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Preeti A. Rathi Murder: India’s First Death Verdict in an Acid Attack case in Mumbai

Both the victim and the accused were neighbours and family friends in Bhakra Beas Management Board Colony

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An acid attack victim. (Representational Image, Source: flickr)
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MUMBAI, September 09, 2016: On Thursday, a Mumbai Special Court declared a death penalty verdict to a Delhi man, Ankur Narayanlal Panwar, for hurling acid at Preeti A. Rathi, which led to her death in 2013.

“This is the first case of a death penalty in an acid attack case in the country after the amendment to the relevant laws in 2013. It will serve as a major deterrent to potential offenders,” Special Public Prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam told IANS, hailing the judgement.

Special Women’s Court Special Judge A.S. Shinde, who on Tuesday found the accused guilty, pronounced the death sentence after hearing the defence and prosecution on the quantum of punishment.

“As per the mitigating and aggravating circumstances of the case, the accused … will be hanged by his neck till death, subject to confirmation by the Bombay High Court,” the judge said in her ruling.

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During the arguments, Nikam sought death for the convict on grounds that this case fell in “the rarest of rare” category. It is the 38th case in his legal career in which Nikam has secured death sentence.

Defence lawyer Apeksha Vora argued for life sentence citing the hotel management graduate Panwar’s young age, his poor family background and lack of any past criminal record.

The Special Women’s Court found him guilty under Indian Penal Code Section 324B and Section 302 for causing grievous hurt by acid attack and murder.

The 23-year old victim, Rathi was a nurse and had arrived in Mumbai to join the Indian Navy’s INS Asvini Hospital as a nurse when the incident cut short her life and career.

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“The fatal attack on Rathi has a larger impact on society. She was looking forward to her job in Indian Navy but was killed mercilessly. The offence is a glaring case of such acid attacks on women,” Nikam argued.

“The convict had a one-sided love for the victim. He asked her not to travel to Mumbai and wanted to marry her, but the girl had rejected his marriage proposal,” Nikam told the media after the verdict.

Out of sheer jealousy he planned her murder, followed her all the way to Mumbai and then threw acid on her at Bandra Terminus station, he added.

The incident occurred on the morning of May 2, 2013, when Preeti, accompanied by her father Amar Singh Rathi, an aunt and an uncle alighted from the Garib Rath Express at Bandra.

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Minutes later, an unknown person with his face covered hurled nearly two litres of sulphuric acid at Rathi and disappeared in seconds.

The severely injured and profusely bleeding girl was rushed to a hospital for treatment but succumbed to multiple organ failures arising out of the acid burns on June 1.

“I am fully satisfied by the verdict. Justice has been done to our daughter,” said the victim’s father Rathi.

Rathi said if the convict challenged it in the Supreme Court, he would fight the case there too.

The Special Court relied on eyewitness accounts of other passengers at the railway station, the accounts of witnesses who saw him buying the acid from a New Delhi shop and his (Panwar’s) own injuries while hurling the acid.

Without solid leads, the Mumbai Police had arrested an engineering student from Rohtak, Haryana, but he was let off due to lack of evidence.

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Since Panwar had covered his face, it became practically impossible for the investigators to identify him though Rathi had named him as one of the possible suspects.

It was only some 45 days after the Mumbai Crime Branch took over the case that Panwar was finally nabbed from his Delhi home on January 17 – around eight months after the incident.

Panwar claimed he was taunted and insulted by his own family members and neighbours for his inability to get employment while Rathi had secured a prestigious assignment with the Indian Navy.

Both the victim and the accused were neighbours and family friends in Bhakra Beas Management Board Colony.

During the trial, call data records of Panwar when tallied with the railway timetables showed that he had travelled on the same train as the victim.

It proved Panwar was present at the spot at the time of the crime in Mumbai though his family had earlier claimed he had gone to Haridwar and the Rathi family said they had not seen him on the train.

Earlier, a Rs 200,000 compensation was given to the victim’s parents by the District Legal Services Authority’s Victim Compensation Committee. (IANS)

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Women Hit Especially Hard In Congo’s Worst Ebola Outbreak

For the afflicted, the road to recovery is long and lonely.

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Ebola, WHO, UNICEF, congo, Uganda, women
Congolese health workers register people and take their temperatures before they are vaccinated against Ebola in the village of Mangina in North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo. VOA

The Democratic Republic of Congo is in the throes of its worst-ever Ebola outbreak, with more than 420 cases in the country’s volatile east, and a mortality rate of just under 60 percent. But this outbreak — the nation’s tenth known Ebola epidemic — is unusual because more than 60 percent of patients are women.

Among them is Baby Benedicte. Her short life has already been unimaginably difficult.

At one month old, she is underweight, at 2.9 kilograms. And she is alone. Her mother had Ebola, and died giving birth to her. She’s spent the last three weeks of her life in a plastic isolation cube, cut off from most human contact. She developed a fever at eight days old and was transferred to this hospital in Beni, a town of some half-million people in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

More than 400 people have been diagnosed with Ebola here since the beginning of August, and more than half of them have died in a nation the size of Western Europe that struggles with insecurity and a lack of the most basic infrastructure and services. That makes this the second-worst Ebola outbreak in history, after the hemorrhagic fever killed more than 11,000 people in West Africa between 2013 and 2016.

This is 10th outbreak to strike the vast country since 1976, when Ebola was first identified in Congo. And this particular outbreak is further complicated by a simmering civil conflict that has plagued this region for more than two decades.

Guido Cornale, UNICEF’s coordinator in the region, says the scope of this outbreak is clear.

“It has become the worst outbreak in Congo, this is not a mystery,” he said.

What is mysterious, however, is the demographics of this outbreak. This time, more than 60 percent of cases are women, says the government’s regional health coordinator, Ndjoloko Tambwe Bathe.

“All the analyses show that this epidemic is feminized. Figures like this are alarming. It’s true that the female cases are more numerous than the male cases,” he said.

Congo, Uganda, ebola, Women
Health workers walk with a boy suspected of having been infected with the Ebola virus, at an Ebola treatment center in Beni, near Congo’s border with Uganda. VOA

Bathe declined to predict when the outbreak might end, though international officials have said it may last another six months. Epidemiologists are still studying why this epidemic is so skewed toward women and children, Cornale said.

“So now we can only guess. And one of the guesses is that woman are the caretakers of sick people at home. So if a family member got sick, who is taking care of him or her? Normally, a woman,” he said.

Or a nurse. Many of those affected are health workers, who are on the front line of battling this epidemic. Nurse Guilaine Mulindwa Masika, spent 16 days in care after a patient transmitted the virus to her. She says it was the fight of her life.

“The pain was enormous, the pain was constant,” she said. “The headache, the diarrhea, the vomiting, and the weakness — it was very, very bad.”

Congo, Ebola, Women
Marie-Roseline Darnycka Belizaire, World Health Organization (WHO) Epidemiology Team Lead, talks to women as part of Ebola contact tracing, in Mangina, Democratic Republic of Congo. VOA

For the afflicted, the road to recovery is long and lonely. Masika and her cured colleagues face weeks of leave from work to ensure the risk of infection is gone. In the main hospital in the city of Beni, families who have recovered live together in a large white tent, kept four meters from human contact by a bright orange plastic cordon. They yell hello at their caretakers, who must don protective gear if they want to get any closer.

And for Baby Benedicte, who is tended to constantly by a nurse covered head to toe in protective gear, the future is uncertain. Medical workers aren’t entirely sure where her father is, or if he is going to come for her.

Also Read: Congo Start Trials For Drugs Against Ebola

She sleeps most of the day, the nurse says, untroubled by the goings-on around her. Meanwhile, the death toll rises. (VOA)