In a landmark verdict, the Supreme Court upheld the death sentence awarded to the four accused who raped and brutalized Nirbhaya that fateful night of 16 December 2012.
In doing so, the Supreme Court brought some sense of closure to her parents who have been patiently waiting to get justice for their daughter, who is no more.
Announcing the verdict in front of a packed courtroom, the three-member apex bench comprising Justices Dipak Misra, R. Banumathi and Ashok Bhushan, upheld the earlier verdict of death sentence awarded by the Delhi High Court to the four accused – Mukesh Singh, Akshay Thakur, Vinay Sharma and Pawan Gupta.
Of the two other arrested, Ram Singh committed suicide in prison, while the other served time as a juvenile and has since been released. He was last reported to be working as a cook.
Two separate judgements authored by Justice Misra and Justice Banumathi, respectively, cited rising crime statistics against women to justify their reasons in support of upholding the earlier verdict confirming the death sentence. People in the courtroom and outside applauded the decision, with several public personalities reacting in support of the conviction.
The death sentence to the four had been award by the Trial Court in 2013 and was subsequently upheld by the Delhi High Court in 2014. The four then filed an appeal before the Supreme Court against the High Court order.
In 2016, the Supreme Court appointed two senior advocates – Sanjay Hegde and Raju Ramachandran, to represent the four accused. The duo strongly argued before the apex court for converting the death sentence to life imprisonment.
With the Supreme Court upholding the death sentence, the lawyer representing the accused said he would file for a review seeking to convert the death to life sentence.
This is why Supreme Court upheld the death sentence
The three-member bench of the Supreme Court explained why it had decided to uphold the death sentence. The court appreciated the extensive forensic evidence collected by the Delhi Police including DNA samples, bite marks and fingerprints, to build a strong and irrefutable case against the accused, that was further corroborated by dying statements recorded by Nirbhaya, through gestures, nods, and signs.
The court also took note of rising heinous crimes against women and the prevailing public sentiment calling for a strong deterrence, as contributing factors in the court’s final decision.
Recalling that dreadful night
16 December 2012 was a cold winter night. Nirbhaya (not her real name) along with her male friend, could not find any public transport back home, so they took lift in an empty bus with six others including the driver. The six attacked the male friend and then took turns in raping and brutally assaulting Nirbhaya in the moving bus. They later threw both of them out of the bus and carried on. All six were soon arrested.
Nirbhaya, who was in critical condition, was later flown to Singapore where she subsequently died.
Questions before society
While the nation rejoices the death sentence, it also raises several pertinent questions that society must ask itself. And they are:
- What is the root cause of human depravity that manifests itself in the form we saw in this case. One of the accused was a juvenile while the others were adults. What drove them to do what they did?
- Is poor economic condition a reason for such crimes, if so, then how does one explain similar depravity seen among the more wealthier sections of society?
- Is capital punishment, as argued by many, a strong deterrence against rape? If so, how does one explain the 43% rise in crimes against women since 2011, as per National Crime Records Bureau?
- Will crime come down if there was only life sentence?
The answers to the above questions lie not so much in the sentence itself but in ‘perception’ towards the ‘consequences’ of the crime. Rejection by society, including peer groups, will act as more effective check and balance than any punishment by way of jail or death.
In countries like Saudi Arabia, China and other similar countries, where such crimes result in immediate execution, crimes continue to occur. So mere harsh punishment is not the answer.
At the same time, many Scandinavian countries have lenient laws and take a humanitarian approach towards criminals, including hardened criminals and terrorists, and still record low crime rates.
The answer probably lies in the ‘values’ we teach and imbibe as a society and nation. Values when taught early, are imbibed best and remain a lifetime. Unless we, in India, collectively understand the importance of values, ethics and morality from an early age, we will not be able to bring down general crime or gender-based crimes through harsh sentences.
It’s a responsibility that starts at home and then extends to society. Till that happens, the Nirbhayas will continue to fall victims to a depraved society.