All four death row convicts in the Nirbhaya gang-rape and murder case, namely, Mukesh, Akshay, Vinay, and Pawan, were sent to the gallows at 5:30 AM today after the last bid to defer hanging was rejected by the Supreme Court in a hearing that took place less than 2 hours before the scheduled hanging. A hearing marathon took place before the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court where the convicts’ counsel AP Singh urged the Court to stay the execution.

During the almost mid-night hearing, the Delhi High Court said,

“We’re close to the time when your client will meet the God. Don’t waste time. We’ll not be able to help you in the eleventh hour if you cannot raise an important point. You have only 4-5 hours.”

However, when the counsel was unable to prove his point, the High Court said that it found no foundation in the plea and confirmed the scheduled hanging. Following which, the counsel approached the Supreme Court, where again the petition was dismissed. The roughly 45 minutes long hearing took place at 2:30 AM.

The Crime

The 23-year-old paramedic student, referred to as Nirbhaya, was gang raped and brutally assaulted on the intervening night of December 16-17, 2012 in a moving bus in south Delhi by six people before being thrown out on the road. She died on December 29, 2012 at Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore. The friend with whom Nirbhaya boarded the bus was also beaten, gagged and knocked unconscious with an iron rod by the accused. He suffered broken limbs but survived.

“The accused not only abducted the victim, but gang-raped her, committed unnatural offences by compelling her to perform oral sex, bit her lips, cheeks, breast and caused horrifying injuries to her private parts by inserting iron rod which ruptured the vaginal rectum, jejunum and rectum.”

The incident generated widespread national and international coverage and was widely condemned, both in India and abroad. Subsequently, public protests against the State and Central governments for failing to provide adequate security for women took place in New Delhi, where thousands of protesters clashed with security forces. Similar protests took place in major cities throughout the country. Since Indian law does not allow the press to publish a rape victim’s name, the victim was widely known as Nirbhaya, meaning “fearless”, and her struggle and death became a symbol of women’s resistance to rape around the world.

One of the six accused, Ram Singh, allegedly committed suicide in Tihar Jail in March 2013 during the trial. Another convict, who was a minor at the time of the crime, was sent to a reform facility and released after three years of the crime.

The Verdict

On May 5. 2017, the 3-judge bench of Dipak Misra, CJ., R. Banumathi and Ashok Bhushan, JJ. unanimously awarded death sentence to all 4 accused and said, [Mukesh v. State (NCT of Delhi), (2017) 6 SCC 1 : (2017) 2 SCC (Cri) 673] at SCC p. 261 para 518:

“The gruesome offences were committed with highest viciousness. Human lust was allowed to take such a demonic form. The accused may not be hardened criminals; but the cruel manner in which the gang rape was committed in the moving bus; iron rods were inserted in the private parts of the victim; and the coldness with which both the victims were thrown naked in cold wintery night of December, shocks the collective conscience of the society.”

Stating that if any case warranted award of death sentence, it was the Nirbhaya case, the Court said (SCC p. 261 para 518),

“If the dreadfulness displayed by the accused in committing the gang rape, unnatural sex, insertion of iron rod 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.”

On July 9, 2018 , the Court had dismissed the review pleas filed by the three convicts in the case, saying no grounds have been made out by them for review of the 2017 verdict.

How the Nirbhaya case changed the law in India

  • On 22 December 2012, a judicial committee headed by Former Chief Justice of India, Justice S. Verma, was appointed by the Central government to submit a report within 30 days to suggest amendments to criminal law to sternly deal with sexual assault cases. The committee urged the public in general and particularly eminent jurists, legal professionals, NGOs, women’s groups and civil society to share “their views, knowledge and experience suggesting possible amendments in the criminal and other relevant laws to provide for quicker investigation, prosecution and trial, and also enhanced punishment for criminals accused of committing sexual assault of an extreme nature against women.”

A report was submitted after 29 days, after considering 80,000 suggestions received during the period. The report indicated that failures on the part of the government and police were the root cause behind crimes against women. Suggestions in the report included the need to review the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (AFSPA) in conflict areas, and setting the maximum punishment for rape as death penalty rather than life imprisonment. However, the committee did not favour lowering the age of a juvenile from 18 to 16.

  • On 26 December 2012, a Commission of Inquiry headed by former Delhi High Court judge Usha Mehra was set up to identify lapses, determine responsibility in relation to the incident, and suggest measures to make Delhi and the wider National Capital Region safer for women.
  • On 1 January 2013, a task force headed by the Union Home Secretary was established to look into women’s safety issues in Delhi and review the functioning of the city police force on a regular basis.
  • On 3 February 2013, the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2013 was promulgated by President Pranab Mukherjee which provided for amendment of the Penal Code, Evidence Act, and Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, on laws related to sexual offences. The ordinance provides for the death penalty in cases of rape. According to Minister of Law and Justice Ashwani Kumar, 90 percent of the suggestions given by the Verma Committee Report were incorporated into the Ordinance. However, critics state that many key suggestions of the commission have been ignored, including the criminalisation of marital rape and trying military personnel accused of sexual offences under criminal law. The said ordinance was repealed by the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 which brought important changes to the penal laws of india with respect to crimes committed against women.
  • Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 was passed which replaced the Indian juvenile delinquency law, Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000, and allows for juveniles in conflict with Law in the age group of 16–18, involved in Heinous Offences, to be tried as adults.

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