Vijay Jadhav, Qasim Sheikh alias Bengali and Salim Ansari sat in a far corner of the courtroom, from where they could not hear, nor understand the order while it was being passed.

Later, they were called to the witness box and were told: “Saza-e-Maut [capital punishment].”

A flurry of emotions followed as the severity of the sentence hit the three accused and their family members. Hushed conversations became heated and reached a crescendo when Chanbibi Shaikh, Bengali’s mother, started hurling abuses outside the courtroom. “I was told that the court would show leniency towards my son. But it did not happen,” said Chandbibi, a single mother of three.

Ms. Chandbibi slapped Ansari and blamed him for having had a bad influence on Bengali.

Salim’s mother Aneesa Khatum could barely control her tears. “After my second son died 15 years ago, Salim was the only breadwinner of the family. He has a wife and two kids. He also looks after his brother’s daughters,” she said.

‘A positive message’

In the city and outside, the first-of-its kind judgment was widely debated. Arguments for and against the death penalty were abuzz on social networking sites. Nirmala Samant Prabhavalkar, member of the National Commission for Women said: “I am happy with the verdict. It will send a positive message.”

But human rights’ activist and Majlis founder Flavia Agnes see capital punishment as “barbaric” and “medieval.”

“Rape is not murder and a woman who is raped is not a zinda laash [living corpse]. Even committed by the accused more than once, rape cannot be termed as the “rarest of rare” offence. The death penalty is not a sign of a civilised society,” Ms. Agnes said.

Many see it as not serving the purpose of a deterrent.

Lakshmi Lingam, who works at the Tata Institute of Social Scienes, Hyderabad, felt that unless attitudes towards women and sexuality change, nothing will serve as a deterrent. “My fear is that rapes will take more brutal forms and murders will increase. Rapists will try to kill the woman to snuff out her voice, thereby snuffing out evidence.”

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