Killer sisters make last bid to avoid execution
SERIAL killer sisters Seema Gavit and Renuke Shinde are making a last desperate bid to avoid execution for abducting and murdering multiple children aged under five years old.
The sisters, who with their mother abducted or brutally murdered up to 13 children, are due to become the first women hanged in India for 72 years.
On death row in Yerawada Central Jail in the western Indian city of Pune, the sisters are incarcerated for the crimes which they committed while aged in their 20s.
The sisters' lawyer Sudeep Jaiswal told news.com.au exclusively that the two women - known as the Gavit sisters - hoped to have their death penalty commuted to life in prison.
Speaking from his chambers in Nagpur, Mr Jaiswal described plans to execute the sisters as "a barbaric act".
Yerawada jail has its own gallows and the "anda", an egg-shaped cell where condemned prisoners are held and weighed before being hanged.
Mr Jaiswal, who belongs to a prominent Indian legal and cricket-playing family, is reputed for his skills in getting murderers off or avoiding the death penalty.
The Gavit sisters have exhausted all court appeals against their death sentence, and had the Indian president reject a plea for mercy.
Serial killer sisters bid to avoid execution
They have also launched a petition claiming that the delay in execution has caused them "immense mental torture, emotional and physical agony".
It was in 1996 that police arrested Seema Gavit, 25, Rebuka Shinde, 29, her husband Kiran Shinde and the girls' mother Anjana Bai Gavit.
Anjana, who died in prison the year after her arrest, was the matriarch of the family who operated a theft and pickpocket racket.
They stole from people mainly in the streets of India's ninth largest city Pune, in Maharashtra state, 40 per cent of whose population live in slums.
But two events were to turn Anjana into something more sinister, a kidnapper and murderer with her daughters as assistants.
A cold-eyed criminal, she had been arrested for 125 cases of petty theft including pick pocketing and snatching people's gold chains from around their necks at railway stations, Anjana had become a thief after her first husband, a truck driver, deserted her after the birth of Renuka.
Then her second husband, a retired soldier named Mohan Gavit, left her after the birth of Seema.
He married another woman named Pratima and the couple had a baby girl.
In 1990, Anjana, 58, ordered her daughters to abduct Mohan and Pratima's daughter, Kranti, who she murdered
Around the same time, Renuka was with her toddler son Aashish in the process of pickpocketing someone in a temple complex when the victim caught her.
An angry crowd surrounded Renuka, but using the boy as a foil, Renuka said "How can a woman with a child commit a crime?".
The crowd let her go.
It was after this that Anjana decided the trio would always take a child along when committing a theft.
Anjana expanded the syndicate's operations to other Indian cities or suburbs - Thane and Kalyan in Mumbai, Kolhapur, and Nashik - in Maharashtra.
Renuka's husband Kiran drove the getaway car.
Over the next six years up to 40 children were kidnapped.
Some were let go, others were deliberately injured to create a distraction, or murdered when they had lost their usefulness.
At least nine were murdered and among the victims were a nine-month-old and two 18-month-olds.
Only five of the murders would be proven in court.
The first of those was an 18-month-old boy named Santosh who Renuka kidnapped from a female beggar in Kolhapur.
They trio took him to Kolhapur and went to a temple. When Seema tried to snatch a wallet and was caught by the male victim, he began beating her.
To create a distraction, Anjana deliberately threw Santosh to the ground and the child sustained a head injury.
People then consoled the trio, and the theft went unreported to police.
The women then moved on to a bus stop and stole three more purses, but Santosh continued to cry from his bleeding head wound.
Anjana decided the boy was of no further use and might attract the attention of police.
She struck him with an iron pole until he was dead, and then washed her clothes of blood.
They took his body to a rickshaw stand and disposed of it, fleeing back to their hostel.
In 1991, they kidnapped nine-month-old Naresh, who was starved and beaten to death because he cried too much.
Another victim, Bhavna, was the same age as Santosh. She was gagged, bundled into a handbag and taken to the ladies' toilet of a cinema.
There she was drowned with one of the sisters holding the girls' legs to stop her flailing in the water.
In 1993, they abducted a one-year-old child named Bunti and a girl, Swaty, 2, from Kalyan Railway station in Mumbai, and a boy Guddu, 2, from another Mumbai station.
The three women murdered Bunti and Guddu and disposed of their bodies.
In 1994, they kidnapped a child Anjali, 2, in Nashik and killed her and disposed of the body with Kiran Shinde's help.
In 1995, they kidnapped a boy Raja from a bus stop in Kolhapur and killed him.
They kidnapped Pankaj Mamondkar, aged four, but he proved liable to talk to passers-by about his parents.
In 1996, the women hung him upside down from the ceiling and slammed his head against a wall until he was dead.
In November 1996, Anjana hatched a plot to kidnap and murder her ex-husband Mohan's second daughter.
But Mohan's wife Pratima called police and Anjana, her two daughters and Renuka's husband were arrested.
One police investigator remembers all three women as being tough witnesses, but particularly the matriarch Anjana.
"She would just sit there and look. Never once did that woman crack," he said.
But eventually Seema broke down, admitting to the kidnapping and killing of Kranti, which she said it was all under their mother's orders.
Detectives searched their home, uncovering the discarded clothing of children.
They also found photographs of unknown toddlers at the birthday parties of Renuka's children.
Eventually the four were charged with kidnapping 13 children and killing nine.
In December 1997, Anjana died in custody while awaiting trial.
Kiran Shinde turned "approver", or state witness against his wife and sister-in-law and had all charges against him dropped.
The trial began in 1998 and continued for three years while Kiran gave evidence of the torture inflicted on the children.
The sisters were found guilty of six of the nine murders, but one of the killings was overturned on appeal in the High Court of Mumbai.
In 2001, the Kolhapur Sessions Court sentenced Seema and Renuka to death.
Renuka's four children have visited their mother, now aged in her late 40s, and their aunt Seema, 45, in prison.
The once attractive women are now gaunt and drawn, though both are hopeful of escaping the death sentence, lawyer Sudeep Jaiswal said.
Seema is the more talkative of the two, and determined to win their petition for mercy.
They are among 13 women on death row in India, whose ranks include Fahmida Sayed, one of the trio who planted the twin car bombs in Mumbai that killed 54 people in 2003.
No woman has been hanged in India since 1955, when Rattan Bai Jain, who killed three girls, became the first woman sent to the gallows since independence.
At Yerawada Jail, 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacker Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab was hanged in 2012.