A judge in New Delhi has condemned four men to death by hanging for the rape and murder of a student aboard a bus. Defense lawyers plan to file an appeal. The crime enraged Indians, leading to protests and legislation intended to protect women. Cheering crowds greeted the sentence outside the courthouse Friday:
The courthouse where the men were sentenced was just across the road from the mall cinema where the young woman and her boyfriend had watched the “Life of Pi” before trying to make their way back to the Delhi neighborhood of Dwarka the night of Dec. 16.
In a thick, 237-page ruling this week, the judge described in meticulous and painful detail the horror that followed: The couple boarded one of India’s many private buses, hoping it would provide safe passage home. Aboard the bus were a driver, four other men and a juvenile, most of whom hailed from Delhi’s Ravi Dass slum. They were drunk and had taken the bus out into the night, looking for sex.
According to court documents, the men attacked the couple, beating them before taking the “helpless” woman to the back of the bus and raping her one by one, then penetrating her body with iron rods.
The woman died at a hospital in Singapore several days later. The bus driver, Ram Singh, committed suicide in his jail cell in March, and the defendant who was a juvenile at the time of the attack was convicted last month and sentenced to three years in a detention facility. That defendant has since turned 18.
The case led many in the country to reexamine Indian cultural attitudes toward sexual violence:
Many have expressed hope that the case, and the intense media coverage, will help change traditional attitudes that relegate women to subservient roles and contribute to a landscape of sexual harassment and fear. Women learn from girlhood to dress conservatively and avoid going out after dark. They teach themselves to ignore the rampant groping and lewd comments — locally known as “eve-teasing” — they encounter in public.
Rapes are regularly blamed on the victims. Many rape victims are shunned by their families, fired from jobs and driven from their home villages. As a result, most rape victims are still thought to remain silent.
“Too often the pressure is on the girls to stay safe. But parents need to take responsibility for their sons,” said protester Satvinder Kaur, a 40-year-old mother. “The culture will only change when mothers stop their sons from going out late at night, when they make it clear they will not stand behind them if they do something like this.”
Kaur said the sentence sent “a very positive message to the ladies in India that the government is standing behind them.”
Faced with the outcry, the government in March created fast-track courts for rape cases, doubled prison terms for rape and criminalized voyeurism, stalking and the trafficking of women.
The dozens of protesters outside the courthouse on Friday, while lauding the sentence, called for swift justice in tens of thousands of rape cases that remain backlogged in Indian courts.
Although there are several hundred people on death row in India, capital punishment is rare, as most death sentences are ultimately commuted. Since 2004, only two people have been executed.