India’s Supreme Court has decided to uphold the death sentences of four men convicted in the infamous New Delhi gang rape of 2012, rejecting their 2014 appeals. Though six men were convicted of the crime, one has since died, found hanging in his jail cell, and the other, a juvenile, served a three-year jail sentence (the maximum for his age).
The 23-year-old victim was named Jyoti Singh, also called Nirbhaya (which means “fearless”) because of a law in India that forbids the press from publicizing the name of a rape victim. Nirbhaya died in a hospital in Singapore two weeks after the attack.
The crime drew international awareness and caused mass demonstrations against the harassment of women in India because of its particularly gruesome nature.
India’s only female justice, R. Banumathi, detailed her thoughts on the crime in a piece longer than 100 pages, describing why she felt the rape was justified to meet India’s “rarest of rare” requirement for execution.
The justice wrote that, “Human lust was allowed to take such a demonic form. The accused may not be hardened criminals; but the cruel manner in which the 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.”
Banumathi, justifying the death penalty, wrote that “Justice demands that the courts should impose punishment befitting the crime so that it reflects public abhorrence of the crime.”
The judgment was met with applause. The victim’s father, who also desired the death penalty for the accused, has said previously that “complete closure” would come “only if all the accused are wiped from the face of the Earth.”
Though the men appealed on post-crime remorse and good conduct, Banumathi reasoned that “the circumstances stated by the accused in their affidavits are too slender.”
She also called for a change in Indian society, where crime against women has been rising. From 2010 to 2015, the government’s records show that there has been a 50% increase in the number of reported rapes against women.
Many activists don’t think India is doing enough to stop this rise in sexual assault. Aruna Kashyap, a lawyer with Human Rights Watch, said, “The overall response to women’s safety is rooted in protectionism – keep them at home, keep them safe – rather than create spaces that are safe and equal.” Policies, she says, are hard to come by.
Banumathi explains these statistics in her writing while also detailing the more personal effects of rape on victims. She wrote of the way in which rape “deeply affects the entire psychology of a woman and humiliates her, apart from leaving her in a trauma.”
To spark change, Banumathi urges in her writing that “right from childhood years children ought to be sensitized to respect women. A child should be taught to respect women in the society in the same way as he is taught to respect men. Gender equality should be made a part of the school curriculum.”
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