Indian judge says case falls into ‘rarest of rare category’ that justifies capital punishment.
The judge hearing the case of four men convicted for a shocking gang rape on a bus in New Delhi last December sentenced them to death on Friday.
Judge Yogesh Khanna said the case fell into the “rarest of rare category,” which justified capital punishment. One of the men, Vinay Sharma, broke down in tears as the sentence was announced.
Following the verdict, the father of the 23-year-old student who was fatally gang raped said he was “happy” the four convicts had been sentenced to death. “We are very happy. Justice has been delivered,” he told reporters inside court flanked by his wife and sons.
There was a huge clamor for the four—Akshay Thakur, Pawan Gupta, Vinay Sharma and Mukesh Singh—to be executed for their attack on the 23-year-old physiotherapy student, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, and her male companion on Dec. 16.
On Wedensday, prosecution lawyers argued the gang was guilty of a “diabolical” crime, as the victim’s mother implored the judge to hand down the death sentence. “We beg the court that justice should be given to our daughter,” said the mother, who cannot be named to protect the identity of her late daughter. “It was not merely a mistake, they planned and killed her mercilessly,” she told reporters.
Police in riot gear maintained a heavy presence outside the court on Friday with the road leading up to the complex barricaded off.
India had an unofficial eight-year moratorium on capital punishment until last November when the only surviving gunman from the 2008 Mumbai attacks was executed. Weeks later, a Kashmiri was hanged over his role in an attack on parliament a decade ago.
During Wednesday’s hearing, defense lawyers argued Judge Khanna should resist “political pressure” and instead jail the gang for life, citing the youth of their clients who are all in their teens or 20s. The gang’s relatives had also been pleading for their lives to be spared.
“I am hopeful that God will help us during the worst crisis in our life,” said Thakur’s mother from the family’s home in the state of Bihar, where she has been praying to Hindu deities all week.
Handing down his verdict at the end of a seven-month trial on Tuesday, Khanna declared the men guilty of the “cold-blooded” murder of a “helpless victim” whose fight for life won her the nickname, Nirbhaya, or “brave hearted.”
A total of 1,098 cases of rape have been reported to police in Delhi alone so far this year, according to figures in The Times of India on Friday. That represents a massive increase on the 450 recorded in the same period last year, although campaigners say the rise reflects a greater willingness by victims to come forward after the December bus attack.
Since the convictions, newspapers have printed graphic details of the onslaught against the student, including of the internal injuries she suffered while being violated with a rusty iron bar before being thrown naked off the bus. Her injuries were so severe that she died nearly a fortnight later in a Singapore hospital. She briefly regained consciousness, telling family and friends of her desire to see her attackers burn to death.
Lawyers for the men have already said they will appeal the convictions in the Delhi High Court, which will spell years of argument and delays in India’s notoriously slow legal system. In appeal, the defense is likely to advocate lesser sentences for some of the gang, and argue it was a “spur of the moment” crime and not premeditated.
There was widespread anger after a juvenile who was convicted last month for his role in the bus attack was sentenced to just three years in a correctional facility—the maximum allowed by law.
The gang all lived in and around Ram Dass Camp, an unauthorized slum in southern Delhi where former neighbors have called for their execution. “They deserve the harshest punishment … Reform is out of the question,” said Maur Singh, a one-time neighbor who promised to hand out sweets in celebration if the judge sent them to the gallows.
Rattled by the mass protests, the government rushed through new anti-rape laws and ordered the trial be held in a special fast-track court. Interior minister Sushilkumar Shinde has been quoted as saying the new laws “will ensure capital punishment for such a heinous crime”—comments that defense lawyers say undermine judicial independence.
Senior opposition politicians also joined in the clamor while activists protested outside the court, wearing hooded masks and mock nooses.