Nine out of 15 men convicted in the abuse of a 11-year-old child in Chennai were found guilty of rape, of which five were sentenced to life on Monday by a special Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) court in the city.
The prime accused in the case, lift operator Ravikumar (56), was sentenced to two counts of life imprisonment (till the remainder of natural life). Three others, Suresh (32), Abishek (23) and Palani (40), were also sentenced to life till death while Rajasekar (40) was sentenced to life.
All five were found guilty of aggravated penetrative sexual assault (including gang penetrative sexual assault of a child below 12 years of age) under Section 6 of the POCSO Act.
The court sentenced another accused, security staff Erol Bras (58) to seven years' rigorous imprisonment for two counts of criminal intimidation.
All others, including Sukumaran (65), Murugesan (54), Paramasivam (60), Jayaganesh (28), Deenadayalan (50), Jayaraman (26), Surya (23), Raja (30) and Umapathy (42) were handed five year sentences each.
They were all found guilty of aggravated sexual assault under Section 10 of the POCSO Act.
Two menā plumber Suresh and security staff Sukumaranā were also found guilty of sexual harassment while 13 of the 15 men who had abused the child were also found guilty of criminal intimidation.
Delivering the quantum of punishment for the convicts on Monday, Special Sessions Judge RN Manjula awarded the survivor child an interim compensation of Rs 1,50,000 to be paid by the Tamil Nadu government.
The shocking case first came to light in July 2018, when the 11-year-old child with a hearing disability experienced pain and confided in her sister about the months-long abuse she had undergone. All the convicted men were employed by two firmsā UKFS and FOCUSā in service roles in the apartment complex where the childās family stayed. The 17 men, between the ages of 23 and 60, responsible for the crimes like assault, confinement and intimidation were employed as lift operators, plumbers, gardener, housekeeping and security staff in the apartment complex.
Speaking to media persons, Special Public Prosecutor N Ramesh said that the government had sought maximum sentences for the convicted, calling for the crimes to be treated as ārarest of rare caseā.
Pronouncing the verdict on Friday, the POCSO court had acquitted Gunasekaran (A15), the 55-year-old who worked as a gardener in the apartment, citing lack of evidence.
"We will discuss with the government and senior officers of the police department and decide on an appeal of the acquittal," said the Public Prosecutor.
36-year-old lift operator Babu, who was among the accused, died of illness during the trial in February last year.
The Chennai police swiftly filed a chargesheet in the case soon after investigations began. 12 of the total 17 accused were charged by the police under Section 5(g) of POCSO Act for gang penetrative sexual assault while all 17 (including the deceased) were charged with Section 6 POCSO for penetrative sexual assault. In addition to this, charges of criminal intimidation and attempt to murder were also included by the police.
Apsara Reddy, an activist who has worked with the family closely said, āI welcome the judgement. It will be a deterrent for anyone even thinking on the lines of sexual violence against children. In this particular case I personally know the trauma, agony and the fear that the child was dealing with in her day to day life.ā