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India's death row sisters seek last-ditch reprieve

Two Indian women on death row for murdering five children have lodged a last-ditch appeal after the president rejected their mercy plea, clearing the way for them to become the first women executed in post-independence India.

MUMBAI: Two Indian women on death row for murdering five children have lodged a last-ditch appeal after the president rejected their mercy plea, clearing the way for them to become the first women executed in post-independence India.

Renuka Shinde and her step-sister Seema Gavit were convicted in 2001 of kidnapping 13 children, forcing them to join a gang of thieves and murdering at least five of them. They were reportedly recruited into a life of petty crime as teenagers by their late mother, and used the children to distract their victims while the sisters robbed them.

Shinde, 45, and Gavit, 39, were found guilty of kidnapping the 13 children in the western state of Maharashtra. They were initially accused of murdering nine of their victims, but prosecutors were only able to prove that they killed five.

The Supreme Court upheld their sentence in 2006 and last month President Pranab Mukherjee, who has the power to commute a death sentence, rejected their appeal. Legally the sisters have now exhausted all avenues to appeal against their sentence. But on Monday, their lawyer told AFP he would lodge a petition with the High Court in Mumbai, where they were originally convicted, on the grounds that the 13-year delay in carrying out the sentence was excessive.

"There has been an inordinate delay in carrying out the death sentence. So I will pray to the courts to commute the same into life behind bars," said Sudeep Jaiswal, who has represented the two sisters since 2010. "I will file the writ petition today."

In a landmark ruling this year, the Supreme Court said "inordinate and inexplicable" delays in carrying out executions were grounds for commuting death sentences. Indian courts use the principle of "rarest of rare case" to classify the crime before pronouncing the death sentence.

Earlier this year, a Mumbai court ordered three men to hang for their involvement in two gang-rape cases, the first death sentences to be handed down for multiple sex attacks since the law was toughened last year. Their sentences must be confirmed by the Supreme Court. The last person to be executed in India was a local Kashmiri man last year over a deadly 2001 attack on the national parliament in New Delhi. 

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