March 13, 2014
NEW DELHI — The Delhi High Court on Thursday upheld the death sentences of four men who were convicted of gang-raping and murdering a 23-year-old student in the capital in December 2012.
In September, a lower court sentenced the men to death by hanging after determining that the case fell into the “rarest of the rare” category, which the Supreme Court has said is the only one that can merit capital punishment. The men were charged with murder after the woman died from severe injuries sustained when she was repeatedly assaulted with an iron rod.
In their order upholding the men’s convictions and death sentences, the two judges from the Delhi High Court called attention to the “gruesome manner of the execution of the crime” and said that such a case was “unparalleled in the history of criminal jurisprudence.”
For months after the gang rape and the woman’s subsequent death, protests were held across India to demand justice for the victim and greater safety for women. The public anger helped push the trial into a special fast-track court and pressured Parliament to strengthen sexual assault laws in March 2013.
“A strong message needs to be sent to the perpetrators of grotesque and ghastly crimes against women,” the Delhi High Court said.
The father of the rape victim said in a televised interview outside the courthouse that he was very happy with the court’s decision on Thursday.
He also expressed hope that it would serve as a deterrent. “Not just them, but other people who commit such crimes should be given a death sentence,” he said. “If that happens, such cases will surely decline.”
A. P. Singh, a lawyer for two of the convicted men, said in a telephone interview that the decision to uphold the death penalty was politically motivated. “When the lower court passed the judgment, the Delhi Assembly elections had just been declared,” he said. “And now, they have passed this judgment as the national elections are around the corner.”
A fifth defendant, Ram Singh, was found dead in a Delhi prison in March last year. A sixth defendant was a juvenile at the time of the gang rape and was sentenced by a Juvenile Justice Board to the maximum jail term of three years. The family of the victim is also demanding the death penalty for that sixth person, who is now an adult.
The defense lawyer did not contest the court’s upholding of the guilty verdict but contended that because the men were not habitual offenders, the courts should show compassion and try to rehabilitate them.
“We will definitely challenge the verdict in the Supreme Court,” A. P. Singh said.