NEW DELHI (AFP) – Prosecutors sought the death sentence Wednesday for four men convicted over the “diabolical” gang rape and murder of a student on a New Delhi bus as the judge set sentencing for later this week.
Judge Yogesh Khanna heard three hours of arguments from prosecution and defense lawyers in his court in the south of India’s capital before announcing he would reserve his judgement until Friday afternoon.
He faces widespread calls from the public, the victim’s family and politicians to hand down the death sentence, which can be given for “the rarest of rare” crimes but is seldom carried out in practice.
“The court should give the maximum sentence otherwise the message will go to society that deviance of this nature will be tolerated,” special public prosecutor Dayan Krishnan told the packed court.
“The test is, was the collective conscience shocked? There can be no better example than this case,” he said, calling the crime “diabolical” in which “no element of sympathy” had been shown to the victim.
“The sentence which is appropriate is nothing short of death,” he added.
The 23-year-old victim, a physiotherapy student who cannot be named for legal reasons, died of internal injuries on December 29 after being lured onto the private bus following a cinema trip with a male companion.
After beating up the friend, the gang brutally assaulted her behind tinted windows for 45 minutes before flinging the bloodied, naked and barely conscious couple onto a road leading to the international airport.
The four convicts — Akshay Thakur, Pawan Gupta, Vinay Sharma and Mukesh Singh — were led into court by armed police and stood (and occasionally sat) at the back of the court wearing T-shirts and displaying little emotion.
The mother of the victim could be seen seated next to her husband a little more in front of the men as she listened intently to proceedings while dressed in a green saree.
“We raised our daughter with great love and care,” she told reporters at the end of the hearing.
“We beg the court that justice should be given to our daughter. It was not merely a mistake, they planned and killed her mercilessly.”
The defense lawyers acting for the men argued that there was political pressure for an execution while urging the judge to show leniency in awarding life imprisonment.
“The court must bear in mind that life imprisonment is the rule and the death sentence is the exception,” Vivek Sharma, a lawyer for Gupta, who was 19 at the time of the crime, argued.
He said Sharma’s “tender age” meant that he could be reformed — an argument also taken up by A.P. Singh who said his client, 20-year-old gym assistant Vinay Sharma, had dreams of joining the air force.
V.K Anand, acting for Mukesh Singh, said the part-time laborer and bus driver had shown good conduct throughout the trial and was drunk at the time of the crime.
Half a dozen protesters shouted insults at the lawyer as he left the court and tried to grab him.
The case brought simmering public anger over rape and harassment to the boil, sparking unprecedented protests and introspection about India’s treatment of women.
Policemen with batons stood guard outside the court on Wednesday morning, warning they would not tolerate a repeat of the chaotic scenes of Tuesday when a fight broke out between journalists.
The judge convicted the men on 11 charges on Tuesday including gang rape, murder, theft and “unnatural offences.”
Krishnan urged him to consider a precedent for executing a murderer and rapist in the case of Dhananjoy Chatterjee, a 39-year-old watchman who was hanged in 2004 over the death of a 14-year-old girl in Kolkata.
The government, stung by the mass protests that followed the attack, has introduced tough new anti-rape laws but they will not apply in this case.
One of the leaders of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Sushma Swaraj, said the hanging of the four would send out a clear signal of India’s determination to tackle violence against women.
There was outrage last month when a juvenile who was also convicted of taking part in the attack was sentenced to three years in a remedial home — the maximum punishment allowed by law.
A fifth adult defendant, bus driver Ram Singh, was found hanging in his prison cell in March while awaiting trial.