Abolition of the Death Penalty: A Tough Road ahead for India

The movement against the death penalty in present-day India faces a tremendous challenge in terms of extensive public clamour for swift executions, removal of appeals, and even support for summary executions. 
With the imminent execution of the four convicts in the Delhi gang rape and murder case against the background of reactions to incidents in Hyderabad, Kathua and Unnao, harsher punishments are receiving tremendous public support, and politicians are only happy to oblige. The Supreme Court has issued administrative orders (1) to hear death sentence cases faster amidst misplaced concerns in the public that death row prisoners have too many loopholes in the law to exploit.
Framing the death penalty as a political–legal issue in India is not easy. Located within the wider spectrum of social and state violence in India, the exceptional nature of the cruelty of the death penalty is difficult to establish. 
The suffering inflicted by the death penalty is the constant and daily uncerta…

Retaining worst of colonial era, India executes four Nirbhaya convicts

The four hanged on Friday were gym instructor Vinay Sharma, bus cleaner Akshay Thakur, fruit-seller Pawan Gupta and unemployed Mukesh Singh, who were all sentenced to death by a fast-track court in 2013.

In 2017, the Supreme Court upheld death sentences against four men, with judges ruling the crime met the “rarest of the rare” standard required to justify capital punishment in India.

India’s president rejected pleas for clemency from the condemned men, after the Supreme Court dismissed their pleas for a review of the death sentences.

Attacked on a moving bus and left for dead on roadside, the victim, a 23-year-old physiotherapy student, clung to life for two weeks before succumbing to her injuries. She died in a hospital in Singapore, where she had been transferred in a desperate attempt to save her.

Outrage over her death led to India passing tough new laws against sexual violence, including the death penalty for rape in some cases.

Source: Agencies, Staff, March 20, 2020

India hangs 4 men over 2012 Delhi bus gang-rape

NEW DELHI: India executed four men on Friday for the gang-rape and murder of a woman on a Delhi bus in 2012 that sparked huge nationwide protests and international revulsion.

The four were hanged before dawn at Tihar Jail in the Indian capital, the head of the prison, Sandeep Goel, told AFP, in India’s first use of capital punishment since 2015.

“All four convicts (were) hanged at 5.30am,” Goel said.

The brutal attack on Jyoti Singh sparked weeks of demonstrations and shone a spotlight on the alarming rates of sexual violence and the plight of women in India.

Capital punishment appears to enjoy widespread support in the world’s biggest democracy, and the execution sparked small celebrations outside the prison early on Friday.

“We are satisfied that finally my daughter got justice after seven years,” the victim’s mother Asha Devi told reporters outside the jail.

“The beasts have been hanged.”

Singh, 23, was returning home from the cinema with a male friend on the evening of Dec 16, 2012 when they boarded a Delhi bus, thinking it would take them home.

Five men and a 17-year-old boy had other, darker ideas.

They knocked the friend unconscious and dragged Singh to the back of the bus and raped and tortured her with a metal rod.

The physiotherapy student and the friend were then dumped on the road. Singh died 13 days later in a Singapore hospital from massive internal injuries.

“A decent girl won’t roam about at 9pm,” one of the perpetrators later told a BBC documentary that was banned in India.

‘Bursting dam’

Nearly 34,000 rapes were reported in India in 2018, according to official data. This is considered the tip of the iceberg, with many more too scared to come forward.

But Singh’s ordeal, and the fact that she was part of a generation of young women trying to break out of a still very traditional society, struck a chord.

“It was like the bursting of a dam,” said Kavita Krishnan, a women’s activist who took part in the huge protests.

“It was not restricted to seeking revenge. Women said they do not want to trade their freedom for safety … there was a social awakening of society,” she told AFP before the hangings.

It led to tougher punishments for rapists including the death penalty for repeat rape offenders.

Singh, nicknamed “Nirbhaya” (“fearless”), survived long enough to identify her attackers and all six were arrested. Four were convicted in 2013.

A fifth, the suspected ringleader, was found dead in jail in a suspected suicide, while the 17-year-old spent three years in a juvenile detention centre.

The executions may spark further celebrations on Friday despite government advice to avoid crowds because of coronavirus, while politicians will likely rush to express their satisfaction.

But for Krishnan, this masks the government’s continued failure to provide justice and improve safety for women.

Almost 150,000 rape cases are awaiting trial in India’s dysfunctional criminal justice system.

The government is “trying to fix the public gaze on the gallows to divert attention away from what it has failed to do,” Krishnan said.

Source: Agence France-Presse, Staff, March 20, 2020

Nirbhaya case: Four Indian men executed for 2012 Delhi bus rape and murder

People gather outside Tihar jail during the execution of four men convicted of Nirbhaya rape and murder case
Four Indian men convicted of the gang rape and murder of a student in Delhi in 2012 have been hanged.

Akshay Thakur, Vinay Sharma, Pawan Gupta and Mukesh Singh were sentenced to death by a trial court in 2013.

The four were hanged in the capital's high-security Tihar prison in the first executions in India since 2015.

The victim died from her injuries days after being raped by six men on a moving bus. The incident caused outrage and led to new anti-rape laws in India.

The 23-year-old physiotherapy student was dubbed Nirbhaya - the fearless one - by the press as she could not be named under Indian law.

Six people were arrested for the attack. One of them, Ram Singh, was found dead in jail in March 2013, having apparently taken his own life.

Another, who was 17 at the time of the attack, was released in 2015 after serving three years in a reform facility - the maximum term possible for a juvenile in India.

In the last few months, all four convicts filed petitions in the Supreme Court in a bid to reduce their sentences to life imprisonment. But the top court rejected their petitions, leaving the men with no other legal recourse. A last-minute appeal to have the death penalties commuted was also rejected hours before the executions.

Minutes after the convicts were hanged on Friday morning, the victim's mother said, "I hugged my daughter's photograph and told her we finally got justice."

Her father said that his "faith in the judiciary had been restored".

Security was tight outside the prison with a large number of police and paramilitary personnel deployed to maintain law and order.

A group of people carrying placards had gathered outside the prison gates and began celebrating after the executions were announced.

Some chanted "death to rapists" and waved posters thanking the judiciary.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted on Friday morning saying "justice has prevailed". He added that the country had to "build a nation where the focus is on women's empowerment".

Despite the fact that this case made rape and sexual violence against women a focus, there has been no sign that crimes against women are abating.

Recently-released figures from the National Crime Records Bureau show police registered 33,977 cases of rape in 2018 - that's an average of 93 cases a day.

What happened to Nirbhaya?

The student boarded an off-duty bus at around 20:30 local time on 16 December 2012 with a male friend. They were returning home after watching a film at an upscale mall.

The six men, who were already on board, attacked the couple, taking turns to rape the woman, before brutally assaulting her with an iron rod. Her friend was beaten.

They were then thrown out onto the roadside to die. Some passers-by found them naked and bloodied and called the police.

Two weeks later - after widespread protests that demanded India to reckon with its treatment of women - the victim died in a hospital in Singapore, where she was taken for further treatment after her condition deteriorated in a Delhi hospital.

Has India become safer for women?

Geeta Pandey, BBC News, Delhi

A short answer to that question would be: No.

And that's because despite the increased scrutiny of crimes against women since December 2012, similar violent incidents have continued to make headlines in India.

And statistics tell only a part of the story - campaigners say thousands of rapes and cases of sexual assault are not even reported to the police.

I personally know women who have never reported being assaulted because they are ashamed, or because of the stigma associated with sexual crimes, or because they are afraid that they will not be believed.

Some say strict punishment, swiftly delivered, will instil a fear of the law in the public mind and deter rape, but experts say the only permanent solution to the problem is to dismantle the hold of patriarchal thinking, the mindset that regards women as being a man's property.

Until that happens, how do women and girls in India ensure their safety?

How did India react to the crime?

"Wake up India, she's dead," screamed one newspaper headline, announcing her death.

The horrific crime triggered a firestorm of protests in India, in ways that had not really been seen before.

The capital came to a standstill as protesters occupied the main streets. Authorities even temporarily closed some Metro stations in a bid to stop people from gathering.

Thousands of furious protesters - mostly young women and men - still turned up at India Gate in the centre of the city, prompting police to use water cannons to disperse the crowds.

Protests continued in Delhi and several other cities for a fortnight, the number of days it took the victim to succumb to her injuries.

The Delhi government tried to halt rising public anger by announcing a series of measures intended to make the city safer for women: more police night patrols, checks on bus drivers and their assistants, and the banning of buses with dark windows or curtains.

The attack became an inflection point, galvanising a national debate on the treatment of women.

Public outrage over the crime mounted again in 2015 when the BBC broadcast a documentary called India's Daughter which included an interview with one of the convicts who blamed the victim for what happened to her.

In India, the documentary caused a big enough stir that resulted in the film being banned. Television news channels that were supposed to broadcast the film ran a blank screen instead.

What were the new anti-rape laws that followed the incident?
Reacting to the massive protests, India announced new anti-rape laws in March 2013.

They prescribed harsher punishments for rapists and addressed new crimes, including stalking, acid throwing as well as spying on a woman when naked or circulating her pictures without her consent.

They also expanded the definition of rape to state that the absence of physical struggle didn't equal consent.

Also, under the new laws, a repeat offender of rape or rape that causes coma could be given the death penalty.

Sourcebbc.com, Staff, March 20, 2020

Death penalty in India

Hanging and shooting are the two methods of death penalty in India. According to the Criminal Procedure Code, hanging is the method of execution in the civilian court system. The Army Act, 1950, however, lists both hanging and shooting as official methods of execution in the military court-martial system.

According to a study by National Law University in Delhi, 755 people have been hanged in independent India until now.

Prior to the hanging of Memon in 2015, Muhammad Afzal — who was convicted of plotting the 2001 attack on Parliament — was hanged on 8 February 2013.

Mohammad Ajmal Amir Qasab — convicted in the 2008 Mumbai terror attack — was hanged on 21 November 2012, and Dhananjoy Chatterjee — charged and convicted with the murder and rape of a 14-year-old girl — was hanged in 2004.

Before this, the last death sentence was carried out in 1995 when a serial killer known as Auto Shankar, aka Gowri Shankar, was hanged.

Crimes punishable by death

Crimes punishable by death in India include aggravated murder, other offences resulting in death, terrorism-related crimes resulting in death, terrorism-related cases not resulting in death, rape not resulting in death, kidnapping not resulting in death, drug trafficking not resulting in death, treason, espionage and military offenses not resulting in death.

The judgments in the Bachan Singh vs State of Punjab play a crucial role in deciding whether any crime deserves death penalty or not.

For example, under the Indian Arms Act, 1959, using, carrying, manufacturing, selling, transferring, or testing prohibited arms or ammunition had a mandatory death sentence in case of casualty.

But a Supreme Court order in February 2012 had ruled this provision “unconstitutional in light of the judgments in Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab and Mithu v. State of Punjab”.

This suggests that offences resulting in death are punishable by death only when they meet the “rarest of rare” standard laid out in the Bachan Singh case.

Following the 2012 gang rape and murder, the Supreme Court amended the law in April 2013 to make it more stringent by adding new categories of offences regarding violence against women and minor girls.

“Such legislation has come to India for the first time and the Parliament has given its approval,” then home minister Sushilkumar Shinde had said.

Is death penalty constitutional?

The Mithu vs State of Punjab judgment states that death penalty is not a mandatory punishment for the above listed crimes. The Supreme Court had also ruled that mandatory death penalty is unconstitutional.

Section 416 of the CrPC says if a woman sentenced to death is found to be pregnant, the high court shall order the execution of the sentence to be postponed and may, if it thinks fit, commute the sentence to imprisonment for life.

The Supreme Court has also held that mental illness is a “mitigating factor” sparing those with such disorders from the gallows.

Mercy petition process

For a convict to file a mercy petition, his/her death sentence must be confirmed by a high court first.

The law says: “The death sentence convict has an option to appeal to the Supreme Court. 

CandlesIf the Supreme Court either refuses to hear the appeal or upholds the death sentence, then the convict or his relatives can submit a mercy petition to the President of India (Articles 72) or the Governor of the State (161).”

Grounds to seek mercy appeal range from physical fitness, age, law was too harsh, or the convict is the sole breadwinner of the family.

According to Article 72 of the Constitution, the power to pardon — philosophy of which is “every civilised country recognises and provides for the pardoning power as an act of grace and humanity in course of law” — lies with the President.

The Article also states that he/she can grant pardons, reprieves, respites or remissions of punishment or to suspend, remit or commute the convict.

The mercy petition is reviewed by the Ministry of Home Affairs, which consults the state involved, before going to the President.

While former President Pranab Mukherjee had rejected 24 mercy pleas, his predecessor, Pratibha Patil, granted a record 30 pardons, some of which were cases of brutal crimes.

President Ram Nath Kovind, who came to power in July 2017, has rejected at least two mercy petitions — that of Jagat Rai, who burnt alive seven people, five of them children, and the most recent being 2012 gang-rape convict Akshay.

The powers of the governor of state are very similar to that of the President. According to Article 161, the governor can “grant pardons, reprieves, respites or remissions of punishment or to suspend, remit or commute the sentence of any person convicted of any offence against any law relating to a matter to which the executive power of the state extends”.

Sourcetheprint.in, Staff, March 19, 2020

7 years after bus rape and murder shocked the world, attackers hanged in New Delhi

India's Supreme Court
4 men have been executed for the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old student on a New Delhi bus in 2012, a case that shone a global spotlight on shocking rates of sexual assault in India.

Akshay Thakur, Mukesh Singh, Pawan Gupta and Vinay Sharma were hanged at a jail in the Indian capital on Friday, March 20, more than 6 years after being convicted of raping and killing the woman, known only as "Nirbhaya."

The 4 men were convicted in 2013, but 3 of them appealed their death sentence to India's top court, the Supreme Court. All appeals were denied, including mercy pleas to India's President Ram Nath Kovind.

The case prompted outrage around the world and in India, where protesters demanded justice for Nirbhaya, a pseudonym given to the student that means "fearless." Under Indian law, victims of certain crimes cannot be named.

Campaigners called for tougher laws on sexual assault in a country where, based on official figures from 2018, the rape of a woman is reported every 16 minutes.

While reports of rape are all too common, the execution of prisoners for any type of crime in India is rare.

In 2018, trial courts imposed 162 death sentences -- the highest number in nearly two decades -- according to data collated by National Law University in Delhi.

However, there were no recorded executions that year, according to Amnesty International. Only a handful of people have been executed over the past 20 years, including three terrorists, and Dhananjoy Chatterjee, who was executed in 2004 over the rape and murder of a school girl. Recently, the Supreme Court has commuted a number of death penalties to life imprisonment.

A horrific attack

At about 8:30 p.m. on December 16, 2012, Nirbhaya and her boyfriend took a chartered bus home after watching the film "Life of Pi" at a Delhi movie theater. It's common in India for chartered buses to pick up additional passengers during odd hours.

While the bus was moving, a group of men stole the pair's belongings, then took the victim to the back of the bus where they raped and assaulted Nirbhaya with iron rods, according to court documents. They also stripped and beat her boyfriend, who they held down during the attack.

Afterward, the men threw the naked victims from the front door of the moving bus and tried to run them over. They then cleaned the bus with the victims' clothes, before burning them and dividing the "loot" among themselves, including 2 mobile phones, a wrist watch, and a pair of shoes.

Nirbhaya died 2 weeks after the attack in a Singapore hospital, where doctors had been treating her for serious injuries to her body and brain. Before she died, she made statements to the authorities about the attack.

The men involved

Soon after the attack, police located 6 suspects, who knew each other before the incident.

The oldest was 34-year-old school bus driver Ram Singh, who "routinely" drove the vehicle where the attack took place, according to court documents.

He was accused of the victim's rape and murder but was never convicted as he allegedly killed himself in prison shortly after the trial began. His family claimed that he was murdered, according to media reports.

The youngest, who was only 17 at the time of the attack and who cannot be named for legal reasons, was sentenced to 3 years in a juvenile correctional facility, and was released in 2015.

The other 4, aged between 28 and 19 at the time of the attack, were convicted and sentenced to death less than a year later.

They include bus cleaner Akshay Thakur, part-time gym instructor Vinay Sharma, fruit seller Pawan Gupta, and Ram Singh's younger brother Mukesh Singh.

In a 2015 BBC interview, the younger Singh said "a decent girl won't roam around at nine o'clock at night. A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy."

A wider issue of rape

In 2018, more than 33,000 cases of alleged rape were reported -- roughly 91 cases each day, according to India's National Crime Records Bureau.

The number of reported rapes has risen since 2012, potentially because of greater awareness and the perception that something will be done.

Legal reforms and more severe penalties for rape were introduced following Nirbhaya's death.

The women and girls of Delhi are fighting back.

Those included fast track courts to move rape cases through the justice system swiftly, an amended definition of rape to include anal and oral penetration, and the publication of new government guidelines intended to do away with the 2-finger test which purportedly assessed whether a woman had sexual intercourse recently.

The authorities also updated the law to allow the death sentence for repeat rape offenders. Prior to that, the maximum punishment for rape was life imprisonment. In 2018, the law was amended so that the death penalty can be handed down in cases where the victim is a girl under the age of 12.

Experts say that the outrage following Nirbhaya's death has helped to lift the shame around discussing rape. However, many of the problems associated with India's rape crisis continue.

And high-profile rape cases have continued to hit headlines. Last year, 4 men confessed to the gang rape and murder of a 27-year-old woman, whom they set on fire. The 4 were shot dead by police in custody after allegedly snatching weapons from police and firing at them while visiting the scene to reconstruct the crime.



December 16: 23-year-old physiotherapy student Nirbhaya is brutally gang raped on a bus in New Delhi. She is left in a critical condition.

December 29: Nirbhaya dies in a Singapore hospital after suffering serious injuries.


January 21: The trial of 5 adult suspects begins in New Delhi.

March 11: 1 of the accused takes his own life in prison, according to authorities.

August 31: A teenager who was 17 at the time of the attack is sentenced to 3 years in a juvenile correctional facility.

September 10: 4 adult suspects are found guilty of the gang rape and murder of Nirbhaya.

September 13: All 4 are sentenced to death for Nirbhaya's rape and murder. They appeal their sentence.


March 13: Delhi High Court quashes their appeal and upholds the death sentence. The 4 men take it to the Supreme Court.


December 20: The youngest attacker is released from the special juvenile correctional facility. Indian law enforcement and lawmakers had asked for continued custody, but the Delhi High Court could not find legal grounds to issue a stay.


May 5: India's top court, the Supreme Court, upholds the decision to sentence the 4 men to death.


July 9: The Supreme Court rejects a petition for clemency filed by 3 of the men convicted of Nirbhaya's rape and murder.


January 7: All 4 men issued with death warrants.

Source: CNN, Staff, March 20, 2020

Men Convicted in Delhi Bus Rape Are Hanged in India

The four men were executed in the early morning hours in India’s capital, bringing an end to a case that has haunted the country.

NEW DELHI — India brought a gruesome and infamous rape case to a close Friday morning, hanging four men who had been convicted of raping and murdering a young woman on a moving bus in 2012, jail officials said.

The men, who were sent to the gallows at a large jail in New Delhi in the early morning hours, had trapped the young woman on the bus and brutally assaulted her with an iron bar, leaving her mortally wounded.

The appalling nature of the crime and the fact that it unfolded on the busy streets of India’s capital sent shock waves across the nation and around the world, leaving a deep mark on India’s psyche.

The convicts who were hanged Friday morning at the Tihar jail were: Mukesh Singh, approximately 32, one of the ringleaders and the brother of the bus driver, Ram Singh (who killed himself in jail in 2013); Akshay Kumar, approximately 30, a cleaner on the bus; Pawan Kumar Gupta, approximately 25, a fruit seller who came from same run-down neighborhood and joined the others in the assault; and Vinay Sharma, approximately 25, a part-time gym instructor who also lived in the neighborhood and participated in the rape.

Indian news channels reported that the men’s last legal challenges were rejected around 3:30 a.m. They had refused to eat and were up much of the night before being led to the gallows around 5:30 a.m. A small crowd had gathered outside the jail, counting down to the hanging.

The jail’s spokesman, Raj Kumar, confirmed that all four had been hanged and said, “We will issue a statement later.’’

In the Nirbhaya case, there was enormous pressure on the courts and the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to show no mercy. The four convicts had tried everything to avoid the hanging, filing petition after petition.

One of the convicts even tried, in vain, to use New Delhi’s pollution problem as an argument not to hang him. “Everyone is aware of what is happening in Delhi NCR in regard water and air,” said the petition filed by Mr. Kumar in December. “Life is short to short, then why death penalty?”

The family of Mr. Gupta, one of the youngest of the convicted men, had tried to argue for a lesser sentence because the family contended he was a juvenile at the time of the crime. One juvenile was convicted in the case and sentenced to three years in a reform facility; he has since been freed.

Mr. Gupta’s family produced a school certificate that said he was 16 in 2012 but the courts have consistently rejected the claims. Still, judges granted several delays of the execution to allow all appeals and mercy petitions to be exhausted.

In recent weeks, as it became clear the courts were losing patience, Mr. Gupta’s mother, Indira Devi, who works at the same small stand selling grapes, apples, cherries and oranges as her son had, said she had lost the strength to talk to her son anymore.

“It’s nearing the end and still no one listens to us,” she said.

Sourcenytimes.com, Jeffrey Gettleman, Hari Kumar and Shalini Venugopal, March 20, 2020

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"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed,
but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

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