India’s supreme court upholds death penalty for 2012 Delhi gang-rape convicts

Image: Reuters/Anindito Mukherjee
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India’s supreme court has confirmed that the four men accused of gang-raping a woman in New Delhi in 2012 will face the death penalty.

Today (July 09), a bench made up of the chief justice of India, Dipak Misra, and justices Ashok Bhushan and R Banumathi dismissed the review petitions filed by three of the accused following the court’s May 05, 2017, decision that first confirmed the death penalty. That ruling came over four years after the chilling incident that took place on the night of Dec. 16, 2012. The accused, Mukesh Singh, Vinay Sharma, Akshay Thakur, and Pawan Gupta, along with two others, brutally beat, tortured, and raped a 23-year-old paramedical student, Jyoti Singh, on a moving bus, before leaving her bleeding on the side of the road late in the night.

The attack shocked the nation and sparked widespread protests. At the time, due to Indian laws that prohibit the naming of rape victims, sections of the media referred to Singh as “Nirbhaya,” which means fearless, a nod to her determination to survive in the days after the incident. However, she later succumbed to her injuries, causing the protests to intensify, with thousands of Indians taking to the streets to call for justice.

Following the perpetrators’ arrest, a fast-track court was set up in January 2013 to try the case. A few months later, one of the accused, Ram Singh, was found dead in prison. The sixth member was tried as a minor and sentenced to time in a correctional facility, while the four adults were sentenced to death in 2013, a ruling confirmed in 2014 by the Delhi high court. The accused appealed to the supreme court, which eventually delivered its judgment confirming the death penalty in May 2017.

In the years since the attack, authorities in India have tried to improve existing laws to keep women safe. However, sexual harassment and assault remain the norm across the country, and crimes against women and even children have only increased. Just a few months ago, two horrifying cases of child rape proved that despite the 2012 incident, very little has changed on the ground.

In fact, research conducted by Human Rights Watch has shown that when it comes to the process of getting justice, rape survivors often face even more brutality, thanks to insensitive doctors and policemen. As a result, activists say the death penalty isn’t enough to end the difficulties that women face.

“Instead, the government must allocate adequate resources for the effective implementation of laws, improve conviction rates, and ensure certainty of justice in all cases,” Asmita Basu, Amnesty International India’s programmes sirector, said in a statement.