The Bombay high court on Thursday commuted to life imprisonment the death penalty awarded to three convicts in the 2013 gangrape case of a 22-year-old photojournalist inside the defunct Shakti Mills compound in central Mumbai, saying that they "deserve imprisonment for life to repent the offence committed by them as death puts an end to the concept of repentance".
A division bench of Justices Sadhana Jadhav and Prithviraj Chavan refused to confirm the death penalty awarded to Vijay Jadhav, Mohammad Qasim Shaikh and Mohammad Ansari, and commuted their sentence to life imprisonment for the remainder of their lives.
It, however, said that the convicts shall not be entitled for release on furlough or parole as they cannot be allowed to assimilate in the society and as there is no scope for reformation.
At the time of the incident in 2013, Jadhav was 19 years old, Qasim Shaikh was 21 and Ansari was 28.
The bench, while pronouncing its order said that it cannot ignore the fact that the offence has shocked the collective conscience of the society and rape is a violation of human rights, but the sentence of death is irrevocable.
"A rape victim suffers not just physically but mentally as well. It is a violation of human rights. But only public outcry cannot be taken into account. Judgment should not be guided by public outcry or public opinion," the court said.
It added that courts have a duty to consider cases dispassionately and cannot ignore the procedure laid down by the law.
"Death puts an end to the concept of repentance. It cannot be said that the accused deserved only death penalty. They deserve imprisonment for life to repent the offence committed by them," the bench said.
"The convicts deserve life imprisonment for the remainder of their natural life. They cannot assimilate in society as they look upon women as an object," the court said.
Quoting poet Khalil Gibran in the judgment, the high court said, "And how shall you punish those whose remorse is already greater than their misdeeds? Is not remorse the justice which is administered by that very law which you would fain serve? Yet you cannot lay remorse upon the innocent nor lift it from the heart of the guilty."
Advocate Yug Chaudhry, appearing for the convicts, had argued that the death sentence had been handed out incorrectly and that the trial had not been conducted fairly.
The state government had argued that the death penalty was justified as it was a deterrent order.
In March 2104, the trial court had convicted four persons for gangraping a 22-year-old photo-journalist inside the abandoned Shakti Mills compound in central Mumbai on August 22, 2013.
The court had then imposed death penalty on three of the convicts - Jadhav , Bengali and Ansari - as they were also convicted for gang-raping a 19-year-old telephone operator at the same place months before raping the photojournalist.
The trio was awarded death penalty under the amended section 376 (e) of the IPC, which says maximum sentence of life or death can be awarded to repeat offenders.
The fourth convict, Siraj Khan, was sentenced to life imprisonment, and a minor accused was sent to a correctional facility.
In April 2014, the trio had approached the high court challenging the validity of section 376 (e) of IPC and contended that the sessions court acted beyond its power in awarding them the death penalty.