Bombay HC commutes death sentence of Gavit Sisters: Tracing back the horrific crimes of Maharashtra's serial killer sisters

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Renuka Shinde (48) and Seema Gavit (43) heaved a sigh of relief when the Bombay High Court on Tuesday announced that they would not be hanged — two decades years after they were convicted for kidnapping 13 young children, and killing five of them, and seven years after Pranab Mukherjee, the then President of India, rejected their mercy petitions.

Let’s take a look at who these two women are and how their crimes came to light and how they finally have escaped the noose.

Who are the Gavit sisters?

Investigations show that Renuka and Seema along with their mother, Anjana Bai, kidnapped at least 13 children and used them in petty crimes and begging.

At least five of the kidnapped children were killed as they allegedly refused to co-operate or did not stop crying.

Anjanabai Gavit lived in a room on rent in Gondhale Nagar, Pune with two daughters, Renuka (aka Rinku aka Ratan) and Seema (aka Devki).

According to the police, the three of them moved around in western Maharashtra, including Mumbai Metropolitan Region attending jatras (processions), festivals and other celebrations, where they made a living out of stealing valuables including ornaments of women at these crowded places.

After a theft attempt went awry in 1990, they decided to use children while carrying out these thefts, to escape easily.

The police state that between 1990 and 1996, the three of them and Renuka’s husband, Kiran Shinde, kidnapped 13 children below five years of age. The police probe states that the women killed nine of these 13, disposing the bodies of at least five in different places across Kolhapur district.

According to the prosecutors in the case, the three of them were ruthless and spine-chilling stories of their cruelty came to light in court.

For instance, Anjana banged the head of a toddler against an electric pole, later identified as Santosh, to stop him from crying. They then disposed of his body near an old rickshaw heap. Incidentally, Santosh was the victim of the first of the murders for which they would be convicted.

In another instance, a two-year-old boy was hanged upside down, and his head was slammed repeatedly against the wall. Another child was drowned by Renuka and Seema in the bathroom.

They killed another two-and-half-year-old girl, stuffed her body in a bag and took it to a cinema theatre where they coolly watched a film and later dumped the body on the way home.

The law finally caught up with them in October 1996 and they were arrested by the Kolhapur Police.

Their arrests and the conviction

In 1998, Anjana died in prison of an illness. She was 50 years old at the time, and the trial was yet to begin.

On 28 June 2001, an additional sessions judge at Kolhapur convicted the two sisters for kidnapping 13 minor children and killing at least six of them — four girls and two boys — sentencing them to death.

The High Court upheld their sentence for five murders.

On 31 August 2006, the Supreme Court upheld the HC’s ruling. Special public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam said at the time, "We limited the period of killing to six years. However, this had been going on for longer than that. The women could not remember how many children they had killed."

After the Supreme Court ruling, Seema and Renuka filed a mercy petition on 10 October 2008 and 17 October 2009, respectively. After then President Pranab Mukherjee rejected their mercy pleas in 2014, they approached the Bombay HC seeking commutation of their death sentence on the ground that the state had taken an inordinate time causing an unexplained delay in seeking their mercy plea.

Shinde and Gavit contended that the President took more than five years to reject their mercy petitions when such a plea should have been disposed of within three months.

Why did Bombay High Court finally commute their death sentences?

The court concluded its hearing in the case on 22 December 2021 and finally on Tuesday ordered the commutation of the death sentences, and cancelled and set aside the warrant to execute the death penalty.

A division bench of Justice Nitin M Jamdar and Justice Sarang V Kotwal of the Bombay HC admonished the state for the "unexplained, gross delay" in disposing of the sisters’ mercy petitions, and said that "due to the casual approach of officers of state, mercy pleas were not decided for seven years, 10 months and 15 days, between 2006 and 2014".

"Though the procedure for deciding the mercy petitions mandates speed and expediency, the state machinery showed indifference and laxity at each stage of processing the files," the order said.

The judges, however, said that the crimes committed by the convicts were heinous and they will remain at Yerwada Jail in Pune for the rest of their lives.

How the sisters reacted

According to The National, lawyer Manik Mulik, who represented the three women in the case, said that the order was 'justice' for the convicts as they had been living in trauma of being "hanged to death" all these years.

"I feel glad that their death sentence has been commuted to life imprisonment. For the last seven years, they were living in the fear and trauma of dying every day because there was a delay," he was quoted as saying.

According to Delhi-based research and advocacy group Project 39A, India has of date as many as 404 prisoners on death row.

With inputs from agencies

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Bombay HC commutes death sentence of Gavit Sisters: Tracing back the horrific crimes of Maharashtra's serial killer sisters
Bombay HC commutes death sentence of Gavit Sisters: Tracing back the horrific crimes of Maharashtra's serial killer sisters
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