Will the Gavit sisters, serial killers of children, be the first women to be hanged?
In 2001, the Kolhapur sessions court awarded the death penalty to the Gavit sisters – Seema Gavit and Renuka Shinde – for abducting and killing a dozen-odd children aged between one and four years. In the next 14 years, their appeals against the sentence were turned down by all subsequent authorities including the Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court. In April 2014 came the final blow for the sisters, when their mercy petition was rejected by the President of India.
Despite all of this, the sisters are still hopeful that they will escape the sentence. To stretch the legal discourse further, the duo in August 2014 filed a fresh petition before the Bombay High Court citing "delay in execution" as the latest reason for getting off death row. Since then there is a stay on their execution and the case, as expected, is moving at a snail's pace. With its last hearing held in April 2015, the case will now come up in October 2015.
The sisters are not alone. In the past three years, President Pranab Mukherjee has rejected 24 mercy pleas (till May 2015) of which only two convicts- Mohd Ajmal Kasab and Afzal Guru- have been hanged till date. The remaining convicts have managed to procure a stay on their hanging by moving fresh petitions before the respective High Courts, primarily on the grounds of prolonged procedural delays in execution. Maharashtra has 30 convicts on death row, including 1993 blast convict Yakub Memon and the three Shakti Mills rapists. All convicts facing death sentences in Maharashtra are moved to Yerwada in Pune or the Nagpur jail, because these are the only two prisons in the state that have gallows.
In January 2014, a three-judge panel headed by Chief Justice of India Palanisamy Sathasivam commuted sentences of 15 death row convicts, ruling that the "inordinate and inexplicable delay is a ground for commuting death penalty to life sentence".
The Gavit sisters, too, have sought relief on the grounds of "delay" on the state government's part in executing them. But the state government has blamed the delays on the procedural lapses done by the jail superintendent as well as on the fire in Mantralaya. The government, in its affidavit filed before the Bombay High Court, said it could not furnish complete documents before the President at the earliest due to the fire, and had to procure relevant documents from the jail superintendent.
Sources in the home department also claim that the sisters, too, have deliberately delayed the proceedings under legal guidance. "They knew the delay will go in their favour. So, initially, one of the sisters sat on the consent to file mercy petition for over a year," said a senior officer.
While awarding the death sentence to the sisters in 2001, Judge GL Yedke in Kolhapur had described the nine kids' murders as 'the most heinous', and observed that the two sisters seemed to have enjoyed killing the children.
What is the case against the Gavit sisters?
Renuka and Seema, along with their mother Anjanabai Gavit, used to kidnap children and push them into begging. They killed some of the children after they stopped being productive. The sisters are currently lodged at the Yerwada jail in Pune. Anjanabai passed away during the trial, and the sisters' father Kiran Shinde turned approver and was acquitted.