A man who had raped a seven-year-old girl was sentenced to life term by the Alipore court on Tuesday, more than 12 years after the crime.
Mohammad Shaukat was also fined Rs 2 lakh, which will go to the victim, now a Class XII student.
In October 2000, Shaukat had lured his neighbour's daughter to his house, promising toys and chocolates. "The girl underwent barbaric torture and left the house bleeding. Shaukat threatened her not to disclose what she had gone through," said Pallab Kanti Ghosh, the joint commissioner of police (crime).
The girl spent eight days at Chittaranjan National Medical College and Hospital. Shaukat was arrested on October 30 that year and got bail in 2001. He was re-arrested on Monday after the 14th additional district judge in Alipore found him guilty. The punishment was pronounced on Tuesday.
The 12-year wait has made the girl's father sad. "It is better late than never but had the culprit been punished within a couple of years of the incident he would not have roamed free for a decade," said the daily wage earner in his mid-50s.
"My daughter has heaved a sigh of relief. An early verdict would have provided her a sense of closure much earlier and she could have started a new life," added the father.
The stigma of rape is not easy to erase in the central Calcutta neighbourhood where the family lives. The verdict would once again make the incident a talking point. "Some would be sympathetic but others would raise questions now that she is a grown-up girl…," said the father.
In the nationwide debate following the Delhi gang rape, many people had spoken out against delayed conviction because it is not a deterrent.
Elaborating on why the court took more than 12 years to pass the verdict, public prosecutor Kazi Khalekujjaman, who represented the victim, said: "The prosecution was interrupted on several occasions because the judges were transferred. At least six judges were transferred during the trial." Whenever a new judge took charge, "he or she wanted to hear the argument afresh" and that caused delays.
"Delay in justice is not only humiliating for the victims, it also reduces the gravity of the crime in people's minds. I must welcome the verdict as it is the maximum punishment specified for a rape accused," said high court advocate Sourav Ganguly.
There is a possibility that Shaukat's lawyers will move a higher court and he will get bail again.
The police, however, are hopeful. "We will prove him guilty even if he moves a higher court. We have all the evidence against him," said inspector P.K. Saha, who worked on the case.