New Delhi, Sept. 13: The hand that signed the death sentences pressed so hard that the nib of the pen broke.
After Judge Yogesh Khanna had left the courtroom, having ordered all the four December 16 convicts before him to hang, a blue ink mark was noticeable on his desk.
A court official explained the gesture had been symbolic. “The nib went in very deep through the document; that’s why you can see a mark here. It was a symbolic gesture so that the pen could not be used to sign another death sentence,” he said.
“It’s a custom through which a judge expresses the hope that such a harsh punishment would not be necessary in the future.”
Justice B.A. Khan, former Jammu and Kashmir High Court chief justice, told The Telegraph later that the practice belonged to the “good old days” and was now “not in vogue”.
The hope implied in Khanna’s gesture seemed encapsulated in his assertion that he had chosen to award “exemplary punishment” and send a “strong deterrent message”, considering the rising crimes against women.
He also cited the convicts’ “hair-raising” and “beastly” behaviour — the victim was tortured with an iron rod till her intestines spilled out — to explain why the crime qualified as “rarest of the rare” and merited the noose.
“Maaf kar do (please pardon me),” a cry rang out from Pawan Gupta, at 19 the youngest among the accused who were convicted on Tuesday, his frame racked by sobs.
A shock was in store. As Khanna got up to leave, defence lawyer A.P. Singh yelled at him.
“Yeh Satyamev Jayate nahin hai. Yeh Asatyamev Jayate hai. Yeh judgment vote bank ke liye hai (This is a victory not for the truth but for the untruth. This judgment is for the vote banks),” he screamed. An impassive Khanna walked away without reacting.
Convict Vinay Sharma, 20, wiped his tears while Akshay Thakur, 28, turned his face upwards. But Mukesh Singh, 29, kept smiling throughout, his grin widening as one of the cops whispered in his ear.
“It’s so bizarre that he is smiling at this time,” a foreign journalist murmured.
“He has been very relaxed, as if he knew this sentence was inevitable,” a policeman explained.
The three defence lawyers — Singh, Vivek Sharma and V.K. Anand — said they would appeal against the guilty verdict within the stipulated 30 days.
“Aap sabko dhanyavaad (Thanks to you all),” the victim’s mother told the policemen in the courtroom with folded hands.
“The police were very efficient in this case but they should work like this in all cases of crime against women,” she said, adding she could “finally breathe” and was “at peace”.
The additional sessions judge entered courtroom No. 304 at exactly 2.30pm amid pin-drop silence as protesters outside the compound chanted “hang them”. Around 100 armed policemen stood guard outside the courtroom and another 800-odd outside the building.
A foreign intern among the protesters, who introduced herself as “Jessica from Italy”, said: “It was the most brutal crime anywhere in the world last year. They showed no humanity.”
Judge Khanna took just three minutes to announce the sentences.
“I straightaway come to Section 302,” he said, referring to the murder charge, the only one among the 13 the accused have been convicted of that provides for the noose if the crime qualifies as “rarest of the rare”.
The judge explained why he thought it did.
“The gravity of the incident depicts hair-raising, beastly and unparalleled behaviour. The subjecting of the (victim) to inhuman acts of torture… had not only shocked the collective conscience but calls for the withdrawal of the protective arm of the community around the convicts,” he said.
“This ghastly act… definitely fits this case in the bracket of ‘rarest of (the) rare’. Accordingly, the convicts be hanged by neck till they are dead.”
Khanna ruled that the mitigating circumstances were outweighed by the aggravating circumstances.
“These are the times when gruesome crimes against women have become rampant and courts cannot turn a blind eye to the need to send a strong deterrent message to the perpetrators of such crimes,” he continued.
“The increasing trend of crimes against women can be arrested only once society realises that there will be no tolerance for any form of deviance against women, and more so in extreme cases of brutality such as the present one, and hence the criminal justice system must instil confidence in the minds of people, especially women. A crime of such nature against a helpless woman, per se, requires exemplary punishment.”
The court also fined each convict Rs 55,000. It recommended the victim’s legal heirs be paid a compensation, whose amount would be decided by the Delhi legal service authority. The victim’s mother said: “I always had faith in the judiciary and it has been vindicated. Now I am relieved…. Her (the victim’s) soul will now rest in peace.”
A hypertension patient, she had been down with viral fever the past four days but came to the court on Tuesday as well as today.
“I was very tense the past few days, waiting for the verdict. We thank everybody in the country for supporting us and coming out in large numbers to protest,” she said.
WHY THE GALLOWS
Reasons cited by the judge for the death penalty
against women have
become rampant and courts need to send a strong deterrent message
Such crimes can be
arrested only if society
realises there will be no
tolerance for any form of
deviance against women
circumstances outweigh the mitigating circumstances such as the convicts’ young age, socio-economic
status, plea for reformatory
approach and clean
the extreme brutality and the grotesque, diabolical and revolting acts
The crime was a
and had a grave impact on the social order
The hair-raising and
beastly behaviour falls
in the ‘rarest of the rare’ bracket