Family members of Shakti Mills juvenile rapist want him to start afresh

mid-day tracks down home of Shakti Mills juvenile rapist whose family hopes the boy could get a second chance; claims he had nothing to do with the gang-rape of the 22-year-old photojournalist

In a lane somewhere near Dhobi Ghat in Mahalakshmi is the home of the juvenile Shakti Mills rapist. It’s a nondescript little doorway, one among several in the shanty-street. Here, the juvenile is “danger ka naam” — the boy who moved with gangs several years older than him, drank alcohol and did drugs, and was one among the five accused in the gangrape of a 22-year-old photojournalist, now known as the Shakti Mills case.

Shakti Mills gang-rape: How a few good men helped crack the case

The juvenile’s 88-year-old grandmother, who is a vegetable vendor, says the last time she met him in the Nashik remand home, he said he would stay away from crime. Pic/Sameer Markande
The juvenile’s 88-year-old grandmother, who is a vegetable vendor, says the last time she met him in the Nashik remand home, he said he would stay away from crime. Pic/Sameer Markande

The police came on the morning of August 23, 2013. The boy, then 17, was the first to be picked up, followed by Vijay Jhadav (19), Mohammed Salim Ansari (28), Mohamed Kasim Hafiiz Sheikh (21) and Siraj Rehman Khan (24). Siraj was sentenced to life imprisonment and the remaining three, convicted as repeat offenders, were sentenced to death under the new rape laws drafted following another gruesome gangrape in the national capital, which is now known as the December 16 Delhi rape case.

The juvenile convicted in the 2013 rape of a Mumbai photojournalist
The juvenile convicted in the 2013 rape of a Mumbai photojournalist

As the juvenile in the Delhi rape case is set to walk free today, following three years in a remand home, the Mumbai juvenile’s neighbours told sunday mid-day they are not keen on his release next year when he finishes serving time at a Nashik remand home. However, his family is hopeful that he will be out and able to live a normal life again.

The shanty-street where the juvenile grew up. Pic/Sameer Markande
The shanty-street where the juvenile grew up. Pic/Sameer Markande

Shama Behen is a puny woman sitting and combing her hair right outside the shanty-street on Friday afternoon. Even before August 22, 2013, she was known in the area as the juvenile’s nani. The youngest among her grandchildren, the juvenile is her darling, who, she is convinced, would never rape a woman.

A file photo of Shakti Mills, a week after the rape occurred on August 22, 2013
A file photo of Shakti Mills, a week after the rape occurred on August 22, 2013

Shama, who travels to Nashik every month to visit the juvenile, told sunday mid-day, “At least he is safe. He won’t be hanged like the other three. Last time I met him, he said he has reformed and will not involve himself in any crime. He will be away from everything and focus on work once he is out. But you never know what may happen.”

A foodie by nature
In the neighbourhood, gangs of boys talk in loud voices by the sides of roads and outside temples. Rashid, a 65-year-old bicycle shop owner, knew the juvenile as a child and teenager.

Shakti Mills clicked on Thursday night. It has been sealed after the incident. Following court orders, a metal door has been fixed at the entrance, and guards in three shifts are seen in the area. Pic/Suresh KK
Shakti Mills clicked on Thursday night. It has been sealed after the incident. Following court orders, a metal door has been fixed at the entrance, and guards in three shifts are seen in the area. Pic/Suresh KK

A foodie, he opted to work in a chicken shop opposite Rashid’s when very young. His chicken shop employer, on the condition of anonymity, said, “When he was 10, he started coming to my shop and would handle the cash counter. He was very efficient with the work I gave him. He didn’t have a fixed salary, but whenever he asked me for money, I’d hand him some. Mostly, he took money from me to eat well.”

Shakti Mills gang-rape: The timeline

The juvenile’s brother says he started taking drugs after he was convicted. He was himself caught earlier this year by the Mumbai police for chain-snatching
The juvenile’s brother says he started taking drugs after he was convicted. He was himself caught earlier this year by the Mumbai police for chain-snatching

One of the juvenile’s friends said he was always keen to try different kinds of food and the two started working at events organised at the Race Course since staff would get to enjoy a good meal after.

“He got spoiled by others in the area,” said Rashid. “He’d give his earnings to his grandmother. While he was involved in many petty crimes, like stealing metal scrap from the rail tracks, I never thought he would rape someone.”

Also read: Two juveniles convicted in Shakti Mill gangrapes

Rashid’s affection was cut short by the stern voice of his neighbour upstairs. “Why don’t you tell the truth?” she cut him. “Ek number ka pocket maar tha woh (He was a first-class pickpocket). He and his gang would pickpocket day and night and even harass girls in the area. It will be better if he remains in jail. Once he is out, he and his gang will be responsible for a lot of crime and fights in this area.”

The legend of a boy who lost his innocence in bad company is a recurring theme in the neighbourhood. But for everyone who believes in that theory is another waiting to squash it. “This place is not good for women,” one concerned resident told us. “Even a 10-year-old will be seen doing drugs. Even the good boys turn out bad.”

His friend sums up the juvenile: “He got spoiled because there was no one to look after him. His old nani was busy earning a living. She didn’t pay much attention and his mother had passed away. The three [brothers] had no one to shape them.”

The three brothers
The juvenile’s mother passed away during childbirth, and her children – the juvenile is the middle child – were raised by Shama Behen. With two elder brothers and two younger sisters, he studied at nearby municipality schools till the fifth standard, later dropping out to take up small jobs in the area. Rashid, the bicycle mechanic, said that the juvenile’s brother usually hangs around a nearby chai stall. As we were shunted from one stall to the other, someone finally pointed out to an emaciated boy in a black shirt.

The 21-year-old seemed heavily drugged and in a daze. He was a bit of a celebrity on the crime beat. Earlier this year, he had swallowed a gold chain he had snatched off a train commuter when he was surrounded by passers-by. The police had to ply him with two dozen bananas, laxatives and several litres of milk over three days to get the chain out.

Shakti Mills gangrape: Trio boasted of other rapes, laughed at victim

“I started doing drugs after my brother got arrested,” he said, as he fished out a remarkably clean handkerchief and wiped his eyes dry. Saliva fizzed at the corner of his lips, but, seated on a bike, he looked like a petty god, with a menagerie of older followers behind him. The men shooed away a crowd that gathered around us from time to time.

“He used to do namaz five times a day, and, while I agree that he was involved in petty crimes, he would never rape a girl,” he said of his younger brother. Behind him, his followers nodded. He narrated the past, as he remembered, to us. “Jhadav, Ansari and Hafiz had spotted the photojournalist and were going to rape her, for which they called Siraj and my brother. He might have done things to the girl superficially, but never raped her,” he said.

The monitor
The juvenile, in his brother’s eyes, is an achiever no matter where he goes. So, in the Dongri home for juveniles, he was made monitor, something he could never dream of while in the municipal schools he studied. Here, too, there are two versions when people speak about him. The caretaker at the entrance of the home remembered him as a well-behaved boy.

“He never misbehaved while he was here and used to read books and newspapers,” he said. Three college-goers, former inmates who had arrived here for their hearing, had a different tale to tell. They used to be at the Dongri home in January 2013, when the juvenile was lodged here for petty crimes he committed before the rape. He used to stay in the floor above them, and infamous stories about his bullying had spread downstairs as well.

“He looked so big, the police had to do a bone-test to ascertain his age,” said one of the boys. Bhai, as he was called among them, was the monitor, unleashing his strict dominion upstairs, and appeared downstairs twice a day to do his namaaz. Wardens apparently turned a blind-eye to the goings-on.

He is remembered as a gang leader, who had under him a group of violent boys. One such boy from September 2013 said that once, in order to teach a lesson, the juvenile had smashed a boy’s head against a carom board.

“It used to be a really bad scene, and we, who were younger than him, got beaten up a lot. But his chelas were worse. Even after he left the Dongri home, his chelas used to keep threatening us. One of them broke a steel plate into pieces and threatened to stab another inmate with it,” said the boy.

Back at the shanty, Tejas (name changed), 17, a local chai-walla who was the witness in the Shakti Mills case, told sunday mid-day the juvenile was like his brother.

“We grew up together and he used to come to my place to eat. Sometimes, I would go over to his,” he said. His friendship was put to the test when the police asked him questions about the gang rape. “I couldn’t stop myself from saying where he stayed and giving as much information as possible. If it had been my sister who had been gang-raped, I would have expected others to take a similar approach, right?”

Tejas described the juvenile as calm and observant. “I think it was some eight months before the Shakti Mill incident, when he befriended Salim through some common friends,” he said. In Tejas’ version of the incident, Salim grabbed the girl and asked three others to start raping her. But it was the juvenile who tried to rescue the girl and even beat up Salim.

Also read: Shakti Mills gang rape survivor's mother speaks out

“He never even had a girlfriend; in fact, at the time when the case was in full flow, I was being constantly called to the police station and, while the investigation was on, I could hear cops saying that he didn't rape but was trying to save the girl on the spot.”

Clean slate
The grandmother sat beside a spread of chillies and lemons that she sold at the market. It looked like nothing had been sold, and she made no great effort to tempt customers. The 88-year-old, who claims she is five years short of 100, is severely hunched when she squats.

“I am afraid something will happen to him,” she said, showing us the day’s earnings, Rs 22. “Power and money can do anything. What if that girl [the survivor] tries to do something to him?”

Later, the elder brother said he too worries for the juvenile. Their father passed away, “because of tension about” the juvenile. The last he saw his brother was eight months ago when he accompanied his grandmother to Nashik. He said his brother was studying hard and learning farming.

“When he comes back here, we will move to some place where no one knows him. There, we will get him married to a girl who will know nothing about his past,” said the brother, before asking some labourers walking past to stop staring at us.

Expert Speak

On reducing age of juvenility
There is no need. The Juvenile Justice Act is well-thought out. What we need is proper operationalising of the law. Has the state appointed human resources and appropriate infrastructure? What they [juveniles] need is not a hobby class but intensive training programmes.

The intersection of women’s safety and juveniles
This should not be made into a women Vs children issue. The Justice Verma Committee [appointed after the Nirbhaya case] Report offers a number of steps for women’s safety, but does not recommend the lowering of the age for juveniles. In various cases, such as that of Salil Bali, the Supreme Court and the Parliamentary Standing Committee have rejected the portion of the Bill related to the lowering of age. Why don’t we consider other steps that need to be implemented?

(L) Maharukh Adenwala Advocate and Dr Mohua Nigudkar, Faculty at Tata Institute of Social Sciences' School of Social Work
(L) Maharukh Adenwala Advocate and Dr Mohua Nigudkar, Faculty at Tata Institute of Social Sciences' School of Social Work

On whether juvenile homes use the confidentiality clause to mask violence and failure within
Three critical things are required [in a home]: Adequate and well-trained staff, resources and facilities, and a concrete plan of rehabilitation for every child with clear mechanisms for monitoring and accountability.

On whether exceptions should be made in juvenile conviction
If society has agreed to provide direction and support to all children till they complete 18 years, we have to work with all children, including those who have been in crime to give them one chance to turn their lives around. This does not mean that we condone crime or make light of it because it has been committed by a child. On the contrary, we take every effort that it does not happen again. When a child does well, we ascribe it to a combination of factors. When a child does badly who will take the responsibility?

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