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Death sentence for Preeti Rathi attacker revives debate on capital punishment

Despite being hailed as a landmark judgment, the accused in the 2013 acid attack case of Preeti Rathi, may escape the noose. Described as “rarest of the rare” case by the special women’s court of Mumbai, the order which came on Thursday awarding capital punishment to 26-year-old Ankur Lal Panwar, has started a debate among the legal fraternity. “This is a historic verdict as for the first time an acid attack convict has been handed death penalty,” Special Public Prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam told  
Millennium Post. 

He was of the opinion that the case was fit for death sentence on two counts. “First point to consider would be rampant acid attacks on young girls and second, Preeti Rathi was brutally murdered by spraying two- litre  acid on her face with the intention of causing her death. The aim was to inflict a painful death, as she spurned Ankur’s marriage proposal,” said Nikam.

On the other hand lawyer-cum-activist Abha Singh felt that since Ankur was young and didn’t have any past criminal antecedents, he didn’t deserve such a harsh judgment.  “I believe the High Court will reduce the punishment,” she said.

But at the same time she also felt that India had failed to check atrocities on women and it had taken long ten years to deliver a verdict, whereas a small country like Bangladesh, known for the highest number of acid attacks on women, was successful in decreasing the menace with tough measures.

Nikam, who has handled several important and extraordinary cases also added, “People who advocate against death penalty are bound to say that young offenders should not be sent to the gallows, but if there is no repentance capital punishment is the only answer.”

Till early 2013 there were no clear statistics on acid attack cases in India, because the Indian criminal Law did not recognize it as a separate offence. With amendment in the Indian Penal Code in February 2013, acid attacks are now being recorded as a separate offence under sections 326A and 326B. 

The first data available after the amendment relate to the year 2014 when 349 cases were reported from all over India. The years 2011, 2012 and 2013 witnessed 83, 85 and 66 cases being reported respectively.

Many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been formed to combat such attacks. Bangladesh has its Acid Survivors Foundation, which offers acid victims legal, medical, counseling, and monetary assistance in rebuilding their lives.

Indian acid attack survivor Shirin Juwaley founded the Palash Foundation to help other survivors with psycho-social rehabilitation. NGOs provide rehabilitation services for survivors while acting as advocates for social reform, hoping to increase support and awareness for acid assault.

On January 17, 2014, the crime branch arrested Panwar had been found guilty under charges of Indian Penal Code sections 302 (murder) and 326 B (causing grievous hurt by use of acid).
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