India’s Supreme Court reaffirms death penalty for ‘diabolical’ assailants in 2012 fatal gang rape

A television journalist sets his camera inside the premises of the Supreme Court in New Delhi February 18, 2014. REUTERS/Anindito Mukherjee/Files

NEW DELHI – India’s Supreme Court on Monday rejected the pleas to review the capital sentences of three assailants in a notorious gang rape and murder of a young college student that shook India in 2012, bringing them one step closer to eventual execution.

In May last year, India’s highest court upheld the 2013 death penalty verdicts for four of the six assailants who gang-raped and tortured a 23-year-old college student in New Delhi in December 2012, saying they did not deserve leniency due to “brutal, barbaric and diabolical” conduct.

The brutal attack prompted widespread protests throughout the country, sparked a new debate about women’s safety in India and resulted in strict changes to the country’s rape laws which now allows for the death penalty in some rape cases.

On Monday, the court rejected the review petition of three of the six assailants – Mukesh Singh, Pawan Gupta and Vinay Sharma, all in their 20s – who had asked the court to consider commuting their death sentence to life imprisonment.

The convicted assailants have not yet exhausted all legal options – they can still seek a curative petition from the court for example – so the process may drag out for years. The fourth assailant has not yet filed a review plea.

A lawyer for the men, A.P. Singh, told reporters at the courthouse after the verdict that “injustice” had been done to the convicted murderers – using the Hindi word for “boys” to describe them – and the court had caved to public and political pressure to uphold the death penalty.

India has long exercised the death penalty as punishment for serious crimes; its last execution was in 2015 of Yakub Memon for his role in the 1993 terrorist bombings in Mumbai.

The young woman’s parents, Asha Devi and Badrinath Singh, applauded the court’s decision but said that they have been waiting too long for a resolution.

“I want that as soon as possible they are hanged to death,” Devi said in an interview with The Post. “There’s no word to describe what I’m going through. It is very difficult. First lose your child and then go through all this. Even after today, they can still appeal further, so we don’t know how long we will have to fight.”

Their daughter – a physical therapy student who became known as “Nirbhaya” which means “fearless” – had gone to see the “Life of Pi” with a male friend at a popular New Delhi mall cineplex on the night of Dec. 16, 2012 when they boarded a private bus to make their way home to a neighborhood on the outskirts of India’s capital city.

The men – who court documents said were drunk, cruising and looking for sex – attacked the couple, raping and tortured the young woman with an iron rod before tossing the pair from the bus. The young man survived but the woman died later at a hospital in Singapore. Of six assailants eventually arrested, the fifth man died in prison in 2013 and the sixth was a juvenile who served his three-year sentence in a youth offender facility.

In the years since, women’s advocates say that the Nirbhaya case raised awareness, prompting more women to come forward if they’re abused or assaulted, with authorities responding to the concerns with more closed-circuit security cameras and fast track courts for crimes against women. A review of these courts by The Washington Post in 2016 found that they varied in effectiveness, however.

But the number of reporter rapes continue to rise – from about 25,000 in 2012 to 38,000 in 2016, according to government crime data.

Earlier this year, the issue of women’s safety erupted again after an 8-year-old Muslim girl was gang-raped and killed in the northern state of Jammu & Kashmir and a lawmaker from the governing Bharatiya Janata Party was arrested and charged with raping a teenager. India’s cabinet subsequently approved an emergency ordinance allowing the death penalty for the gang rape of children under the age of 12.

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