A sessions court here today awarded the death sentence to three men for the brutal rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl in Maharashtra’s Kopardi village in 2016 that triggered protests across the state. Hailing the verdict, the girl’s mother said her daughter “got justice in the true sense today”. Additional Special Judge Suvarna Kevale, presiding over the fast track court, awarded the death sentence to Jitendra Babulal Shinde (25), Santosh Gorakh Bhawal (30) and Nitin Gopinath Bhailume (23). The judge had on November 18 convicted the three men on charges of rape, murder and criminal conspiracy. Special public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam said the verdict would act as a “deterrent” to criminals. The victim, a Class IX student, was found murdered after being raped on July 13, 2016 at Kopardi village in Ahmednagar district. The accused also inflicted injuries all over her body and broke her limbs before throttling her, police said.
The incident turned out to be the trigger for silent marches (mook morcha) by Marathas across the state as the victim belonged to the community, while the culprits are Dalits. Marches, joined by a large number of women, were taken out throughout the length and breadth of the state by the Maratha community demanding quick investigation and speedy trial in the case. It also sent strong political ripples with the opposition Congress and the NCP demanding the resignation of Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis on moral grounds. Following the protests, the state government appointed noted criminal lawyer Nikam, who has appeared in several high-profile cases including the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack, as the special public prosecutor in the case. On October 7 last year, the Ahmednagar Police filed the charge sheet running into over 350 pages before the court in which the trio was charged under IPC sections 302 (murder), 376 (rape), 120-B (criminal conspiracy) and relevant sections of Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.
The victim’s mother, who was present in the court, thanked the government, police, judiciary and the Maratha community for bringing justice to her daughter. “I am thankful to the government, police, judiciary and the entire Maratha community for coming together and fighting for my daughter,” the girl’s mother said. Nikam said he was satisfied with the court’s verdict. “This judgement will be a great deterrent to criminals,” he told PTI. Nikam had earlier told the court that four to five days before the incident, the accused had stopped the girl and tried to molest her. However, when she resisted, two of the accused said that they would see her later. On the day of the incident, all the accused were moving on their motorcycles and keeping a watch on the girl’s movements, Nikam had said.
The prosecutor today said he raised 24 points while pleading the case in the court. The prosecution closed the case from its side by presenting 31 witnesses before the court, he said. The prosecutor said that the three convicts were also given life imprisonment for charges pertaining to rape and criminal conspiracy and they were also fined Rs 20,000 each. The convicts were also awarded three years’ rigorous imprisonment under the charges of molestation.
All these sentences will run concurrently, said Nikam. He said Bhawal was earlier fined Rs 18,000 for stalling the trial in the court. Since he failed to pay the fine, the court today ordered the district administration to recover it from him.