The Mumbai police arrested the third accused in connection with the gang rape of 23-year-old photojournalist on Saturday evening, as hunt for the other two absconding accused continued for the second day amid a massive public outrage.
The third accused, about 25-years-old, was nabbed from the Mumbra area late in the evening, police sources said. He is likely to be produced before a magistrate on Sunday.
Earlier, an accused was arrested in the wee hours from Madanpura area by the elite Crime Branch personnel, who too have been engaged in the search for the culprits "The probe is heading in the right direction and we hope to arrest all other absconding accused soon," Mumbai Police Commissioner Satyapal Singh said. He said the investigators had gathered "all the evidence against the accused and we will file a comprehensive chargesheet soon."
The two accused, who was arrested earlier, were produced before the Bhoiwada holiday court at Dadar, which remanded them in police custody till August 30. There were protests outside the court premises by Shiv Sainiks and Bharatiya Janata Party activists who shouted slogans against the accused. Several women's organisations took out a morcha against the brutal gang rape at N M Joshi Marg police station.
Meanwhile, the hospital where the victim is undergoing treatment has said her condition was improving. "The patient's condition is much better today. However, we are monitoring her health from all aspects of care," said a statement issued by Dr Tarang Gianchandani, acting chief executive officer and Director, Medical Services, of Jaslok Hospital.
Lending a sense of urgency to the investigation and ongoing pursuit of other accused who are on the run, Home Minister R R Patil visited N M Joshi Marg police station around 2.30 am. According to police sources, he inquired about the status of the probe and also interacted with the two arrested accused, questioning them about their role in the incident.
Investigators said the victim and her male colleague, who had gone to the deserted Shakti Mills compound near Mahalaxmi in central Mumbai on an assignment when the incident occurred, were initially reluctant to enter the premises, covered with thick foliage, in the absence of a proper entrance.
Two of the alleged accused showed them a better path and left. When they were busy taking photographs, the two returned with a third person who claimed he was a railway employee and that photography was not allowed in the premises. He also demanded that they accompany him to his boss, a police officer said, citing the statement recorded by the victim.
Anticipating trouble, the victim called her boss, whose phone was busy. The boss later called her back and when she narrated the situation to him, she was advised to leave the place immediately.
When they hurriedly tried to get away, one of the accused stopped her colleague and said he suspected him of being involved in a murder in the locality some time back.
The three accused, who were soon joined by two others, then tied the hands of the victim's colleague with belts and took her to a thicket where they took turns to rape her. Just before being subjected to torture and rape, she received a call from her mother asking if everything was all right. The accused, according to her statement, threatened her with a broken bottle of beer, and commanded her to tell her mother that everything was fine. Suspecting something was amiss, the mother called again but the victim could not tell her about her agony under threat from the hooligans.
Though the police officer did not reveal whether the photojournalist had said in her statement that the accused had taken her photos on their mobile phones, he said those arrested were themselves accusing each other of clicking her pictures.
Meanwhile, the family of the first accused to be arrested in the case, has claimed he was a minor. Sarnabai, his grandmother has produced a certificate before the police that showed his date of birth as 26 February 1997. The police, however, claim that he was aged about 19 and dubbed it as attempt by his family to save him.
They also claimed he had tampered with the document to pass himself off as a juvenile to escape stricter punishment under the anti-rape law which provides for imprisonment of not less than seven years which may extend up to life. The police are now planning to subject him to bone ossification test to determine his age.
Image: Police officers escort a man, who is accused of raping a photo journalist, at a court in Mumbai
Photograph: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters