarode. During his meetings with them, they seemed more concerned about the money they had stashed away from their crimes. They even blamed Shinde for turning approver in the case. “He used to drive the getaway vehicle and took the opportunity to escape punishment. He was also in an illicit relationship with Seema,” says Sarode.

They were a nuisance inside the prison too and indulged in high-handed behavior with other inmates. “Their dadagiri was getting out of hand and the only solution left for the police was to separate the two,” says Sarode. As a result, Seema was shifted to Nagpur Central Prison.

“The gravity of their offense is serious and the lack of remorse only made their case worse. In 14 years of practise, I have met many prisoners who confess to killings, due to circumstances, etc. But these two never did,” he adds.

Psychiatric profiling

Even so, as he was required to assist them, he did. He explains: “Everyone should get legal aid. Let people put their side before the court and let the court take a decision. It was not done out of sympathy for them.”

But this case is a lesson for authorities in dealing with similar cases. Despite nearly two decades of incarceration, no effort was made by the establishment to evaluate the psychological condition of the sisters or conduct any psychiatric profiling. “Cops are not working from a sociological angle at all. The sisters should have been analyzed for psychological dysfunction. The police can take lessons from such offences for the future,” stresses Sarode.

Citing Justice VR Krishna Iyer, Sarode says: “The rarest of rare cases should not be based on the discretion of judges alone. These should also take into account the psychology of the criminal.” He laments the lack of initiative in making changes in the system.
Till such time as the underlying cause for these crimes is found, no lasting change will take place.


“Meeting them created fear in my mind …Neither on their face, nor in their body
language, did I see any repentance for what they had done to so many children.”

— Advocate Asim Sarode, who assisted the sisters in filing
an application for clemency with the president

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