Hours before he was sentenced to death, Preeti Rathi’s killer, Ankur Panwar, appeared defiant as he flashed a victory sign at a camera as he arrived in court.
Inside the courtroom, Panwar, dressed in a peach shirt and grey trousers, sat in the accused’s box at the back, looking nonchalant as lawyers, journalists and relatives of Rathi entered.
Around 3pm on Thursday, the court called the case and Panwar was made to stand. The judge pronounced the verdict: After considering the mitigating and aggravating circumstances, the convict is sentenced to death. As the courtroom fell silent, a smile appeared on Panwar’s face. He would later tell Hindustan Times, “I was very relaxed as I had no hope”.
Panwar’s smile angered Rathi’s relatives and soon after the judge left the courtroom, her aunt walked up to the killer and began shouting at him. “Why are you laughing?” she said over and over again. Rathi’s brother Hitesh tried to attack Panwar but was stopped by a constable.
Chaos ensued and more police officers were called in to escort Rathi’s relatives out.
Panwar was left visibly agitated by the confrontation — his body shook in anger as he mumbled to himself. For the next two hours, police tried to calm him, offering him bottles of water. This had little effect on Panwar, who also refused to eat.
It was only after 5pm that Panwar, who was still sitting in the courtroom, appeared to calm down.
In a landmark judgement on Thursday, special women’s court judge AS Shende sentenced 25-year-old Ankur Panwar to death for a fatal acid attack on 23-year-old nurse Preeti Rathi at Bandra terminus in May 2013. Panwar, Rathi’s neighbour in Delhi, threw sulphuric acid on her just after she arrived in Mumbai on May 2, 2013 to join the Indian Navy as a nurse.
Rathi died of multiple organ failure at Bombay Hospital a month later. Panwar attacked her as he was jealous of her success and because she had rejected his marriage proposal.
This is the first time that a convict in India has been sentenced to death for an acid attack. India is also only the second country, after Bangladesh, to have done so. Under Bangladesh’s Acid Crime Suppression Act, attackers can be sentenced to death.
Panwar was convicted primarily on the basis of eyewitness statements, and because he could not explain certain injury marks on his hand.
Judge Shende said acid attacks were more brutal than rape. “Rape destroys the soul of the victim. But she can be kept in isolation, without disclosing her identity, and be rehabilitated. But for an acid attack victim, she has to move around with her destroyed body,” the judge said.
“Preeti survived for 30 days because she did not know how she looked; she was blind. She had no idea of the effect of the attack on her face. Survivors of acid attacks look like aliens — their own children can get scared of them. This is the kind of effect acid has on the body, and a person cannot live without their body.”