Indian court sentences man to death for acid attack in landmark judgment

An Indian court sentenced a man to death on Sept 8 for murdering a woman by throwing acid on her face after she rejected his marriage proposal, in a landmark judgment.
An Indian court sentenced a man to death on Sept 8 for murdering a woman by throwing acid on her face after she rejected his marriage proposal, in a landmark judgment.PHOTO: AFP

MUMBAI (AFP) - An Indian court sentenced a man to death on Thursday (Sept 8) for murdering a woman by throwing acid on her face after she rejected his marriage proposal, in a landmark judgment.

Ankur Panwar was found guilty on Tuesday of hurling sulphuric acid on 24-year-old Preeti Rathi in a fit of jealousy outside a railway station in the financial capital Mumbai in May 2013.

Rathi, who was a neighbour of Panwar in New Delhi and had just arrived in Mumbai to start a new job as a nurse, died in hospital of multiple organ failure the following month.

"The court has awarded the death penalty to Ankur Panwar. I convinced the court that the acid attack belonged to the rarest of rare cases," Public Prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam told AFP.

The Supreme Court says capital punishment should only be carried out in "the rarest of rare" cases in India, among a dwindling group of nations that still have the death penalty on their statute books.

"This is a landmark judgement for such crimes. This is the first time that such a judgement has been passed for an acid attack-related case against a woman," said Mr Nikam, who argued in court that Panwar's attack had been pre-meditated.

Activists welcomed the sentence which they said would go a long way to preventing future attacks, but criticised the length of time taken to bring the offender to justice.

"It is a welcome judgement but it has come too late. It took a fast-track court three years to punish the guilty," said Ms Sonali Mukherjee, whose own face was severely disfigured in 2003 by a group of men who have been convicted but are on bail pending an appeal.

About 300 acid attacks were reported in India in 2015, according to the latest official crime figures. Experts say these figures and similar ones in other South Asian countries are likely to represent only the tip of the iceberg.

Deaths are rare but scores of survivors face life-long scars and battle social stigma.

India's Supreme Court ordered states in 2013 to enforce restrictions on the sale of acid in a bid to curb attacks, but Ms Mukherjee and other campaigners say it remains easy to purchase.

The victim's family applauded Thursday's decision, saying it should now be swiftly carried out.

"We had sought the death penalty since the beginning so the verdict is good. Now, we want it to be carried out without any delay," said Mr Hitesh Rathi, brother of the victim.

Police alleged that Panwar, reportedly 26 years old and a hotel management graduate, had committed the crime out of jealousy after she rejected his marriage proposal and had wanted to disfigure her face to destroy her career.

Panwar's lawyer said she would appeal the verdict - delivered at a special court dealing with crimes against women - to the Bombay High Court, Mumbai's highest.

"We are moving the case to the high court. There is no second thought about it," said Ms Apeksha Vora, who had pleaded leniency for her client, saying that he was his family's sole breadwinner.