New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday upheld the death sentence awarded to four convicts in the brutal 2012 Delhi gangrape and murder of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student in Delhi that sparked nationwide outrage.
“The aggravating factors have outweighed the mitigating factors that we considered," the court said.
Six men, including the four convicts, were involved in the assault on board a private bus that sparked street protests and candle-light vigils and led to tougher laws against sexual violence.
One of the two remaining men was tried by a juvenile court and the other purportedly committed suicide in prison.
The victim died in a Singapore hospital a fortnight after the 16 December 2012 assault.
The Delhi high court on 13 March 2014 upheld the death sentence awarded to Mukesh Singh, Pawan Gupta, Akshay Thakur and Vinay Sharma after they were convicted by a fast-track court.
An apex court bench comprising justices Dipak Misra, and justices R. Banumathi and Ashok Bhushan heard the appeals filed by the four convicts.
Last year, the top court appointed senior advocates Raju Ramachandran and Sanjay Hegde to assist the court in defending the convicts. Both lawyers argued against awarding the death sentence and sought life imprisonment for the convicts instead.
The court delivered two separate judgements—one authored by Misra and another by Banumathi. The ruling cited statistics from the 2015 report of the National Crime Records Bureau to indicate crime against women has increased by 43% since 2011.
A total of 327,394 cases of crime against women were reported in 2015, up from 228,650 cases in 2011.
Minister for women and child development Menaka Gandhi said the court’s ruling will act as a “severe deterrent" against such heinous crimes.
“A judgement like this was necessary to send a stern message to people who commit such heinous crimes, and future offenders, especially juveniles, who may commit such acts," she said, according to the Press Trust of India.
Gandhi also pushed for a 2016 amendment to the Juvenile Justice Act, allowing children aged 16 to 18 years and in conflict with the law to be tried as adults for heinous offences.
The change in law was seen as a response to outrage sparked by this case, in which the conduct of the juvenile was said to be the most brutal.
The incident also prompted the setting up of a three-member panel headed by former chief justice of India J.S. Verma to rework laws relating to crimes against women. Based on the panel’s recommendations, crucial laws were amended, and the definition of rape was widened.
Opponents of the death penalty criticized the apex court’s ruling. “Death penalty is not warranted for any person for any offence," senior advocate Anand Grover said.
The apex court in 1980 abolished the mandatory death penalty in cases of murder and said the death sentence cannot be awarded except in the “rarest of rare" cases.
“The present case clearly comes within the category of ‘rarest of rare case’ where the question of any other punishment is ‘unquestionably foreclosed’. If at all there is a case warranting award of death sentence, it is the present case," justice Banumathi wrote, upholding sentence.
In 2015, the Law Commission suggested abolition of the death penalty for all crimes except terrorism-related offences and ‘waging war’ against India.
Advocate A.P. Singh, one of the lawyers for the convicts, said a plea seeking a review of the judgement will be filed shortly.