Nirbhaya’s rapists to hang: Why Supreme Court upheld death penalty

The apex court said ‘devilish manner in which she was treated seems like a story from a different world humanly inconceivable’.

 |  5-minute read |   05-05-2017
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The Supreme Court on Friday, May 5, 2017, upheld Delhi High Court and trial court decision to award death penalty to all four convicts in the December 16, 2012 gang rape and murder case. The execution of Mukesh (27), Pawan Gupta (20), Vinay Sharma (21) and Akshay Thakur (29) is now almost certain, and the only recourse left to the convicts is a mercy petition to the President of India.

The top court was to give its ruling on the appeals filed by the four convicts, of the six who were implicated in the dreaded Delhi gang-rape and murder case that shook the “collective conscience of the nation”.

One of the convicts, Ram Singh, died in custody in March 2013, while the juvenile was treated as per Juvenile Justice Act and has served three years in a correction facility.

India shaken

One of the most high-profile cases to rock the nation in recent years, the gangrape and murder of the 23-year-old paramedical student, Jyoti Singh, had led to firmed up anti-rape laws in the Criminal Procedure Code (Amendment) Act 2013, after Justice Verma Committee filed an over 1,000-page report on the issue.

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The brutality with which Jyoti Singh was attacked and assaulted in the moving bus in Mehrauli area of Delhi, with rods and glass shards inserted into her private parts injuring her internal organs irreparably, left everyone in absolute shock.

While Jyoti Singh battled for her life in Delhi’s AIIMS, the young men and women of India took to the streets in what became a massive, and entirely spontaneous wave of protests against rape culture.

Jyoti Singh died on December 29, 2012 in a Singapore hospital to which she was taken, but ultimately succumbed to her grievous internal injuries, plunging the nation into a state of deep mourning.

She was called Nirbhaya, Damini, and her struggle to stay alive, to seek justice while fighting for her life, made her rise above mere victimhood, even though hers was a fatally tragic case that enraged India’s youth and shook the middle classes out of its patriarchal complacence.

However, the BBC-produced documentary film on Jyoti Singh’s gang rape and murder case, India’s Daughter by Leslee Udwin, ran into trouble with the government in 2015, and wasn’t allowed to be broadcast on NDTV on March 8, 2015, ironically when the world marked the annual International Women’s Day.

The government said it showed India in a poor light, even though the gangrape and murder case and trial was covered to the last word by Indian media.

What Supreme Court said

“It’s a tsunami of shock in the minds of the collective and destroyed humanity. Death for all four. Aggravating circumstances outweigh mitigating circumstances.” Justice Bhanumathi added her concurrent judgment by saying, “If at all a case warrants death sentence, it’s this. Human lust was allowed to take demonic form.”

Thus the Supreme Court concurred by the decisions reached by the fast-track court (on September 13, 2013) and Delhi High Court (on January 3, 2014), upholding death sentence for all the adult convicts.

“The accused were obsessed about ravishing her life, she was treated as an object of enjoyment,” the SC judges said, thus underlining how rape becomes an exercise of brute power over the victim. However, the judgment could have been worded better as terms like “ravishment” and “human lust” are themselves couched in skewed patriarchal power structures, and mustn’t be used to give out a verdict as important as in this case.  

Question of death penalty

While conviction of all the alleged culprits happened quickly, the debate was always on the quantum of punishment to be awarded to Jyoti Singh’s rapists, and whether death penalty was justified or not. Both the trial court and Delhi High Court had maintained that this was indeed a “rarest of the rare” case, and it deserved the strictest punishment available as per the law of the land.

Since capital punishment is legal in India, even though it is applied rarely, the courts have once more concluded that if there’s any case that deserves death penalty, it’s this.

It must be mentioned here that the judgment in Bilkis Bano rape case, which came yesterday, May 4, 2017, there were 11 convictions including five Gujarat cops, but no death penalty was awarded to anyone. A comparison with Jyoti Singh’s rape and murder case would be inevitably made as Bilkis’ family members, including her three-year-old daughter, were brutally killed during the 2002 Gujarat riots, while a pregnant Bilkis was gangraped during the raging communal violence.

The awarding of death penalty in Jyoti Singh’s gang-rape and murder case was almost expected, since this is a landmark case that has had a mammoth impact on the nation’s collective psyche.

But those opposed to death penalty as a matter of principle say that capital punishment has never acted as a deterrent to crime and has little basis in reality to be awarded for any crime, even murder.

While Jyoti Singh’s family has welcomed the verdict, Union minister for women and child development, Maneka Gandhi too has lauded Supreme Court for the firm decision.

Also read: December 16 verdict: Nation erupts in 'joy' as SC upholds death for rapists

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