By Quaid Najmi
Mumbai, Jan 18 (IANS) As the Bombay High Court on Tuesday commuted the death sentences of two Maharashtra serial killer sisters to lifetime in jail, the forgotten horrors of their diabolic crimes against children came to the fore once again after three long decades.
The siblings from Kolhapur are Seema Mohan Gavit, 47, and Renuka Kiran Shinde, 49, who were arrested by Maharashtra Police in 1996, spent around 25 years under the shadow of the hangman’s noose at the Yerawada Central Jail in Pune, and again escaped death to spend their remaining days behind bars.
The duo, along with their mother Anjana Gavit, were engaged in petty thefts, chain-snatchings or picking pockets-purses in crowded public areas or religious places.
In one such incident, Renuka was caught while trying to rob a woman in a temple, but since she had a one-year-old toddler with her, she managed to barely escape the crowd’s wrath.
This became their new formula for success – that if there were kids with them, they evaded suspicion and even public rage if they slipped and got caught.
From 1990-1996, the mother-daughters trio managed to kidnap more than three dozen children – mostly infants and others aged below 12 – forced them into begging, thefts, kept them half-fed, ensured they did not run away and continued to commit a series of big and small crimes, totalling to over 125 as per police records.
The girls’ father completed the family business as a car thief, stealing vehicles and driving down to Mumbai, Thane, Pune and Aurangabad for big and small heists, but rarely was detected or caught.
In one such theft attempt at a public market place, Seema was caught but Renuka, standing nearby with a kidnapped boy, suddenly banged his head on the footpath.
As the child bled profusely and screamed, the entire crowd’s attention was diverted and the sisters vanished to safety, with their modus operandi succeeding handsomely.
Over half-a-decade, among the 40-plus children they abducted, the police could prove the kidnappings of Santosh, Bunty, Swati, Guddu, Meena, Raja, Shraddha, Kranti, Gauri and Pankaj and brutal killings of Santosh, Shraddha, Gauri, Pankaj and Anjali.
The killings were calculated, calm and coldblooded – one 18-month-old boy was killed after his head was hammered repeatedly on an iron rod at a bus stand as the trio giggled and ate ‘vada-paav’.
They killed another two-and-half-year-old girl, stuffed her body in a bag and took it to a cinema theatre where they coolly watched a film and later dumped the body on the way home.
A year-old boy was killed by repeatedly hammering his head on a stony footpath, while another child was inflicted with 42 wounds, and they drew designs on another child of around 4 years.
In 1996, owing to some squabbles over loot-share, at one point, Anjana, along with Renuka and Seema, decided to kill her step-daughter from her ex-husband, but a tip-off to the police led to their arrest.
Raids on their home proved to be a clincher, with the discovery of many children’s clothes and toys, and with Renuka’s husband Kiran turning an approver, the Kolhapur Police finally cracked the sensational case, as the erstwhile royal city of the Chhatrapatis heaved a sigh of relief.
Initially, the trio remained tight-lipped but after Kiran’s statement, Renuka blurted out everything, revealing the gory details of over 40 kidnappings-cum-murders, though the police could ultimately prove 13 abductions and 5 killings.
A year after her arrest, Anjana died in jail during pendency of the trial, while her two daughters escaped the hangman’s noose on the day of their scheduled hanging on August 19, 2014, and will now spend their living days in jail.
The series of kidnappings-cum-ghastly killings of many kids left Kolhapur and surroundings virtually terrorised for years, according to old-timers, as there were pleas from all over India, the US, Canada, and Japan for mercy to the sisters as hanging women criminals is extremely rare.
“We worried when our kids went to school or tuitions or gardens or playgrounds. We used to ensure they were accompanied by an adult who also kept an eye on them. The kids were completely barred from stepping out alone after dusk,” recalled a senior citizen, Mangesh Raut, of the savagery perpetrated by the mother-daughters.
The Bombay High Court observed that the convicted sisters were depraved and ‘completely’ indifferent to the suffering of young children and their parents, and invoked the Supreme Court’s comment that “they are a menace to society and not likely to be reformed” while confirming their death sentence.
Justice Nitin Jamdar and Justice Sarang Kotwal on Tuesday morning commuted the death sentences of the sisters to life imprisonment after rapping the Maharashtra government officials for a series of delays which went to the advantage of the convicts.
(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org)