CALLING their crime “most brutal, barbaric and diabolical”, the Supreme Court today upheld the death sentence for the four men convicted of the rape and murder of the 23-year-old paramedical student onboard a bus on December 16, 2012. The death sentence was awarded to them by a trial court and later confirmed by the High Court.
The case, which prompted nationwide protests and led to a change in rape laws was the “rarest of rare,” the court said as it dismissed appeals filed by the convicts Mukesh, Pawan Gupta, Vinay Sharma and Akshay Kumar Singh. The three-judge bench comprising Justices Dipak Mishra, Ashok Bhushan and R Banumathi said, in two separate judgements, that the appellants deserved the death sentence.
In one, Justices Dipak Mishra and Ashok Bhushan minced few words while upholding the extreme punishment for the appellants.
“It is necessary to state here that in the instant case, the brutal, barbaric and diabolic nature of the crime is evincible from the acts committed by the accused persons…The casual manner with which she was treated and the devilish manner in which they played with her identity and dignity is humanly inconceivable. It sounds like a story from a different world where humanity has been treated with irreverence. The appetite for sex, the hunger for violence, the position of the empowered and the attitude of perversity, to say the least, are bound to shock the collective conscience which knows not what to do. It is manifest that the wanton lust, the servility to absolutely unchained carnal desire and slavery to the loathsome bestiality of passion ruled the mindset of the appellants to commit such a crime which can summon with immediacy ‘tsunami’ of shock in the mind of the collective and destroy the civilised marrows of the milieu in entirety,” the judges said in their order.
They rejected the appellants’ plea that they were poor, were married with young children, had aged parents and were on the reformative path in prison: “When we cautiously, consciously and anxiously weigh the aggravating circumstances and the mitigating factors, we are compelled to arrive at the singular conclusion that the aggravating circumstances outweigh the mitigating circumstances now brought on record. Therefore we conclude and hold that the High Court has correctly confirmed the death penalty and we see no reason to differ with the same.”
In her separate judgement, Justice R Banumathi concurred with the conclusions of Justices Mishra and Bhushan but gave her own reasons for it.
“Crimes like the one before us cannot be looked with magnanimity. Factors like young age and poor background cannot be said to be mitigating circumstances…In the present case there is not even a hesitation in my mind with respect to the aggravating circumstances outweighing the mitigating circumstances and I do not find any justification to convert the death sentence imposed by the court below to life imprisonment for the rest of the life.
The gruesome offenses were committed with highest viciousness. Human lust was allowed to take such a demonic form…If at all there is a case warranting death sentence, it is the present case. If the dreadfulness displayed by the accused in committing the gang-rape, unnatural sex, insertion of iron rods in the private parts of the victim does not fall in the rarest of rare category, then one may wonder what else would fall in that category,” Justice Banumathi wrote.
The judge also touched on the need for sensitising the society to fight crimes against women. “Stringent legislation and punishments alone may not be sufficient for fighting increasing crimes against women. In our tradition-bound society, certain attitudinal change and change in the mind-set is needed to respect women and to ensure gender justice. Right from childhood years, children ought to be sensitised to respect women…Gender equality should be made part of the school curriculum….Apart from effective implementation of the various legislation protecting women, change in the mindset of the society at large and creating awareness in the public on gender justice can go a long way to combat violence against women.”
As soon as the judges read out their verdict, some visitors in the visitors gallery inside the jam-packed courtroom broke into applause.
There were also some lighter moments with Advocate A P Singh, one of the counsel representing the accused recited an Urdu couplet to convey his disillusionment with the order. To this Justice Banumathi replied that the counsel must submit an English translation of the verse provoking laughter in the courtroom.
The victim’s parents who were inside the courtroom when the order was being pronounced were seen exchanging hugs and greetings with well wishers. “I was confident that the SC will uphold the death sentence,” said the father. “The incident (rape and murder) was a message to society and the verdict too is a message to society,” the mother added as lawyers and visitors tried to take selfies with them.
Welcoming the order, Delhi police counsel Sidharth Luthra said “In India, convicts are given leniency and mitigating circumstances are given undue importance. In this case, the court has rightly held that the aggravating circumstances outweigh the mitigating circumstances.”
The accused have the option of approaching the apex court with a review petition and then a curative petition. If both fail, they can go to the President with a mercy plea which can again be challenged in the Supreme Court.
Though there were a total of six accused in the case, one of them Ram Singh committed suicide in prison while the other was a juvenile and hence tried by a juvenile court and sent to a reformatory for three years.