SC upholds death for 16 Dec Delhi rape-murder convicts

The Supreme Court on Friday upheld the death sentence awarded to all the four convicts in the 'Nirbhaya' gang rape and murder case, which it said shook the ''collective conscience'' of the nation.

A bench of Justices Dipak Mishra, R Banumathi and Ashok Bhushan described the crime which took place in Delhi on 16 December 2012 as a "story of a different world".

Referring to the dying declaration of the young woman, the court described the crime as brutal and demonic. "If ever a case called for hanging, this was it," said the bench.

The solemn mood of the court room was broken by a spontaneous applause when Justice Dipak Misra pronounced the unanimous judgment. At the far end of the courtroom, the victim's parents, who have pursued the case since their daughter's death in December 2012, burst into tears.

The grotesque behaviour of the convicts was proven by the bite marks. There was insertion of an iron rod in the victim's private parts and her intestine was ruptured. The way the convicts had thrown the victims on the road in the cold winter night and had tried to run the bus over her and her friend also worked against them.

Justice Misra said that this felt like ''a story from another world where the appetite for sex, the hunger for violence, the position of the empowered and the attitude of perversity, to say the least, are bound to shock the collective conscience''.

While ruling that the poor background of the convicts and their good conduct in jail could not be considered as mitigating factors in this case, Justice R Banumathi said though women were getting educated the crimes against them were also increasing in society.

"Where a crime is committed with extreme brutality and the collective conscience of the society is shocked, courts must award death penalty, irrespective of their personal opinion as regards desirability of the death penalty. By not imposing a death sentence in such cases, the courts may do injustice to the society at large," she said in the judgment.

"Imposition of appropriate punishment is the manner in which the courts respond to society's cry for justice. Justice demands that the courts should impose punishments befitting the crime so that it reflects public abhorrence of the crime. Crimes like the one before us cannot be looked at with magnanimity," she said.

The court's judgment came on an appeal filed by four of the six accused - Akshay, Pawan, Vinay Sharma and Mukesh - who challenged the Delhi High Court's March 2014 confirmation of the death sentence handed to them by a trial court in 2013.

Scathing remarks
The 429-paged judgment was scathing in its remarks pertaining to the increasing crimes against women in the country. Emphasis was also laid on the "brutal, barbaric and demonic" manner in which the rape was committed.

"It is absolutely obvious that the accused persons had found an object for enjoyment in her and, as is evident, they were obsessed with the singular purpose sans any feeling to ravish her as they liked, treat her as they felt and, if we allow ourselves to say, the gross sadistic and beastly instinctual pleasures came to the forefront when they, after ravishing her, thought it to be just a matter of routine to throw her along with her friend out of the bus and crush them," Justice Misra wrote.

"It is manifest that the wanton lust, the servility to absolutely unchained carnal desire and slavery to the loathsome bestiality of passion ruled the mindset of the appellants to commit a crime which could summon with immediacy a tsunami of shock in the mind of the collective and destroy the civilised marrows of the milieu in entirety," he added.

The audience in the packed court number two was a mix of lawyers, activists, media personnel, family and friends that was anxiously waiting for this judgment.

'I want to see them die'
Badrianth, the victim's father, was sure his plea would be answered and the convicts would be hanged. "I slept soundly last night. I was sure the court would not let me down," he said. "Now, I have only one wish left, I want to see them die," he added.

The victim's mother Asha Devi was surrounded by well-wishers as soon as court concluded for the day. ''Many ups and downs came, I made them my strengths as I was confident that justice will be done. But our struggle doesn't end here. We will continue to help those who go through this trauma,'' she said.

While, Justices Misra and Bhushan spoke of "the attitude, perception, the beastial proclivity, inconceivable self-obsession and individual centralism of the six," Justice Bhanumati wrote about the state of women in our society.

"The best thermometer to the progress of a nation is its treatment of its women," Justice Banumathi said quoting the scholar Swami Vivekananda. "Crime against women not only affects women's self esteem and dignity but also degrades the pace of societal development," the lone female judge in the top court said in her concluding paragraphs.

On 16 December 2012 six men, including a juvenile, gang-raped and fatally wounded a 23-year-old medical student in a moving bus. The male friend who was accompanying her was also assaulted by the six. The victim succumbed to her injuries in a Singapore hospital on 29 December 2012.

Ram Singh, the bus driver, was found hanging in his cell in Tihar jail in March 2013, months before the rapists were convicted. The sixth convict was just short of 18 when he was arrested. He walked out of a correction home in December 2015 after spending three years - the maximum punishment for minors - sparking public outrage and an overhaul of the juvenile law.

The SC judgment is not the end of the road for the four accused. They can appeal to the apex court for a review of this judgment. If that fails, the convicts can approach the governor and then finally the president for mercy.