A special women’s court on Thursday sentenced accused Ankur Panwar to death in the Preeti Rathi acid attack case. Describing his act as gruesome, merciless and planned, the prosecution had sought capital punishment for the 25-year-old Panwar. Special judge AS Shende found Panwar guilty of Rathi’s murder and also of hurting others after he threw sulphuric acid on the young girl in May 2013.
When I saw the news flash, I remembered her family, especially her mother. I had met her a few weeks after her death on June 1 at their modest Narela home because Hindustan Times was doing a series on acid attack victims.
Initially she did not speak much, letting her husband and Preeti’s siblings to tell me about the “quiet, unassuming and hardworking” girl who went to Mumbai to join a “dream job” with the Indian Navy.
But when I switched off my recorder and closed my notebook, Preeti’s mother, Roshni, opened up: “I am illiterate. So I wanted the best education we could afford for Preeti and her siblings, Hitesh (21) and Tanu (19). Where we come from, Rewari in Haryana, girls are often forced to drop out of school.”
Hugging Preeti’s framed photograph, she added: “With her first salary, she bought us new clothes. Her starting salary at the naval hospital would have been Rs 40,000, plus allowances. The day before she left for Mumbai, she said she would take us there once she got an official accommodation.” But that was never to be.
When I met the family, the police were still clueless about the attacker and her parents did not know anyone who could do such a thing to Preeti.
Roshni also spoke about how things quickly changed around them after the attack. “From a quiet family that kept to itself, we suddenly found ourselves fielding questions from the media, meeting politicians and leading protest marches to demand justice for Preeti. It’s difficult to accept that she’s no more. If the culprit is ever arrested, he will probably get a life term. But, tell me, is that enough?”
Till the end came on June 1, Preeti’s mind was alert. She wrote messages to her family, asking about her job and why she was attacked. “She wanted life imprisonment for the accused,” her mother added, tears flowing.
A life term, indeed, would not have been enough.
But the strong sentence will, hopefully, give the family some kind of closure (if that’s at all possible), and send out a strong signal that violence against women will be dealt with strongly.
It is also a big day for those acid attack victims who are fighting to bring their attackers to book.