The four men convicted for the grisly 2012 gang rape and murder of a young student in India have been executed by hanging, finally bringing the seven-year ‘Nirbhaya’ case to an end after a lengthy ordeal of appeals and delays.
The assailants were hanged at New Delhi’s Tihar Jail 5:30am local time Friday, following a marathon legal proceeding the night prior which saw last-ditch attempts to appeal their sentence shot down.
“Now I will get peace,” Asha Devi, the mother of the victim, – who has come to be known as ‘Nirbhaya’, or ‘the fearless one’ in Hindi – told PTI after the mens’ final hanging date was set in stone early Friday morning.
The ghastly crime saw a group of attackers descended upon a 23-year-old student and her male companion riding on a bus in India’s capital on the evening of December 16, 2012, savagely beating both and taking turns raping the young student. Though the woman lived through the initial onslaught, she later died of severe internal injuries, while her friend was critically injured but survived the encounter.
Six men were arrested for the horrific assault, but one of them – a juvenile at the time of the incident – was tried as a minor and released in 2015 after a three-year sentence. An adult suspect, Ram Singh, was found dead in his jail cell in March 2013, a suspected suicide, but police never ruled out murder.
The remaining four men – Vinay Sharma, Mukesh Kumar Singh, Pawan Gupta and Akshay Singh – were convicted together for rape, murder, unnatural offences and destruction of evidence in 2013, with all sentenced to execution by hanging within days of the verdict.
So began a years-long process of delays, which saw each convict exhaust a seemingly endless series of appeals that repeatedly pushed back their date of execution. At various points throughout the ordeal, the courts accused the men of “delaying tactics,” but nonetheless recognized their right to appeal.
A Delhi high court upheld the death sentence in 2014, prompting the men to bring the case to India’s Supreme Court, the country’s highest judicial body. After years of stop-start proceedings, the court struck down their final remaining appeal last December – some seven years after the attack.
Though some of the convicts ran out of legal remedies before the others, Indian law stipulates that suspects jointly convicted of the same capital offence must be executed on the same date, meaning that as long as one of the men pursued appeals, none could be hanged.
A judge in Delhi issued death warrants for all four men in January, setting their execution for later the same month, but the process was to be frustrated yet again, with some of the convicts filing final mercy pleas to President Ram Nath Kovind, and their lawyers making desperate last-minute attempts to delay their hanging. Three additional death warrants would be issued in the weeks that followed, seeing the execution date pushed back to February 1, then March 3, and finally to March 20.
The brutal crime and the ensuing legal row shocked the conscience of India, stoking nationwide protests which helped to push through a number of changes to the country’s sexual assault laws, including instituting the death penalty for the rape of minors. The legal definition of rape was also broadened in the wake of the case, while other crimes, including acid attacks, sexual harassment, stalking and voyeurism were added to the criminal code.
In addition to a number of books, comics and TV shows, the case has even inspired a Netflix crime drama series, ‘Delhi Crime,’ based on the attack and the work of police detectives tasked with tracking down the culprits.
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