Seldom do we find a mother-daughter trio on a spree of committing crimes as brutal as kidnapping and killing infants. In the early 90s, a curious case emerged in Maharashtra. The mother could not be punished due to demise, but the two sisters were convicted and sentenced to death. No one would have thought then that the two sisters would infamously come to be known as the “Gavit sisters” marking a forever unpopular role in the books of legal history. The facts present a chilling story of a mother pushing her daughters into a world of crime, because of her vindictive nature. Let us revisit how the facts of the case got unfurled!
It all started with one Anjanabai, who used to pickpocket and snatch jewellery in crowded places in Maharashtra. She made her way around doing petty crimes. Anjanabai was married to Mohan Gavit and had two daughters, Renuka and Seema with him. They moved around to western Maharashtra attending jatras (processions), festivals, other celebrations and visited landmark temples, where they made a living out of stealing valuables and ornaments of women at crowded places.
Anjana had about 125 cases lodged against her for petty theft. Her husband, Mohan Gavit, tired of having constant altercations with the cops, remarried one Pratibha in the year 1990. Mohan’s remarriage angered Anjanabai to an unfathomable extent, wherein she and her daughters planned to kidnap and kill Mohan’s eldest daughter along with his second wife Pratibha. What started as a method to seek revenge against Mohan for leaving their mother, soon turned into a frenzy of kidnapping and murders.
Pratibha Mohan Gavit, the second wife of Mohan Gavit, filed a kidnapping case against Anjanabai, Renuka and Seema Gavit. Pratibha’s eldest daughter Kranti was missing too, and she was convinced that these three women were responsible for it.
The three women, who held a deep grudge against Mohan Gavit and his second wife went underground, when the police began investigating Kranti Gavit’s disappearance. But they resurfaced within days with the intention to kidnap Pratibha and Mohan Gavit’s younger daughter. However, they were arrested while doing so.
During the search of their house, Kolhapur Police found several clothes of small children. The search team uncovered evidence of more kidnappings such as discarded clothing of children and the mysterious presence of several children who were not locals, in photographs of the birthday party celebrations of Renuka’s children. This is how the trio was apprehended to have been involved in the notorious crimes. This opened an investigation which revealed their heinous crimes.
Police was quick to figure out that the three women were a pick-pocketing gang, who were also involved in petty crimes, but who were the children found in their house?
It is then that the story unfurled.
In 1983, one Kiran Shinde met Renuka and in December 1989 they were married. Renuka, by then had a child, Aashish from her previous marriage. The couple used to commit theft together. They would go to places of festivals where they used to snatch gold chains and made a living out of the income derived from such thefts committed by them.
In 1990, Renuka along with her child Aashish had gone to a temple. There was a large gathering at the temple, Renuka tried to snatch a purse, but she was caught. On being caught, she raised a hue and cry and questioned the person as to why he had caught hold of her hand when she had a child with her and could not have been involved in the crime. Many people gathered around her and seeing the mother and the child together, they left Renuka.
Renuka narrated this incident to her sister Seema and mother Anjanabai and told them how she had managed to escape as she had a child with her. The police had caught them on several occasions, but they bribed the police and escaped from the clutches of law. Thereafter, they decided to have a child with them while committing crimes so that they could use the child to escape from the crowd. Thus, they hatched a conspiracy to kidnap small children below five years of age and use them as a shield as well as a tool for demanding money.
Whenever necessary, they used children and disposed them off, when they were not useful. They thought that it was the only way to evade possible arrest whenever they were caught. It was after this incident that the trio decided to always take along a child while committing any crime. The children served both as a foil as well as a distraction, depending on the situation.
Between 1990 and 1996, the trio kidnapped 13 small children below five years of age. According to the police, the women killed nine of these 13 children, disposed of their bodies of at least five in different places in Kolhapur District. They were arrested by Kolhapur Police in October 1996. The investigating team had limited the period of killing to six years. However, this had been going on for longer than that. The women could not even remember how many children they had killed.
One of the first charges levied against the sisters and their mother was of murder of a child named Santosh, the boy Anjana had flung down to create a distraction. The prosecution described it in a chilling manner.
Seema tried to snatch the purse of a person at Kolhapur. She was caught and beaten by him. Her mother Anjanabai then intervened. She threw Santosh on the ground who sustained a bleeding injury on his head. Many people gathered around and seeing the bleeding wound on the head of the child Santosh, people consoled them. Subsequently, the matter was not reported to the police. Renuka then suggested that they may commit some more thefts. They went to the bus-stand and managed to commit more thefts. On their way back, the child Santosh started crying as he was bleeding. Anjanabai then said that the child was no longer useful, and there was a likelihood of them being caught by police.
Anjanabai pressed the mouth of Santosh and dashed his head on an iron bar, whereby Santosh sustained more head injuries and died on the spot. Anjanabai washed her clothes at the water tap, leaving the dead body near some old rickshaws and came back to their dharamshala. On the next day, Santosh’s body was found, and the matter was reported to the police. The police could not find out any trace of the murder, later it filed the final report.
According to the prosecution, the trio and Kiran Shinde (who later became an approver) were instrumental in kidnapping 13 children out of whom they had killed 9. All these crimes were allegedly committed during 1990-1996.
Apart from Santosh, the trio also kidnapped children between one and five years included Anjali, Bunty, Swati, Guddu, Meena, Rajan, Shradha, Gauri, Swapnil, and Pankaj. They were convicted for wrongful confinement and had murdered at least five of them including Santosh, Shradha, Gauri, Swapnil, and Pankaj.
In another instance, a two-year-old boy was hung upside down, and his head was slammed repeatedly against the wall. Another child was drowned by Renuka and Seema in the bathroom. They killed another two-and-a-half year old girl, stuffed her body in a bag and took it to a cinema theatre where they watched a film and later dumped the body in the women’s lavatory of the cinema theatre. They killed another child in September 1996 and disposed of the dead body in a gunny bag.
The Crime Investigation Department constituted a team of officers from various places to probe multiple crimes committed by the trio. These cases were later clubbed together, and the trial was held at Sessions Court in Kolhapur. During the trial, the prosecution examined 156 witnesses. Anjanabai died in 1997 before the trial began. Kiran Shinde was pardoned by the court. The Sessions Court by a detailed judgment in 2001 found the Gavit sisters, guilty of majority of the crimes charged against them and awarded death sentence. The Bombay High Court in 2004 confirmed the finding in most of the cases.
Though 9 cases of murder were charged against them, the Sessions Court found them guilty of commission of 6 murders. When the matter came up in appeal before the High Court, it was held that the prosecution succeeded in proving only 5 cases and upheld the sentence.
The trial court convicted the appellants for murder in the case of death of Santosh, Anjali, Pinki, Raja, Shraddha, Gauri, and Pankaj. However, the High Court held that evidence was not satisfactory in the case of murder of Raja.
16 years ago, on 31-8-20061, the Supreme Court upheld the death penalty awarded by the Bombay High Court making Gavit sisters, first women in independent India to be executed. Their mercy pleas were dismissed by the President but with a considerable delay.
The Bombay High Court on 18-2-20222 commuted their death sentence to life imprisonment on account of the State’s delay in seeking a decision on their mercy petitions after the Supreme Court rejected their appeal. They will remain lodged at Pune’s Yerwada Jail for the rest of their natural lives.
Gavit sisters are one of the most brutal serial juvenile killers in the history of independent India. Revenge is a one-way route. The mother’s vengeance against the father led to a spree culminating into unimaginable crimes and the consequent death sentence.
† Advocate-on-Record. Author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.