India’s Supreme Court on Friday upheld the death sentence for four men convicted of the brutal gang rape of a 23-year-old student in Delhi in December 2012.
Jyoti Singh, a paramedic student, was attacked after boarding a near-empty bus with a male friend. The driver and five other men on the bus assaulted their victim so viciously that she died of her injuries two weeks later. Her friend was beaten up as well.
“It is a barbaric incident,” a three-judge bench ruled. “The offence created a tsunami of shock. If ever a case called for hanging, this was it.”
The crime horrified India, a nation that had become accustomed to daily incidents of violence against women. It led to protests across the country, as well as political pressure to expedite the trial.
Six men were arrested and charged with the crime. One man committed suicide in prison before their trial ended. Of the remaining five, one was a juvenile who was sentenced to three years in a correctional facility, from which he was released ahead of time in November 2015.
The four other men — Mukesh Singh, Pawan Gupta, Vinay Sharma, and Akshay Thakur, all in their twenties — were sentenced to death by hanging in September 2013. The men appealed first to the Delhi High Court, which confirmed the death penalty in March 2014, and then to the supreme court.
The supreme court began hearing the case in April last year as the evidence was presented once again. The judges, in their verdict on Friday, said that even though “all efforts were made to destroy evidence, like running the bus over the victim and her friend”, forensics proved their crime “to the hilt”.
The father of the victim, Badrinath Singh, said the verdict was “a victory for my family. I am very happy with the judgment.”
Before the decision was announced, Ms Singh's mother, Asha Devi, had told the Hindustan Times newspaper: "The court must sentence them to death. We won't settle for life imprisonment. I am alive, and kept myself strong, only to see this day."
Maneka Gandhi, the minister for women and child development, told the ANI news agency that she was “happy that the verdict has been upheld, though I wish it had come sooner”.
Despite the attention generated by the crime and the subsequent uproar over violence against women, little has changed in India. The National Crime Records Bureau registered 24,293 cases of rape in 2012, the year Ms Singh was attacked. In 2015, the most recent year for which statistics are available, that number had risen to 34,651.
Although the government passed more punitive laws to protect women from harassment and violence, it has refused to consider marital rape a crime.
The government also announced a 10-billion-rupee (Dh571 million) corpus in 2013 to bolster the safety and security of women. That money remains unused.