Mumbai: “Now that the court has given the death sentence to my son, I don’t know what to do. I’m unable to eat or sit in one place. I’m praying that my son should not be hanged,” Chand Bibi kept muttering, sitting on a footpath outside YMCA grounds, near Maratha Mandir cinema. The mother of Qasim Shaikh, one of the accused sentenced to death on Friday in the Shakti Mills gangrape case, found it hard to reconcile herself to the verdict.
“We will challenge it in a higher court. I’m sure we will get justice,” she said, claiming special public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam was too heavy on Qasim to “get fame and publicity”. “My son was never arrested, we had taken him to the police station,” she claimed, breaking down in between. Her brother, who was trying to console her, was equally bitter. “During Ajmal Kasab’s trial, the home minister never visited court, but R R Patil did so in this trial, which was just a pressure tactic,” he alleged.
At the Kalapani slums, where Qasim lived with his mother and siblings, it was life as usual. Women were cooking on the road as their children played in the congested bylanes. Neighbors learnt of the death penalty to Qasim and his two associates, Vijay Jadhav and Salim Ansari, from news channels, but were surprised by the death sentence. While many earlier welcomed the fact that the accused would be jailed for good, on Friday, most were of the opinion that though they committed a heinous crime, they should be jailed for a few years. “Qasim committed a serious offence but should not have been given the death sentence. He is but a boy. His mother, a widow for 10 years now, raised the children with great hardship. There will be no one to support her,” said a woman in her early 50s.
Earlier, while announcing the sentence, judge Shalini Phansalkar Joshi said that the plight of the families of the accused could not be ignored and said NGOs or the state could consider helping them.
A motor mechanic, who has his shop in the area for 12 years and knew Qasim, was shocked. “What are you saying? He will be hanged? I can’t imagine he can commit such a serious offence,” he said.
Jadhav’s brother, Gacchi, was loitering in the Machchi Market area near Jacob Circle. But few residents there knew about Jadhav’s sentencing, saying he wasn’t seen often.
At Vishnu Nagar in Mahul village, Ansari’s mother, wife and two sons aged six and four years were yet to return from court. However,his cousin, Sameena (22), said she heard the news on TV. “I don’t believe Salim could have committed such a horrendous act. He was the sole breadwinner. Since his arrest, his wife is working as a domestic help.” Gulzar Ansari, his brother-in-law, said they will move a higher court.
Abdul Khan (42), an auto driver said, “Less than two years ago, we all came here, in homes for slumdwellers. Salim came from slums near Dagdi Chawl. Most youths here fell prey to bad company, Salim too may have been one of them.”
(Inputs from George Mendonca & Rebecca Samervel)