A young photojournalist working on an assignment in Mumbai was gang raped last Thursday as her male colleague was tied up and beaten, according to local police. The case produced shock and outrage resembling the national outcry India experienced after the gang rape and subsequent death of a young physiotherapist on a Delhi bus last December. Five men have been arrested in connection with the case, and the government has pledged to fast-track the trial.
New details have emerged about the five suspects. All of the accused rapists were born and raised in Mumbai. None are juveniles, and three — Chand Hussain Sheikh, Vijay Jadhav and Mohammed Kasim Sheikh — have criminal records. Chand Hussain Sheikh and Jadhav each have one count of theft registered against them from 2011, while Mohammed Kasim Sheikh had three counts of theft and one of robbery.
After the gang-rape was reported, all five suspects were arrested over the weekend. Police made one arrest Friday, two Saturday, and the final two Sunday. The last suspect was arrested in the capital, Delhi, according to police.
One of the suspects, 21-year-old Mohammed Kasim Sheikh, confessed to the crime when his mother visited him in lockup Monday.
"He was clad in a burqa and started crying upon seeing me," his mother Chandbibi Sheikh, said, weeping. "[A policeman] told him to narrate what he had done. Kasim admitted to having done a wrong thing to a girl. I asked him why he did so. He kept quiet. I was shattered."
Chief minister Prithviraj Chavan said the crime was not premeditated, and authorities have not received complaints of previous offenses at Shakti Mills, where the gang-rape allegedly took place.
Asked about media reports that the men could have been involved in similar offenses at the deserted Shakti Mills compound in the past, Chavan said, "We are looking into his aspect, but as of now we have received no such complaint. The accused have also not made any such confession during the interrogation."
Chavan also said the trial against the five men would be fast-tracked. "The case will be tried in a fast-track court to ensure speedy justice to the victim," he told reporters Sunday evening.
"The state wanted to engage the best legal talent in the case and see that maximum punishment is meted out to the culprits," he added.
Meanwhile, the family of the 22-year-old victim released a statement asking the media to respect the privacy of their child. The statement, made by the victim's mother, thanked the police for their "support and prompt action" and harrowingly apologized for the "inconvenience" caused to other hospital patients. Here's an excerpt from the statement published online in its entirety by the New Indian Express:
We hope and pray for your continued support and campaign in the fight for justice for my daughter and women at large in India. Now that stringent laws are in place, we are optimistic that your and the government’s efforts will help fast track the matter so that the severest of punishment is meted out. This will ensure that even the most sick-minded think twice before they act in such an inhuman and insensitive way.
I have one small request to all of you. Please continue to respect the privacy of my daughter and me in this most trying time of our lives and give us the breathing space we so desperately need by not visiting our residence. We live in a society where such actions will only make it more difficult for us to get back to a normal life.
The gang-rape set off massive outrage across the country. Bollywood actress Sonam Kapoor joined protestors during one of the street protests held throughout Mumbai over the weekend to demand the harshest punishment for the alleged perpetrators. Kapoor tweeted about the crime and the protests.
Following the protests, Sushma Swaraj, the Lok Sabha leader of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, demanded the death penalty for the five accused men in the lower house of the Indian Parliament Monday.
"Hang them, and the incidents will stop," Swaraj said. "On one hand, women in India are winning gold medals, on the other side we have such crimes against them."
"Let's not just make laws, let's implement them," she added, referring to the more severe laws introduced earlier this year after the Delhi gang-rape. The new laws stipulate increased punishment for sex offenders, who face the death penalty if a victim dies, as well as a broader definition of sexual assault.
Meanwhile, the New York Times reports alleged sexual assault occurred elsewhere in the country last week, but received minimal attention after being buried in far less noticeable spots in newsprint.
The Times report covered a three-year-old girl who was allegedly raped by her father in Jaipur; a girl from Narwana village in Jind district who told the police about a sexual assault by her college classmate; a 25-year-old disabled woman from Sangolda village who died six months after being raped Saturday; and a 16-year-old tribal girl who is in critical condition after being raped and stabbed in the throat last Tuesday in the southeastern state of Orissa’s Nayagarh district.