The four men were convicted of brutally raping a 23-year-old woman after she and a male friend boarded a private bus on their way home from seeing a movie. The assailants dumped her bleeding body on a road, and she clung to life for two more weeks before dying in a hospital of massive internal injuries.
The woman is known here as “Nirbhaya,” or “fearless one,” because Indian courts prohibit the disclosure of the names of sexual assault victims. Her death was a turning point, sparking huge protests that resulted in significant changes to the law with the aim of reducing sexual violence.
Indian authorities promised swift justice in the case, and four men were convicted and sentenced to death in 2013. A fifth assailant died in prison, and the sixth was a juvenile offender who served a short sentence. The woman’s family has waited ever since to see the men punished. India’s Supreme Court twice upheld the death penalty in the case.
Asha Devi, the victim’s mother, thanked the court after it issued the death warrants Tuesday, saying the step was late but welcome. “My daughter will get justice,” she said. “This hanging will restore the faith of the country’s women.”
Badrinath Singh, the father of the young woman, said in an interview with The Washington Post that he was “extremely happy” with the court’s decision, and it would have a deterrent effect. “One thing is sure, when these four men are hanged at the same place, it will create fear in such beasts,” he told reporters.
Lawyers for the convicted men can file a last appeal for clemency with India’s president, but experts think that such a petition would fail.
Four suspects were arrested and allegedly confessed to the crime, according to police documents. But just days later, they were fatally shot while in police custody. Some in India celebrated their deaths as fitting punishment, while others decried the shootings as a clear-cut case of extrajudicial killing.
The scheduled executions in the Nirbhaya case would mark a watershed. The last execution in a rape and murder case was in 2004. Since then, authorities have carried out only three other death sentences, all in terrorism cases. The last one was in 2015.
Anup Surendranath, an expert on the death penalty at the National Law University in Delhi, said the court violated the law by issuing a death warrant in the Nirbhaya case before the men had made a final plea for mercy. “This impatience with procedural protections is cause for serious concern,” he said.
Overall, “India has struck the right balance,” said K.T.S. Tulsi, a senior lawyer practicing at the country’s Supreme Court. “This was the rarest of rare cases where the conduct of these accused was so inhuman [that the] . . . death penalty is the right decision.”
Tania Dutta contributed to this report.