New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday upheld the death sentences of four men convicted for 2012 gang-rape of a Delhi student, a "rarest of rare" crime that sparked nationwide outrage over violence against women in the country.
Applause broke out in court among relatives of the victim as a bench of Justice Dipak Misra, Justice Ashok Bhushan and Justice R Banumathi announced: “If ever a case called for hanging, this was it.”
The judges said the aggravating circumstances against gym instructor Vinay Sharma, bus cleaner Akshay Kumar Thakur, fruit-seller Pawan Gupta and unemployed Mukesh Singh - all in their 20s - far outweighed the mitigating circumstances, such as their poor family background, age, good conduct in prison and their children cited in their favour.
"If the dreadfulness displayed by the accused in committing the gang-rape, unnatural sex, insertion of iron rod in the private parts of the victim doesn't fall in the rarest of rare category, then one may wonder what else would," Justice Banumathi said, declining the convicts' appeal.
Describing it as a crime of "mental perversion and extreme brutality" wherein intestines of the victim were "perforated in the most savage and inhuman manner", Justice Misra said: "It sounds like a story from a different world humanity has been treated with irreverence."
Justice Misra, also speaking for Justice Bhushan, said the convicts "don't deserve leniency" in view of their “brutish behaviour" with the victim.
The judges noted that the "brutal, barbaric and diabolic nature" of the crime could create "tsunami of shock" to destroy a civilised society.
Observing that the accused had found her as "an object for enjoyment" and "ravish her as they liked, treat her as they felt" to get "gross sadistic and beastly instinctual pleasure", the court said such acts were "bound to shock the collective conscience".
The "loathsome bestiality of passion ruled the mindset of the appellants (convicts) to commit a crime which can summon with immediacy 'tsunami' of shock in the mind of the collective and destroy the civilised marrows of the milieu in entirety," it said.
"When we cautiously, consciously and anxiously weigh the aggravating circumstances and the mitigating factors, we are compelled to arrive at the singular conclusion that the aggravating circumstances outweigh mitigating circumstances now brought on record.”
"Therefore, we conclude and hold that the High Court has correctly confirmed the death penalty and we see no reason to differ with the same," a three-judge bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra said.
While Justice Misra wrote the judgement for himself and Justice Ashok Bhushan, the lone woman judge in the apex court, Justice R Banumathi wrote a separate and concurring verdict
Tears rolled down the cheeks of the victim's mother, a pensive Asha Devi, and her father Badri Singh, who were present in the courtroom, but they heaved a sigh of relief as Justice Misra concluded reading the operative parts of his 315-page judgement.
Devi said she was happy that justice has finally been done.
"I am very satisfied. I am happy today."
The victim's grieving father hailed the Supreme Court that "heard our voice and understood the suffering Nirbhaya underwent".
"It has given justice to Nirbhaya and the entire country," he said, referring to his daughter by the name -- which means fearless -- given by the media.
Taking note of the serious injuries and the severe nature of the offence, the judges said they were upholding the death sentence first pronounced by a lower court and upheld by the Delhi High Court.
Referring to each and every gory detail of the gruesome incident that had sparked nationwide protests, the bench said: "It is apt to state here that in the said case, stress was laid on certain aspects, namely, the manner of commission of the murder, the motive for commission of the murder, anti- social or socially abhorrent nature of the crime, magnitude of the crime and personality of the victim of murder."
Justice Misra, in his judgement, said the instant case revealed "brutal, barbaric and diabolic nature of the crime" which is "evincible from the acts committed by accused".
The verdict dealt with aspects of the incident like an assault on the male friend of the victim with an iron rod, tearing off his clothes, assaulting him and the woman with "hands, kicks and iron rods".
"...Attacking the deceased by forcibly disrobing her and committing violent sexual assault by all the appellants; their brutish behaviour in having anal sex with the deceased and forcing her to perform oral sex; injuries on the body of the deceased by way of bite marks (10 in number); and insertion of rod in her private parts that, inter alia, caused perforation of her intestine which caused sepsis and, ultimately, led to her death... ," it said.
The bench said the medical records had demonstrated that the entire intestine of the victim was "perforated and splayed open due to the repeated insertion of the rod and hands and the appellants had pulled out the internal organs of the prosecutrix in the most savage and inhuman manner that caused grave injuries which ultimately annihilated her life."
The court also referred to bite marks on the victim's body parts, including private ones and said "these acts itself demonstrate the mental perversion and inconceivable brutality as caused by the appellants.
"As further proven, they threw the informant and the deceased victim on the road on a cold winter night. After throwing the informant and the deceased victim, the convicts tried to run the bus over them so that there would be no evidence against them.
"They made all possible efforts in destroying the evidence by, inter alia, washing the bus and burning the clothes of the deceased and after performing the gruesome act, they divided the loot among themselves," the bench said.
It said the incident is corroborated by medical evidence, oral testimony and the dying declarations of the victim.
"It is absolutely obvious that the accused had found an object for enjoyment in her and, as is evident, they were obsessed with the singular purpose sans any feeling to ravish her as they liked, treat her as they felt and, if we allow ourselves to say, the gross sadistic and beastly instinctual pleasures came to the forefront when they, after ravishing her, thought it to be just a matter of routine to throw her along with her friend out of the bus and crush them.
"The casual manner with which she was treated and the devilish manner in which they played with her identity and dignity is humanly inconceivable," it said.
Justice R Banumathi, in her separate verdict running into 114 pages, said the rising crimes against the woman is an "area of concern" as "over the past few decades, legal advancements and policy reforms have done much to protect women from all sources of violence and also to sensitise the public on the issue of protection of women and gender justice. Still, the crimes against women are on the increase."
She said "Right from childhood years' children ought to be sensitised to respect women. A child should be taught to respect women in the society in the same way as he is taught to respect men. Gender equality should be made a part of the school curriculum.
"The school teachers and parents should be trained, not only to conduct regular personality building and skill enhancing exercise, but also to keep a watch on the actual behavioural pattern of the children so as to make them gender sensitised," Justice Banumathi said.
Justice Misra, in the verdict, dealt in detail with all crucial evidence and arguments to rubbish them.
Dealing with the testimony of the male friend of the victim, the court said his evidence was "unimpeachable and it deserves to be relied upon".
It also trashed the separate pleas of convicts that they were not on the bus and said: "The accused along with the juvenile in conflict with the law were present in the bus when the prosecutrix and her friend got into the bus".
Lending credence to CCTV footage, the bench said there was no reason to disregard the video which was duly proved, establishing the movement of the bus at the relevant time.
"The arrest of the accused persons from various places at different times has been clearly proven by the prosecution," it said, adding "the personal search, recoveries and the disclosure leading to recovery are in consonance with law and the assail of the same on the counts of custodial confession made under torture and other pleas are highly specious pleas and they do not remotely create a dent in the said aspects."
It rejected the contention that recoveries manipulated by police, saying the plea "deserved to be thrown overboard does not merit acceptance."
The fervent plea of the accused to discredit the veracity of three dying declarations of the victim was also trashed by the bench which said that they "do withstand close scrutiny and they are consistent with each other."
"The stand that the deceased could not have given any dying declaration because of her health condition, has to be repelled because the witnesses who have stated about the dying declarations have stood embedded to their version and nothing has been brought on record to discredit the same. That apart, the dying declaration by gestures has been proved beyond reasonable doubt," it said.
The bench also rejected the plea that the accused were implicated by the male friend and said there was no justification in any manner to think that victim and her male friend would falsely implicate them.
The dying declarations of the victim are corroborated with the oral and documentary evidence and "also enormously from the medical evidence".
Appreciating the modern and scientific methods like DNA profiling, the bench said it has proved "to the hilt the presence of accused in the bus and their involvement in the crime. The submission that certain samples were later taken from the accused and planted on the deceased to prove the DNA aspect is noted only to be rejected because it has no legs to stand upon."
It rejected the plea that transfusion of blood during the victim's treatment had "potentiality to give rise to two categories of DNA or two DNAs is farthest from the truth and there is no evidence on that score. On the contrary, the evidence in exclusivity points to the matching of the DNA of the deceased with that of the accused on many aspects."
Dealing with bite marks on the body of the victim, the bench said the scientific evidence, relating to odontology, showed that the accused were culprits.
"It is extremely impossible to accept the submission that it has been a manipulation by the investigating agency to rope in the accused persons," it said adding the evidence brought on record as regards criminal conspiracy stands established.
"In view of the summation, the inevitable conclusion is that the prosecution has proved the charges levelled against the appellants beyond a reasonable doubt," the bench concluded while rejecting four appeals of the convicts in the case.
The convicts' lawyer, AP Singh, pledged to file a review petition. "I am not satisfied with the judgement," he said. "It is a violation of human rights. Someone cannot be hanged just because of public sentiments."
The last recourse for the convicts will be to file a mercy petition and seek clemency from President Pranab Mukherjee.
What happened on December 16, 2012, night?
The five men and a juvenile lured the 23-year-old trainee physiotherapist and her male friend onto a bus in New Delhi on December 16, 2012, before repeatedly raping the woman and beating both with a metal bar and dumping them on a road.
The rapists, six in all, pounced on the young woman who had boarded the bus with her friend to go home after seeing a movie "Life of Pi".
As the bus moved on south Delhi roads, the convicts pulled out her internal organs with a rusted L-shaped iron rod used with a wheel jack. This led to her death due to internal injuries on December 29 at Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore.
After committing the crime, they dumped the woman and her friend on the side of a road. Some onlookers alerted the police. The sheer brutality of the crime led to nationwide revulsion -- and street protests.
A fifth accused, Ram Singh, committed suicide in the Tihar Central Jail here. The sixth, a juvenile, who was accused of ripping apart the woman's intestines, was sent to a correction home and has been released after serving his probation period.
Leaders welcome SC verdict
Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad hailed the judgement and favoured the existence of death penalty in the statute, saying he was satisfied that it was invoked in the rarest of rare instance like the December 16 gang-rape case, over which there was a public outcry.
He dubbed the verdict as a "victory for the rule of law."
Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi said she was happy. "I wish it had come sooner. It was a horrible experience and suffering for the family."
The Delhi Commission for Women welcomed the capital punishment. "Finally, justice was delayed but not denied," said its chief, Swati Maliwal.
(With Agency inputs)