NEW DELHI (AFP) – An Indian judge on Friday sentenced to death four men convicted of the fatal gang rape of a student on a New Delhi bus, fulfilling the dying wish of the 23-year-old victim.
The packed courtroom burst into applause as Judge Yogesh Khanna announced his sentence. The defendants — lowly paid migrants to New Delhi mostly in their 20s — broke down in tears and one of them, gym assistant Vinay Sharma, howled loudly before he was led away by police.
The judge told the fast-track court in the south of the capital that the case, which sparked widespread anger against the treatment of women, fell into the “rarest of rare category” which justified capital punishment.
“In these times when crimes against women are on the rise, courts cannot turn a blind eye to this gruesome act,” he announced.
The mother of the victim told reporters that she was delighted the judge had ordered their deaths by hanging.
“We are happy that in the end we got justice. My daughter wanted them to be given the death sentence,” she told reporters, wearing a green saree and flanked by her husband and sons.
There had been a huge clamour for the four — Sharma, Akshay Thakur, Pawan Gupta, and Mukesh Singh — to be executed for their attack on the physiotherapy student and her male companion on December 16.
The victim, who cannot be named for legal reasons, died of grievous internal injuries on December 29 after being lured on to the private bus following a cinema trip with the companion.
After beating up the friend, the gang brutally assaulted her behind tinted windows for 45 minutes before flinging the bloodied and barely conscious couple onto a road leading to New Delhi’s international airport.
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.
“It was an inhuman act which has shamed all humanity. The message is that if you commit such a crime, you will get such punishment,” Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde told a news conference.
The men will now be taken to the capital’s high-security Tihar Jail where they will be placed on death row.
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.
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.
“This is injustice! This is not fair!” defence lawyer A.P. Singh shouted after the sentence was read out.
The gang’s relatives had also pleaded for their lives to be spared ahead of the sentencing, and Thakur’s mother Malti Devi broke down in front of reporters at the family’s home in the state of Bihar.
“Why is such a young life being snuffed out in this manner,” she told reporters, weeping on the floor of the family home.
In appeal, the defence is likely to advocate lesser sentences for some of the gang, and argue it was a “spur of the moment” crime and not premeditated.
Police in riot gear maintained a heavy presence outside the court on Friday with the road leading up to the complex barricaded off.
There was widespread anger after a juvenile who was convicted last month for his role in the attack was sentenced to just three years in a correctional facility — the maximum allowed by law, given his age.
A sixth suspect in the case, bus driver Ram Singh, died in prison in March in an apparent suicide.
Feelings have been running high in a country disgusted by daily reports of gang rapes and sex assaults on children.
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 off the bus.
In delivering his sentence, Khanna said “the brutality caused to her internal organs is extreme as is evident from medical evidence”.
Rattled by mass protests after the attack, the government rushed through new anti-rape laws and ordered the trial be held in the fast-track court.
Photo Credit: AFP/Prakash Singh