Will Santosh Kumar Singh, held guilty of raping and murdering his college junior Priyadarshini Mattoo, get life imprisonment or death sentence? The answer may become clear on Monday when the Delhi High Court hears arguments on the quantum of sentence for Singh.
After hearing the counsel for CBI and Santosh's lawyer RK Naseem, the Bench will award the punishment or adjourn it until another day.
The court on October 17 had set aside the acquittal of Singh, now a practising lawyer, by a trial court on December 3, 1999, saying his guilt had been "proved by the prosecution beyond doubt". He was immediately sent to the Tihar jail.
CBI has demanded death sentence for Singh.
"... We are of the view that circumstances form a complete chain that leads us to the only conclusion that it is the respondent Santosh Kumar Singh who had committed rape and then murdered her (Mattoo) … By acquitting the respondent despite being convinced that there was no doubt in the prosecution case, the trial court had mauled justice; its decision shocked the judicial conscience of this court," said a Division Bench comprising Justice RS Sodhi and Justice PK Bhasin while convicting Santosh.
The Mattoo family's lawyer BL Wali said even the trial judge in his order had observed that Priyadarshini had been murdered in a barbaric manner. It means that the crime falls within the ambit of "rarest of rare category" and can fetch Santosh a death sentence.
Voice for justice grows
For friends of Priyadarshini, the 23-year-old law student who was murdered at her house at Vasant Kunj in 1996, it is just a beginning of their campaign for justice. After succeeding in getting conviction for Singh, they claim, they would fight for justice in the Jessica Lall and Nitish Katara cases.
On Sunday evening they assembled at Jantar Mantar to send out this message. "First thing on our agenda at present is to get the key witness in the Nitish Katara case, Bharti Yadav, back (in India)," said Mattoo's friend, Indu Jalali.
Bharti has been scuttling appearing in the session court for the past two years despite repeated summons and warrants. Now a non-bailable warrant has been issued against her.
Bharti's deposition is crucial for the prosecution as according to it, she is the last person who had seen accused Vikas Yadav and his cousin and co-accused Vishal Yadav take away Nitish.
Mattoo's friends remained silent on the quantum of punishment for Santosh. "We are not seeking vengeance," they said. Although former defence minister George Fernandes, who was present at Jantar Mantar, categorically said that Singh should be granted death penalty. "All my life I have opposed death penalty. But what Santosh Singh has done calls for maximum punishment — death penalty," he said.
The campaign for Mattoo had started in April this year over a few e-mails exchanged between her friends. "We were inspired by the uproar over the Jessica Lall case. We started a discussion on Mattoo's case through the Kashmiri Forum on the Internet. The voice grew louder through blogs," added Jalali.
And on July 23 this year, the virtual campaign spilled into the real world as Mattoo's supporters came out on the roads to mark their protest.