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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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Top Hollywood women unveiled a sexual harassment initiative

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Top Hollywood women unveiled a sexual harassment initiative
A combination photo shows some of the actresses who have made allegations against producer Harvey Weinstein. Listed in alphabetical order, top row from left, Asia Argento, Rosanna Arquette, Jessica Barth, Cara Delevingne, Romola Garai, Judith Godreche, Heather Graham, Angelina Jolie. VOA

USA, Jan 1, 2018: More than 300 top women in Hollywood — from Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lawrence to Emma Thompson and Cate Blanchett — unveiled an initiative Monday to tackle pervasive sexual harassment in workplaces, calling special attention to their “sisters” in less than glamorous blue-collar jobs.

The initiative, dubbed Time’s Up, caps a year in which the Harvey Weinstein sexual misconduct scandal touched off a deluge of allegations that brought down powerful men in entertainment, politics and the media, prompting companies, government agencies and even the U.S. federal court system to re-examine harassment policies.

But in an open letter printed in The New York Times, the new initiative lends the star power of its A-list members to the cause of women in less prominent fields, urging support and respect for farm workers and others whose humble positions leave them vulnerable and voiceless.

“We fervently urge the media covering the disclosures by people in Hollywood to spend equal time on the myriad experiences of individuals working in less glamorized and valorized trades,” the group says in its full-page ad.

“To every woman employed in agriculture who has had to fend off unwanted sexual advances from her boss, every housekeeper who has tried to escape an assaultive guest, every janitor trapped nightly in a building with a predatory supervisor, every waitress grabbed by a customer and expected to take it with a smile … we stand with you. We support you.”

$15 million goal

Last month, the head of Ford Motor Company apologized to employees at two factories in Chicago and promised changes, after a scathing expose by the Timesdetailed pervasive harassment and mistreatment of women at the plants dating back to the 1990s. It was one of the first major media investigations into sexual harassment in blue-collar workplaces.

Among the specific steps it announced, Time’s Up has established a legal defense fund that, in just 12 days, has raised $13.4 million toward a $15 million goal aimed at providing legal aid for women and men who were sexually harassed, assaulted or abused in the workplace.

It has vowed to push for legislation to strengthen laws on workplace harassment and discrimination.

The group insists that more women must be brought into positions of power and leadership, while every woman should have equal benefits, opportunities, pay and representation.

As for Hollywood, it wants “swift and effective change to make the entertainment industry a safe and equitable place for everyone.”

And it called on women to wear black at Sunday’s Golden Globes as a statement against gender and racial inequality, and to raise awareness about the group’s efforts.

‘Dear Sisters’ 

The open letter in the Times, which also appears in the Spanish-language La Opinion, opens with the words “Dear Sisters” in large, bold type, and closes with the words “in solidarity,” followed by the names of the 300 women.

Several of Weinstein’s accusers signed the open letter. They include Ashley Judd, Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Beckinsale, as well as Salma Hayek, whose lengthy account of mistreatment by Weinstein — “my monster,” she called him — was widely circulated on social media after appearing last month in The New York Times.

Weinstein has denied some of the allegations, including Hayek’s assertion that he pressured her to do a nude sex scene in one movie.

Other prominent women lending their names to the Time’s Up cause are actresses Natalie Portman, America Ferrera, Amy Schumer, Halle Berry, Julianne Moore, Keira Knightley, Nicole Kidman, Penelope Cruz, Reese Witherspoon, Scarlett Johansson, Susan Sarandon, Uma Thurman and Viola Davis; producer Shonda Rhimes; Universal Pictures chair Donna Langley; feminist activist Gloria Steinem; lawyer and ex-Michelle Obama chief of staff Tina Tchen and Nike Foundation co-chair Maria Eitel. (VOA)