India's prosecution wants death penalty for gang rapists

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NEW DELHI // The four men convicted of gang raping and murdering a student in Delhi should be hanged for their "diabolical" crime, the prosecution argued yesterday.
They will be sentenced tomorrow for the fatal attackon a 23-year-old physiotherapy student on a bus in December last year, a crime that shook India to its core and prompted countrywide protests against endemic sexual violence.
The public prosecutor, Dayan Krishnan told the New Delhi fast-track court, which was set up by the government in response to calls for tougher legal action against sexual crimes, that the case had shocked "the collective conscience" of the country.
"The sentence which is appropriate is nothing short of death," Mr Krishnan said. "There can be nothing more diabolical ... There is no element of sympathy in the way in which the hapless woman was tortured."
Mr Krishnan, asking for the death penalty, which is carried out by hanging in India, argued that the crime was the "rarest of rare", the benchmark for capital punishment in India's legal system.
The victim and a male friend were lured on to the bus by six men, one of whom was a juvenile when the crime was committed and who cannot be identified. Now 18, he was found guilty by a juvenile court last month and given the maximum permissible sentence of three years in detention. Another of the accused, Ram Singh, 33, committed suicide in his jail cell in March.
The other four, bus cleaner Akshay Thakur, gym instructor Vinay Sharma, fruit-seller Pawan Gupta, and Mukesh Singh, who was unemployed, were all convicted by Judge Yogesh Khann on Tuesday for their part in beating the student and her friend and for raping her and abusing her with two metal rods.
Lawyers for the four men asked for leniency.
"We are asking for life imprisonment, not death," V?K Anand, defence lawyer for Mukesh Singh, said yesterday. "My client admitted he was on the bus, but he was driving it. This makes him an accessory to the murder. He did not actively commit the crime," Mr Anand said. "There is a chance of reform here."
The defence lawyers said they would specifically appeal against one of the charges relating to a conspiracy to murder.
Vivek Sharma, a lawyer for Gupta, the fruit seller, argued for a sentence of life imprisonment.
"The court must bear in mind that life imprisonment is the rule and the death sentence is the exception," Mr Sharma said.
He said that Gupta's "tender age" of 19 should be considered.
"A possibility for his reformation is there," Mr Sharma said.
A?P Singh, defence lawyer for Thakur, 28, and for Vinay Sharma, 20, said the death penalty would not end crime on the streets.
"It is a primitive, cold-blooded and simplistic response to a complex issue," Mr Singh argued.
One of the convicted men was heard calling out "I am innocent! I am innocent!" as the police van carrying the men arrived at the courthouse yesterday. It is not known which of the four was shouting as their faces were covered.
The parents of the victim, who may not be identified for legal reasons, sat just feet away from the men in the court. After the hearing, her father told reporters: "They finished my daughter, they deserve the same fate."
There has been a chorus of voices calling for the convicted men to be hanged. India's interior minister, Sushilkumar Shinde, said the death penalty was assured in the case, and a senior leader of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, Sushma Swaraj, said it was important to "set an example for the future".
sbhattacharya@thenational.ae