A New Delhi court last Friday sentenced the four men convicted of gang raping and murdering a 23-year-old medical student, a rarity in that country. The court pronounced “death to all" which went a long way in explaining the outrage caused by the case.
The attack by the four men on couple out on a date last December ignited massive countrywide demonstrations as activists called for social reform of sexual violence laws and demanded changes in attitudes toward women.
The death penalty in India is for the “rarest of rare” cases. This one met that description and then some.
As Judge Yogesh Khanna said in his ruling, “This case falls under inhuman nature of the convicts and the gravity of offense they committed cannot be tolerated. The court cannot turn a blind eye to such a gruesome act. When crime against women is rising on day-to-day basis, at this point in time the court cannot keep its eye shut. The case falls under the rarest of rare category.”
Six men had been accused of deceiving the physiotherapy student and a male friend on their way home from a movie onto a chartered bus on December 16, 2012. The prosecution claimed the men “beat her male friend and raped the woman, using a metal bar to inflict serious injuries.”
The couple was left to die, naked beside the road where the woman later died of her injuries in a Singapore hospital.
To make the tragedy even worse, the driver of the bus where the attack took place committed suicide in jail earlier this year. The court later found the 16-year-old in the group of six guilty last month, sentencing him to three years in a reform facility.
Three of the four sentenced to death broke down in tears after the ruling was issued. “The punishment was motivated by public anger and political pressure, not justice,” said defense lawyer A.P. Singh.
He said he planned to appeal the ruling.
Approximately 130 sentences of death are handed down each year in India, but only three have been executed in the past 17 years largely due to the legendary slowness of India’s bureaucracy and the country’s reluctance to execute the guilty.
Pressure on the court came largely from the All India Progressive Women's Association. Kavita Krishnan, one of its leaders said that the death sentence was only a step toward addressing India's rape culture. “Justice seems to have become rare in India,” she argued. “It applies only to a case where there is public outrage.”
In Indian rape cases, it is usually assumed the woman is lying. “The process of prosecution needs to be improved so that every rapist knows he is not going to go scot-free,” she says.
Mumbai-based women’s rights attorney Flavia Agnes said, “The biggest change is in social awareness. Everyone is talking about and questioning the rape culture. The police, courts, media and everyone is taking rape with a new seriousness. Newspapers love to say that nothing has changed, but those who have been working on violence against women closely can't agree. There are special courts and judges and most cases get disposed in a year."
Speculation in the country runs rampant as to whether the condemned will ever see the gallows.
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