21 November 2023 :One hundred and ten days after a minor girl was brutally raped and killed in Kerala's Aluva, a special court in Kochi on November 14, 2023 sentenced a migrant worker to death in the case that had sent shock waves across the state as cries for justice echoed.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said the punishment given on Children's Day should be seen as a strong warning to those who commit violence against children while the parents of the victim thanked the Kerala society for ensuring justice to their 5 year-old daughter.
Judge K Soman, presiding over the Special POCSO (Protection Of Children from Sexual Offences) court, also handed down five life terms to convict Ashwaq Alam, a Bihar native, for various charges including rape and aggravated penetrative sexual assault under the Indian Penal Code and the POCSO Act, respectively.
In a crowded courtroom, the judge declared that Alam should be hanged to death for the killing of the girl, also from Bihar.
The sentence was pronounced on a day celebrated as Children's Day across the country. The day also marks the 11th anniversary of the POCSO Act, which came into effect on November 14, 2012.
Public prosecutor (PP) G Mohanraj said the execution of the death sentence is contingent upon confirmation by the Kerala high court.
The POCSO court ordered the life term would mean the convict should stay in prison for the rest of his natural life, he said.
The court also imposed a fine of over Rs six lakh on the convict, he said, and expressed satisfaction with the sentence.
Alam had on July 28 lured the girl by promising her sweets and thereafter, had brutally raped and killed her, before dumping the body in a garbage strewn marshy area behind a local market in nearby Aluva.
The child lived with her parents in the same building as did the convict.
On that fateful day, Alam was seen by many people walking towards the market with the child in tow.
According to the police, he promised to buy the victim her favourite sweet, but later only bought her a juice worth Rs 10.
He then took the child to the isolated and garbage strewn marshy area and sexually assaulted her, it was alleged.
Subsequently, he killed her and dumped the body in a sack under the garbage heap there and left the place after washing his hands and feet.
Later when the child was found missing, CCTV visuals of the area showed the girl was with him and he was apprehended the same evening. However, he could not be questioned by police as he was in an inebriated state.
Alam had consumed alcohol after committing the heinous crime, police had said.
The next day, as everyone searched for the girl, her body was found dumped behind the local market.
By then several locals also came forward and said that they had seen Alam with the child the previous day.
A local trade union worker had told the media that he saw the migrant worker with the child on July 28.
"I asked him who the girl was. He claimed it was his child and said he was going behind the market area to consume alcohol. However, today morning I saw the CCTV visuals of the missing child and the worker on social media and informed the police," the union worker had said.
As investigation progressed, it was revealed Alam had a criminal background and that he was arrested in a POCSO case five years ago.
He had been in jail for one month in connection with the crime committed in New Delhi and later came out on bail, police had said.
Chief minister Vijayan said the child fell victim to the most heinous crime, and therefore, the entire criminal justice system worked efficiently to catch the culprit and ensure the maximum punishment for him.
He said that while nothing can replace the loss suffered by the parents, the government has assured them of all kinds of help.
ADGP (Law and Order) M R Ajith Kumar also welcomed the sentence given to the convict.
Speaking to reporters outside the court after the sentence was pronounced, the ADGP said it was a case that shocked the conscience of Kerala, and the government, right from the start, was determined to ensure the maximum possible punishment for the accused.
"It is one of the rarest-of-rare cases, and the prosecution was able to prove that successfully. The probe was completed in 30 days. The accused was convicted on the 100th day after the incident, and today marks the 110th day. This indicates the robustness of the criminal justice system," the officer said.