Seven years after their barbaric act of gang raping a young paramedic student, the four men convicted for the heinous crime have left no stone unturned to save themselves from the gallows.
Ever since the first death warrants were issued by a trial court here in January this year, all four convicts – Mukesh Kumar Singh (32), Pawan Gupta (25), Vinay Kumar Sharma (26), and Akshay Kumar Singh (31) – have made every possible endeavour to delay their execution, even if it meant living for a few more days.
After three successive postponement of the death warrants, the trial court on March 5 set the date of execution at Tihar Jail on March 20 at 5.30 a.m.. Having exhausted all available legal remedies, including mercy petition before the President, the convicts have now been given final time to meet their respective families.
The fateful night
December 16, 2012, would have probably been just another day for the 23-year-old paramedical student returning after watching a movie with a friend, had they not boarded the private bus.
The girl and her friend, after watching Life of Pi at a cinema hall in south Delhi’s Saket, reached the Munirka bus stand at 9 p.m. in an auto. As they could not find any public transport to return home from there, they boarded a chartered bus after its conductor talked them into it.
Inside the bus, there were already four men in the driver’s cabin and two more sitting behind it. They sat next to each other on the left side — second seat in the bus — and paid a fare of ₹20
As the bus reached the flyover near the airport, three boys came out of the driver’s cabin. Two of them started abusing the woman’s friend and asked him where he was taking her late in the evening. One of them hit the victim’s friend who tried fighting back.
Soon, two other boys joined them in beating him with iron rods lying in the bus. As the victim came forward to save her friend, two of the assailants pushed her to the back seat.
While the victim’s friend was being beaten up, the other assailants took turn to rape her. In their brutal act, the convicts damaged her internal organs using an iron rod.
The convicts then tried to throw both the victims out of the moving bus from its rear door. But since they couldn’t open it, they brought them to the front and pushed them out of the moving bus on National Highway 8 near the Mahipalpur flyover. They were later spotted by passers-by, who informed the police.
The passers-by also brought sheets to cover them. They were then rushed to Safdarjung Hospital. The girl was later airlifted to a hospital in Singapore, where she died after 13 days.
Changes in law
The nationwide public outcry, following the incident, led to the passing of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act in 2013 which widened the definition of rape and made punishment more stringent.
Parliament made the amendments on the recommendations of the Justice J.S. Verma Committee, which was constituted to re-look into the criminal laws in the country and suggest changes.
The 2013 Act, which came into effect on April 2, 2013, increased the jail term in most sexual assault cases and also provided for death penalty in rape cases that cause death of the victim or leaves her in a vegetative state. It also created new offences, such as use of criminal force on a woman with intent to disrobe, voyeurism and stalking.
The punishment for gang rape was increased to 20 years to life imprisonment from the earlier 10 years to life imprisonment.
Earlier, there was no specific provision in the law for offences such as use of unwelcome physical contact, words or gestures, demand or request for sexual favours, showing pornography against the will of a woman or making sexual remarks. But, the 2013 Act clearly defined these offences and allocated punishment. Similarly, stalking was made punishable with up to three years in jail.
Arrest and conviction
Within days of the incident, the police arrested all six convicts, including the driver of the bus – Ram Singh – and the lone juvenile assailant.
A fast-track court began proceedings against the five adults on January 17, 2013. The same month, the Juvenile Justice Board ruled that the sixth accused is a minor, who would be dealt with differently.
On March 11, 2013, Ram Singh was found hanging in his cell in Tihar jail.
The juvenile assailant was on August 31 convicted by the Juvenile Justice Board for gang rape and murder and awarded three-year term at a probation home.
The next month, the trial court convicted the remaining four of 13 offences, including gang rape, unnatural offence and murder of a woman and attempt to murder her male friend. It awarded death to all the four.
On March 13, 2014, the Delhi High Court upheld the death sentences awarded to the four convicts. Three years later, the Supreme Court on May 5, 2017, upheld the death penalty.
Rush for execution
On February 2019, the mother of the victim moved a Delhi court seeking death warrants for all convicts. She had contended that it was the need of the hour and law that death sentence be executed as early as possible and not delayed any further.
Seven months before that, the top court had already rejected the review petitions of three of the convicts against their death sentence.
In late October last year, the Tihar Jail authorities informed the convicts that they have only seven days to file mercy petitions before the President as they have exhausted all their legal remedies.
During this period, convict Pawan moved the Delhi High Court claiming that he was a juvenile at the time of the offence. This, however, got dismissed later.
In December the Supreme Court dismissed the review petition filed by the fourth death row convict Akshay.
Akshay, in his last ditch effort to save himself from the gallows, had pleaded that there was no evidence to show that such a punishment has got a deterrent value.
“The State must not simply execute people. It must persistently work towards systematic reforms to bring about change. Executions only kill the criminal, not the crime...” Akshay’s plea argued.
He even referred to the health risks because of the rising pollution level in the Capital to state that, “Life is going short-to-short, then why death penalty”.
On January 7, a Delhi court, while hearing plea by the parents of the victim to expedite the execution of the convicts, issued their death warrants for January 22 at 7 a.m. inside Tihar jail.
The mother of the victim, who was present at the court while the verdict was being pronounced, said the decision to hang the convicts will restore the faith of women in the judiciary.
The second death warrants were issued by the Delhi court on January 17 for February 17 on a day when President Ram Nath Kovind rejected the mercy plea of death row convict Mukesh Kumar. But, the execution of death sentence was postponed for the second time on January 31 by a Delhi court on the ground that Vinay’s mercy plea had not been decided by the President. This led to an unprecedented event, in which the Delhi High Court sat for a hearing on a Sunday to hear the Centre’s plea to remove the stay on execution of the convicts. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Home Ministry, argued that the acts of the four convicts clearly shows their intention to delay the process of execution of death sentences.
There was “a deliberate, calculated, well thought out design to frustrate the mandate of the law”, the Solicitor General had argued.
The High Court declined the plea of the Centre to separately execute the death row convicts but gave all four convicts seven days to exhaust all their available legal remedies.
Meanwhile, the President had rejected the mercy pleas of Mukesh, Vinay and Akshay. On February 17, the Delhi court issued fresh death warrants for the execution of the four convicts on March 3, at 6 a.m.
During this period, Vinay moved the Election Commission of India questioning the timing of the rejection of his mercy plea. In the representation, he contended that the model code of conduct for the Delhi elections was still in force when the Delhi government made its recommendation to the President to reject his mercy plea. Finally on March 5, the Delhi court issued the latest death warrants for the convicts to be executed on March 20 at 5.30 a.m. inside Tihar.
Even after exhausting all legal remedies, Vinay has moved a fresh mercy petition before Lieutenant-Governor Anil Baijal, seeking commutation of his death penalty to life imprisonment.