NEW DELHI — Four men were sentenced to death today for raping and murdering a woman in New Delhi last December, satisfying a public clamour for them to be hanged for a crime that forced India to confront its culture of violence against women.
“These are the times when gruesome crimes against women have become rampant, and courts cannot turn a blind eye to the need to send a strong deterrent message to the perpetrators of such crimes,” Judge Yogesh Khanna said in a ruling that capped one of the most notorious criminal trials in modern Indian history.
Cheers went up from a crowd inside and outside the Delhi courthouse when lawyers rushed out to announce the sentence, which had been widely expected after Khanna found the four men guilty this week of “cold-blooded” rape and murder.
The victim, who was raped for an hour and tortured with an iron rod on a moving bus, became a symbol of the dangers women face in a country where a rape is reported on average every 21 minutes and acid attacks and cases of molestation are common.
“The increasing trend of crimes against women can be arrested only once the society realise that there will be no tolerance (of) any form of deviance against women,” said Khanna.
He ordered the men to “be hanged by neck till they are dead”. In a symbolic gesture, he broke the nib of the pen so that it could not be used to sign another death order, court officials said.
Lawyers for all four men said they would appeal, which means their execution could still be years away. The case will go to the High Court and then Supreme Court. If they confirm the sentences, the final decision will lie with the president, who has the power to grant clemency.
India, with its poorly trained police force and clogged courts, is struggling to curb violence against women.
Social commentators say patriarchal attitudes towards women have not been diluted by more than a decade of rapid economic growth. Reports of rape, dowry deaths, molestation, sexual harassment and other crimes against women rose by 6.4 per cent in 2012 from the previous year, the government said.
One of the defence lawyers, A.P. Singh, suggested in court that Khanna had bowed to political pressure after top politicians, including the country’s interior minister, said the death penalty was assured. There was no immediate comment from the judge, who left the courtroom after delivering his ruling.
Interior minister Sushilkumar Shinde denied that there had been any political interference, telling a TV news channel: “No judicial authority can be influenced by the government.” (Reuters)