While on the one hand, the four adults accused in the brutal gang-rape in Delhi are given the death penalty, on the other, the number of rape cases in the capital city continues to sky-rocket
Nearly 10 months after a 23-year-old girl was brutally gang-raped on a bus in Delhi, a crime which triggered unprecedented protests in the capital, and her four adult rapists have been sentenced to death by hanging.
But while the sentences were met with shouts and applause in Delhi’s Saket court on Friday outside opinion was divided.
While many people on the street, in social and traditional media, called for the death sentence and welcomed it, some commentators and experts warned the punishment took India back to the dark ages and would not deter rapists.
Mukesh Singh, Vinay Sharma, Ashkay Thakur and Pawan Gupta were found guilty of rape, unnatural sex, murder, conspiracy and destruction of evidence and handed the maximum sentence possible in a special fast track court on Friday.
The brutality of the 16 December gang rape touched a nerve in India, bringing crimes against women to the forefront.
The gruesome details of the case were laid out time and again in the media—the physiotherapy student, dubbed Nirbhaya by local journalists, was lured onto a bus with her male friend in South Delhi, where she was repeatedly raped and brutalised with a metal bar before both were dumped naked on the road. Having suffered horrific internal injuries, Nirbhaya died in a Singapore hospital two weeks later.
A 17-year-old was earlier handed the maximum sentence possible for a juvenile for his part in the crime, while the alleged ringleader Ram Singh died in his jail cell on 11 March.
As the adult rapists were sentenced on Friday, the court heard that a zero tolerance policy was necessary to deter rapists. “The increasing trend of crimes against women can be arrested only once society realizes that there will be no tolerance for any form of deviance against women,” the court order stated.
Judge Yogesh Khanna said “the perception of society” played an important role in deciding the adult rapists’ punishment.
“The court has to look into factors like society’s abhorrence, extreme indignation and antipathy to certain types of cases, like the case in hand—of gang rape with brutal murder of a helpless girl by six men,” Judge Khanna said.
But Tehelka’s editor Shoma Chaudhury warned that “Such benchmarking threatens to take India back to the Dark Ages: Enter the era of the street. Is society’s bloodlust and abhorrence now meant to dictate and shape judgments in the highest court of the land?”
“If barbaric “deterrence” is the rationale, we might as well go the full Taliban route: chop hands, stone, whip and behead.”
Director of the Centre for Social Research (CSR India) Dr Ranjana Kumari was more optimistic that the sentences could have a positive effect on society.
“The mood of the nation was asking for it,” Dr Kumari said.
“The death sentence has never acted as a deterrent to any crime but at this stage, the way the country was moved by this case, this will send a very clear message to rapists,” she added.
“It won’t stop rape happening of course but that’s because rape is caused by many factors such as problems with safety and other things that cause vulnerability to women and the way the patriarchy works in this country,” said Dr Kumari.
Just moments from where the bus involved in the crime sits as evidence in a police station in Munirka, residents’ reactions to the sentence were also positive.
Rohith KS said: “I’m happy with the decision. It’s not safe here for women and it will discourage others from acting violently towards women. They know they won’t get away with it.”
“I just moved to the area not long ago and my friend told me what happened here,” said Anwesha Joshi.
“It’s horrible. It seems like a good area but I think the government should do something to make it more safe. The judge’s decision was right,” she said.
But the sentencing did not come without controversy, with accusations flying that the court was influenced by the media and even those in government.
Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde made headlines after weighing in immediately after the guilty verdicts were handed down on Tuesday and advocating for the death penalty. When the sentences were revealed he stated that the court had “set an example that if one commits such a crime, then punishment will be meted out”.
Defence lawyer A.P. Singh alleged political pressure and a trial by media influenced the court.
“The judgment in the case of the 16 December gang-rape has been completely dictated by the government. The judge—without giving it due thought and under political pressure, without considering evidence or witnesses—has handed all four convicts the death sentence,” he said.
The parents of two of the rapists also alleged the decision was made under pressure.
Previously, the sentence handed to the teenage rapist involved in the incident was met with outrage, with many including the victim’s family and some politicians criticizing it for being too lenient.
The teen, who is now 18, was sentenced the maximum term of three years in juvenile detention in August.
At the time, Sushma Swaraj, senior leader of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, wrote on Twitter that “this meagre punishment of just three years does not do justice” and said she would introduce a bill to amend the law for juveniles.
Mail Today summed up the mood then with the headline: “TRAVESTY: December 16 rapist ‘gets away’ with murder”.
Despite the horrific brutality of the rape, the public outpouring of anger afterwards and the changes put in place and promised by government, nothing yet has stemmed the rapes in Delhi.
As the horrific details of the case were revealed piece by piece over the past nine months and commentators were busy debating the rapists’ punishment, the number of rapes in Delhi continued to skyrocket.
There has been a 240 per cent increase in the number of rape cases in Delhi since the 16 December incident, with 1,036 cases reported from January to 15 August, compared to 433 in the same period last year, police figures show.
On top of this, molestation cases spiked 495 per cent to 2,267 from 381.
The lawyers for the four adult rapists plan to appeal both the verdict and the sentence.