Four men were hanged last week for the rape and murder of a student on a New Delhi bus in 2012.
The executions marked the end of a landmark case which gained international attention and prompted rapid reforms of sexual abuse legislation in India.
In 2012, six men attacked a 23 year old physiotherapy student (known only as “Nirbhaya”) and her male companion on a private bus. The young woman was brutally raped and assaulted by the gang and her companion also attacked, before they were dumped naked at the side of a road. “Nirbhaya” died 13 days later having been transferred to a hospital in Singapore for specialist treatment.
All six of the men were convicted of rape, murder and kidnapping in 2013. One, who was 17 at the time of the attack, was released in 2015 having served time the maximum possible sentence in a juvenile detention centre. A second man, the driver of the bus, was found hanging in his cell in 2013.
Three of the remaining men went on to appeal their death sentence at India’s Supreme Court, though all requests were denied. Judges stated that the crimes had “shocked the collective conscience” in India and therefore met the “rarest of the rare” standards required to justify capital punishment in the country. Subsequent pleas for clemency were also rejected by India’s president.
The final rejected appeals came just hours before the men were hanged at Tihar Jail in New Delhi. Head of Tihar, Sandeep Goel, announced last Friday that “The four convicts were hanged together at 5.30 a.m”. Police were in attendance to maintain order outside the jail. The executions caused a stir in a country where capital punishment is not taken lightly. In the last 30 years, India has only seen 30 executions.
“Today, justice has been done after seven years,” said the victim’s mother to a Reuters reporter outside the prison. “I salute the Indian judiciary and thank God for hearing our prayers … my daughter’s soul can now rest in peace.”
The attack on Nirbhaya sparked outrage across India and led to monumental reforms in the justice system. New laws were passsed relating to sexual violence, including the death penalty for certain instances of rape and the creation of ‘fast-track’ courts to try such crimes.
Huge public support for these measures was apparent from the increased presence of women’s rights activists both on the streets and on social media.
But the impact of such changes are yet to be seen. India has one of the highest rape rates globally; in 2015, a rape was reported on average every 15 minutes. Only 25% of rape trials result in convictions according to crime reports released by the Home Ministry.
And it has been suggested that statistics do not reflect the scale of the problem; in 2018, 34,000 rapes were reported, but many still consider it taboo to speak out about sexual violence.
It seems that only by continuing the discourse catalysed by this case and those of many other rape victims will we be able to consciously start combatting a disturbing volume of these violent crimes.