4 Sentenced to Death in Rape Case That Riveted India

NEW DELHI -- Four men convicted of a
brutal gang rape were sentenced Friday
to die by hanging, a decision met with
satisfaction on the part of the victim's
parents and triumphant cheers from
the crowd outside the courthouse,
where some held up makeshift nooses
and pictures of hanging bodies.
The four men -- a fruit vendor, a bus
attendant, a gym handyman and an
unemployed man -- were found guilty
on Tuesday of raping a young woman
on a moving bus last December,
penetrating her with a metal rod and
inflicting grave internal injuries, then
dumping her on the roadside.
The country was riveted by the story of
the woman, who died of her injuries
two weeks later, and tens of thousands
of people flooded the streets to demand
tougher policing and prosecution of sex
crimes.
But until the last minute it was unclear
whether this would lead to death
sentences in a country where liberal
and populist impulses have strained
against one another for decades,
reserving the death sentences for "the
rarest of rare cases." News of the
decision was met with a wave of
jubilation on the street outside."This is the beginning of freedom for
Indian women today," said Raman
Deep Kaur, 38, a cosmetologist. "Today
we are free, because these men are
going to be killed."
It is far from clear, however, that the
four men will be executed in the near
future -- or at all. The order must be
confirmed by India's High Court, and
the condemned may appeal the ruling
to the High Court, Supreme Court and
the president, a process that can drag
on for many years.
Though there are 477 people on death
row in India, only three have been
executed in the last nine years.
Sadashiv Gupta, a defense lawyer for
one of the men, Pawan Gupta, said he
had reassured his client that the ruling
would very likely be commuted to life
imprisonment.
"I met with my client and I told him,
'You are going to get the death penalty,
take it in stride and don't panic,' " Mr.
Gupta said. "I think he shall not be
hanged."
During the trial, defense lawyers
invoked the "rarest of the rare"
language laid out in a 1980 Supreme
Court decision that overturned a death
sentence. One cited the words of
Mohandas K. Gandhi, the leader of
India's independence movement: "God
gives life and he alone can take it, not
man-made courts." They also invoked
mitigating circumstances, like the
young age and poverty of the
defendants, or the fact that they had
been drinking, undercutting the notion
that the crime was premeditated.
But Judge Yogesh Khanna clearly
rejected those arguments, saying this
crime embodied "the rarest of the rare,"
and invoked the possibility of a larger
wave of violence against women.
"In these times when crimes against
women are on the rise, the court
cannot turn a blind eye to this
gruesome act," he said, according to
reporters in the courtroom.
At this, one of the defendants, Vinay
Sharma, broke down in tears and cried
loudly.
A. P. Singh, who defended two of the
men, called the decision "completely
unfair" and said it had been made
under intense political pressure at a
moment when Indian leaders are
looking ahead to parliamentary
elections next spring.
"I will contest this case until the last
moments of my life," he said.
Defense arguments were drowned out
by cries for execution -- including
from the victim herself, who before her
death told a court official that her
attackers "should be burned alive."
Protesters have congregated regularly
outside the courthouse, chanting "Hang
the rapists," and on Friday they turned
their wrath on the defense lawyers,
forcing one to rush from the crowd.
Rosy John, 62, a housewife watching
the furor outside the courtroom this
week, said her only objection to the
death sentence was that it was too
humane a punishment.
"After death, they will get freedom," she
said. "They should be tortured and
given shocks their whole life. They
have made so many people suffer,
including their own families."
Polls show that Indians remain
ambivalent about using the death
penalty, with 40 percent of respondents
saying it should be abolished, according
to a survey by CNN, IBN and The
Hindu, a respected daily newspaper.
Among the vocal opponents of using it
in this case were a number of women's
rights groups.
The writer Nilanjana S. Roy warned
that executions would circumvent the
more difficult question of why Indian
girls and women are so vulnerable to
sexual violence, most often at the hands
of people they know.
"A base but very human part of me
would like them to suffer as much as
they made that woman suffer," she
wrote in an opinion article in The
Hindu, going on to envision the result
if convicted rapists were hanged
consistently for a year: 10,000
neighbors, shopkeepers, tutors,
grandfathers, fathers and brothers.
"I wish I could believe that this sort of
mass public execution -- if we agreed
that this was the way forward -- would
do more than slake our collective need
for vengeance," Ms. Roy wrote. "But I
don't believe in fairy tales."
Though there were six men on the bus
when the woman was attacked, two
were not sentenced on Friday. One
defendant, Ram Singh, who was driving
the bus at times during the assault,
hanged himself with his bedsheet in his
New Delhi prison cell in March. A
second defendant, who has not been
named because he is a juvenile, was
sentenced last month to three years in
a detention center -- the heaviest
sentence possible in India's juvenile
justice system.
Four of the assailants had grown up in
Ravidas camp, a warren of narrow
lanes and makeshift houses on a
roadside in South Delhi. Neighbors in
the camp turned furiously on the
defendants during the initial uproar
over the rape, saying they had brought
shame and dishonor to the community,
and, nine months later, some are still
livid.
"Only if they get strict punishment will
men in the country change," said
Amravati Singh, 35, saying she hoped
the defendants never saw Ravidas, or
their families, again. But others said
their feelings had mellowed during the
nine months that have elapsed.
Leelavati, 40, said she had known the
men since they were children, and they
were not as bad as they appeared in the
press.