MUMBAI, India >> A court in Mumbai on Thursday found five men guilty of gang-raping a photojournalist and a call-center operator in an abandoned mill building last year, a case that shook a city that has long prided itself on its relatively progressive, cosmopolitan atmosphere.
Three men who habitually gathered in the mill building – Mohammed Kasim Sheikh, Vijay Jadhav and Salim Ansari – were all convicted of both crimes. A fourth man, Siraj Rehman Khan, was found guilty of participating in the case involving the journalist, and a fifth, Mohammed Ashwaq Sheikh, of participating in the rape of the call-center operator. A sixth man accused in the photojournalist’s rape was under 18 at the time of the crime and is being tried separately in a juvenile court.
Sentences, which could range from 20 years to life in prison, are expected to be handed down Friday, said the judge in the case, Shalini Phansalkar Joshi.
The Mumbai case testified to the ripple effect of the fatal 2012 gang-rape of a physiotherapy student on a moving bus in New Delhi. A wave of protests followed that victim’s death, setting in motion remarkable changes in India. Reports of rape and sexual assault skyrocketed, suggesting a greater willingness to speak out about such crimes; Parliament created a fast-track court for rape cases and introduced new laws making especially brutal rapes punishable by death. The reported incidence of rape in India is low by the standards of many Western countries, including the United States, but underreporting likely skews those figures.
The photojournalist’s case was of a kind that, in earlier years, could easily have gone unreported. Testimony included in police reports suggested that the defendants acted with little fear of police action, summoning friends to the mill building by phone using a code phrase – “the prey has arrived” – and then releasing their battered victim with a warning that if she reported the crime, they would publish photographs taken during the assault.
But the photojournalist, who cannot be identified according to Indian law, went straight to the hospital and reported the crime. The police initiated a broad, high-level response, arresting five men in quick succession and recording their confessions. The state assigned a public prosecutor known for bringing cases against terrorists, who prided himself on his record of 628 life sentences, 30 death sentences and 12 men, as he put it, “sent to the gallows.” Police said the men confessed to five assaults in the same spot.
Recognizing the accused as the men who had assaulted her, the call-center employee came forward with her own report, and told the authorities she was ready to testify.
The four men in the photojournalist’s case were convicted of criminal conspiracy, forcibly performing sexual intercourse, unnatural sex, compelling the victim to imitate pornographic video clips, disrobing, wrongful confinement, criminal intimidation, damaging reputation, destroying evidence and gang rape.
In the call-center worker’s case, the defendants were found guilty of criminal conspiracy, forcibly performing sexual intercourse, disrobing, wrongful confinement, criminal intimidation, gang rape, damaging reputation and destroying evidence.