The trial of the four men accused of raping and assaulting two women in Mumbai, India ended on Friday. The four accused in the case were given life sentences without parole in an attempt to send a strong message on attitudes towards women.
The dilapidated Shakti mill compound was the set for two separate rapes that occurred within weeks of each other. The women, a photo journalist and a telephone operator, both entered the compound accompanied by a man, another journalist in the first case and the young woman’s boyfriend in the second. But this was not enough to save them. They were set on by five men who brutally assaulted them, tying the men to trees in the area before carrying the women away to another part of the compound and taking turns to rape them. In both cases, one of the party was a juvenile.
The jury heard that the men regularly met at the mill and had preplanned what to do if they encountered women there. The police report stated that one of the men would summon the others via a text message that read “the prey has arrived.” They also stated that they would publish photos taken during the assault if the victims went to the police.
When the accused entered the Indian courtroom they were barefoot and expressionless. Their lawyers were hoping to plead that the men were victims in their own right, denied solid education and guidance during their formative years, that have led to their behaviour. The convicted men also asked for leniency. Some in tears sought to use their wives and children as reasons to be allowed to continue in society. However, the court was not moved by their behavior. Special public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam amended the charge for three of the accused stating that their involvement in both cases warranted the maximum penalty, which is the death sentence. Nikam sought this penalty as he believed the accused were “shameless” and lacking in remorse. Judge Shalini Phansalkar-Joshi reportedly commented that the way in which the rapes were carried out reflected just how depraved the convicts were. He reportedly wanted this end to the trail to send out a strong message that rape is no longer to be tolerated.
Crimes like these suffered by these women have, in the past, gone unpunished. Testaments show that the men had used the same tactics repeatedly and the women had been too terrified to come forward. While the photo journalist (who cannot be named under Indian law) disregarded the threats her attackers made to her and went straight to the hospital, it was only after the case was publicized that the second victim came forward. Even in court, it seemed that the alleged were fairly unconcerned with their sentencing. Reportedly, they seemed as if they were children who had been caught doing a fairly innocuous act. This shows how rape is often treated in India. Nikam also noted that Indian society has tended in the past to place the blame on the victim. It is assumed that something about them made them a target.
But since the case last year where a woman died after being gang raped on a bus in Delhi, the situation around rape has started to change. It is still unclear whether the prosecution will request the death penalty, but for now the men have been sentenced to life imprisonment. The sentencing was deliberately harsh to send a message that the time when rape was an invisible crime has ended. These strong measures need to be taken to protect women from attacks.
By Sara Watson