Indian sisters face death for killing nine children

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One of India's most grisly murder trials ended this week when two sisters were sentenced to death for murdering nine children between 1990 and 1996.

The chief accused, their mother, died in custody after suffering a stroke in 1997.

The story as told by the prosecution at the court in Kolhapur, Maharashtra, was an ugly tale of ruthlessness. Anjanabai Gavit, the mother, ran away from home as a child and scratched a living in the lower depths of the industrial towns of central India, seeking out affluent passengers on station platforms, picking pockets and grabbing bags.

She was first booked for abducting a child in 1967. By the 1980s she would seek out women with children and surreptitiously rub the child with an astringent lotion. When the child began wailing, she would grab the mother's bag or jewellery.

Her daughter Renuka found another use for children in 1990. Spotted in the act of committing a robbery when she had her son with her, she bamboozled the angry crowd by demanding to know how a mother with a child could be suspected. Subsequently Renuka, her sister Seema and her husband, Kiran, as well as Anjanabai, began picking up children as young as two in crowded places and using them as decoys for crime. When the children fell ill or became otherwise troublesome they murdered them.

The truth came out when Kiran Shinde turned state's evidence. Under examination he told the court how and why the murders were committed.

He said the family had lived in style during those years, having stolen two million rupees (nearly £30,000).

Justice Yedke called this "the rarest of rare cases" because "the accused not only kidnapped and murdered the defenceless children, but also enjoyed the murders". The sentence of death must be confirmed by Bombay High Court.

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