MUMBAI: The Bombay High Court on Thursday commuted the death sentence awarded to three convicts in the Shakti Mills gangrape case to rigorous life imprisonment without parole and furlough. The court said that the convicts deserved imprisonment for the reminder of their life "to repent the offence committed by them as death puts an end to the concept of repentance, suffering and mental agony".
Setting aside the trial court order, the HC bench of Justices Prithviraj Chavan and Sadhana Jadhav, in its 106-page benchmark judgment, said the convicts - Vijay Jadhav, Mohd Qasim Sheikh Bengali and Mohd Salim Ansari - did not "deserve to assimilate with the society as it would be difficult to survive in a society of such men who look upon women with derision, depravity, contempt and objects of desire".
The fourth convict had already been handed life sentence by trial court, which was upheld by the high court. The high court said the accused did not deserve any leniency, empathy or sympathy; they deserved imprisonment for life remainder for their natural life.
"Every day the rising sun would remind them of the barbaric acts committed by them and night lay them with a heavy heart filled with guilt and remorse. The death penalty does not serve the penological goal of deterrence any more than life imprisonment. Therefore, the rigorous sentence for a remainder of their natural life without any remission, parole or furlough would meet the end of justice," read the order.
The ghastly gang rape of a 22-year-old photojournalist at the abandoned Shakti Mills complex in Mumbai in August 2013 had shaken society and led to a huge outcry. The high court said although the offence was barbaric and heinous, "the constitutional court cannot award the punishment by taking into consideration only the public outcry… A sentence of death is irrevocable and therefore, a basic principle of sentencing policy would be ‘life imprisonment is the rule and death is the exception".
"We cannot be oblivious of the procedure established by law…Such incidents shock the consciousness of society at large. But that by itself does not entitle us to ignore the procedure established by law," the bench stated.
Every case of rape is a heinous offence, the court observed. "The damage to the victim for outweighs the public conscience. A rape victim does not suffer just physical injury but what is affected is her mental health and stability of life. Rape is tantamount to a serious blow to the supreme honour and dignity of the woman," the order stated.
The bench noted that while dealing with confirmation of death penalties, it has to remind itself of the cardinal principle: that the courts have to be aware that the harsher the punishment, the higher should be the standards.