On May 2, 2013 Delhi resident Preeti Rathi alighted from the Garib Rath Express at Bandra Terminus and was attacked on the railway station. A man who had covered his face with a handkerchief came forward and flung acid on her face. Preeti Rathi suffered 12-15 per cent burns and deep internal injuries in her throat as she had swallowed acid
Preeti Rathi had arrived in Mumbai from Delhi to report for her first job as a nurse in Ashwini Hospital in Colaba. Preeti Rathi was battling for her life in the hospital and used to communicate with her family and hospital staff via written notes, as she was unable to open her left eye after the right one was left severely damaged following the attack.
In pic: Preeti Rathi's parents
The Mumbai crime branch and the Government Railway Police interrogated several people, including Preeti Rathi's college friends, her colleagues at Batra Hospital where she studied nursing, her neighbours and relatives. When CCTV footage from Bandra Terminus was shown to Preeti, she had named three people who could be her potential attackers Pawan Gahlan, Ankur Panwar or Satyam Varghese.
On June 1, 2013, Preeti Rathi died of multiple organ failure. Ankur Panwar, (in picture) Preeti's neighbour in Delhi, revealed to the police in 2014 that he attacked her because he was jealous of her success. His parents kept taunting him for not being as successful as her. She had also turned down his proposal to marry him
Ankur Panwar's mother used to visit Preeti Rathi's house, as they are family friends. As her own son was unemployed, Panwar's mother used to taunt him and compare him to Preeti. This caused Ankur much anger. Police investigations revealed that Ankur was a hotel management graduate from a private university in Orissa and spent a huge amount on his education. Yet, he was jobless and his parents' taunts got to him.
Ankur Panwar's mother came to know that the Preeti Rathi's salary would be around Rs 50,000. She taunted Ankur on his inability to get a job. This angered him a lot. Ankur stole battery acid (sulphuric acid) from the nearby office of Delhi Electricity Supply Undertaking. His mother had told him that Preeti was taking the Garib Rath to Mumbai on May 1. He got into the train without a ticket and was searching for the right moment to throw the acid at her. As soon as Preeti got down at Bandra Terminus, he tied a handkerchief to cover his face and attacked her
In picture: Preeti Rathi's mother
Interestingly, of all the potential accused named by Preeti Rathi, Ankur Panwar wasn't questioned initially. The GRP official investigating the case arrested Gahlan, who was later released by the court. Varghese, too, was interrogated but Ankur was never questioned. Police only took statements of Ankur’s father, Narayanlal, who claimed his son was in Haridwar at the time and had gone there for an interview in a five-star hotel
After Railway Crime Branch took Ankur Panwar's statements, they showed Ankur's picture to Preeti's father, Amar Singh Rathi, who told us he had not seen Ankur anywhere in the train. So they didn't interrogate him. On questioning, Ankur said he had gone for an interview in Haridwar during the time Preeti was attacked, but when Railway Crime Branch inquired with the hotel in Haridwar, they denied that such an interview had ever taken place. This raised their suspicion. They also found some marks on his hands which were due to the acid
In 2016, Special Public Prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam asked the court to hold the sentencing so he can argue for maximum sentence. Preeti’s family is hoping that the court will sentence Ankur to death. In September 2016, Mumbai sessions court convicted Ankur for Preeti's murder. He was awarded death sentence. After the new amendment in laws on acid attack cases, this was the first time the death penalty has been awarded to an accused
In picture: Ujjwal Nikam
Even on the day of reckoning, Ankur Panwar could not seem to muster any remorse for flinging acid on Preeti Rathi in 2013 and causing her an agonising death. Panwar was all smiles even as the judge sentenced him to death for the vicious crime. Minutes later, he got into a brawl with the victim’s family and hit Preeti Rathi's brother, before the police dragged him away
Shortly after the scuffle, Preeti Rathi's father emerged from the courthouse and said, "I am satisfied with the verdict. If he appeals in the high court, I will make sure he gets the death sentence there, too. This kind of man has no place in society; he deserves to be in jail. He is a cruel man and he can't be good to his parents either. He deserves this punishment."
Preeti Rathi’s real killer was finally convicted but Pawan Gahlan (in picture) couldn't come to terms with how the police ruined his life three years ago by branding him a murderer. But what he finds even harder to digest is the fact that he was arrested just for doing the right thing and trying to support the victim's family. Pawan spent three months behind bars before the Bombay High Court granted him bail upon observing that there was no evidence against him. All suspicion against him was finally wiped out when the Mumbai Crime Branch arrested Preeti’s neighbour Ankur Panwar, who was convicted. However, he went into depression soon after losing prospective jobs and marriage alliances
In 2019, Bombay HC upheld the conviction of Ankur Panwar in the 2013 case. He had been given the death penalty in 2016 for flinging sulphuric acid on Preeti on May 2, 2013. A division bench of justices B P Dharmadhikari and P D Naik partly allowed the appeal filed by Ankur, challenging the death penalty awarded to him by a special court in 2016, and commuted it to life imprisonment
Picture for Representation only: An episode on the sordid saga of Preeti Rathi's acid attack and subsequent death was aired on Crime Patrol, a television show that shows dramatised real-life crime cases revolving around harassment, kidnapping, and murder while also presenting re-enactments
In June 2019, Bombay HC upheld the conviction of Ankur Panwar in the 2013 case. He had been given the death penalty in 2016 for flinging sulphuric acid on Preeti Rathi on May 2, 2013. Until this point, acid attacks were not categorised as the rarest of rare cases that justified capital punishment but after the new amendment in laws on acid attack cases, this was the first time the death penalty has been awarded to an accused. However, that was commuted to life sentence. Here's all what you need to know about the Preeti Rathi acid attack case
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