A division bench comprising justices Abhay Oka and Srihrihari Davare, while enhancing the sentence of Rajendra Wabale (then 22 years old ) and Vishwanath Shetti (then 23 years old) from three years to 10 years last week, observed that “adopting unwarranted lenient and liberal approach will totally defeat the legislature’s intention of imposing stringent punishment for such offences against women and society at large.”
The state had sought an enhancement of Wabale and Shetti’s sentence after they challenged it before court.
According to additional public prosecutor Hitendra Dedhia, at 4pm on October 24, 1990, inebriated Wabale and Shetti landed with a knife and a stick at a temporary tin shed at a construction site in Pune provided to a married couple employed there. After threatening the husband with the knife, the two raped the woman.
On September 9, 1991, the sessions court convicted the duo for gang-rape and criminal intimidation, besides sentencing each to three years in jail. Though the minimum jail term for rape is 10 years, the sessions judge reasoned that the two men were the sole earning members of their families and had dependent parents.
Though a less-than-minimum sentence can be awarded only for ‘adequate or special reasons’, the high court observed that “the accused being the only earning members of the family cannot be termed as ‘adequate reason’ or termed as ‘special reasons’”.
The judges also noted, “The legislature after considering the heinous nature of the crime, which is essentially a crime against society, has chosen to provide for a stringent sentence of minimum 10 years of rigorous imprisonment.”
“Under such circumstances, undue sympathy shown [to the rapists] would be harmful to the judicial system,” it said, while observing that the delay in disposal of the appeal cannot be termed as “adequate reasons much less special reasons” for showing further leniency.
The high court has given 12 weeks to the convicts to surrender, failing which the trial court has been directed to initiate proceedings for their arrest to serve their sentence.