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December 16 rapists remain on death row

New Delhi, March 13: Delhi High Court today upheld the death sentences of the four December 16 gang-rape convicts, ruling that if such a “revolting, gruesome and spine-chilling” crime did not qualify as “rarest of the rare”, possibly no other crime did.

The two-judge bench rejected the defence’s plea for leniency on the ground of the convicts’ low socio-economic status, clean past and young age and the possibility of their reform.

These “mitigating circumstances” fade into insignificance before the “aggravating circumstances” of a crime “unparalleled in the history of criminal jurisprudence”, the all-women bench of Justices Reva Khetrapal and Pratibha Rani said.

On the defence argument that the convicts were poor and had dependent families, the court pointed out that the crime was not committed “to alleviate poverty or the pangs of hunger and starvation”.

Nor were the convicts “beggars” or “vagabonds” or “even ruffians for whom crime is a means of self-preservation and is, in fact, reflective of the social injustice meted out to them”, it said. “They were… men who were usefully and gainfully employed.”

The court cited the “extreme depravity” of the accused — who had inserted a rod into the victim’s body and pulled out her intestines before throwing her naked out of the moving bus — and stressed the need for exemplary punishment.

“To expect society to be a sanguine spectator to this kind of depraved behaviour of the outlandish variety and to continue to extend its protective arm to the convicts would be both unnatural and ludicrous,” the 340-page judgment said.

The defence lawyers termed the verdict “politically motivated” and said they would appeal before the Supreme Court.

The victim’s parents, who were present in the packed courtroom, expressed happiness.

“We expected this verdict. But the ultimate justice will be when all of them are hanged. We are eagerly waiting for the day,” the victim’s mother said.

“They deserve nothing but death,” she added as tears rolled down her cheeks.

Vinay Sharma, 20, Akshay Thakur, 28, Mukesh Singh, 29, and Pawan Gupta, 19, had been condemned to death by the trial court last September. Ram Singh, bus driver and prime accused, allegedly committed suicide in Tihar jail during the trial.

A sixth accused, a juvenile, has been sentenced to a maximum of three years in a reformation home by the Juvenile Justice Board.

The high court based its verdict heavily on the victim’s dying declaration and medical reports that detailed her suffering. It mentioned the street protests after the incident and the international press it received.

Rap for Delhi

The judges commented on the “insensitive attitude of Delhiites” when it comes to helping people in distress.

“Perhaps the convicts were familiar with the insensitive attitude of this metro city. They (the victim and her male friend) were obviously dumped under the belief that seeing a young male and female in nude condition on the roadside at night, even the passers-by noticing them in that condition might feel hesitant to help them,” the bench said.

It quoted from a Urdu couplet to emphasise the point: “Lagta hai sheher mein aaye ho naye/ Ruk gaye ho raah, hadsa dekh kar (It seems you are new to this city/ No wonder, you have stopped to help someone in distress).”

On the night of December 16, 2012, the six accused had lured the victim and her friend into their bus and tortured them while gang-raping the woman. The 23-year-old trainee physiotherapist died 13 days later in a Singapore hospital.

A strong message needs to be sent so that no one dares think of committing such “grotesque and ghastly” crimes, the judges said, “though we confess that we are not aware of any… crime of such dimensions” having been committed before.

‘Societal issue’

The crime shocked “the collective conscience of society… left an indelible scar on the social order and became a burning societal issue”, the bench said.

“An enraged and infuriated society took to the streets to avenge the affront inflicted upon it and the shocking incident had ramifications which crossed the national borders into international terrain.”

The court said the death sentences needed to be upheld “not only to deter others from committing such atrocious crimes but also to give emphatic expression to society’s abhorrence of such crimes”.

On the convicts’ motive, it said: “What makes matters worse is that debauchery, avarice, profligacy and viciousness appear to be the only impelling forces behind the commission of the crime.

“Their conscience un-pricked by the gruesome crime and the infernal torture inflicted by them, they coolly proceeded to divide the looted articles amongst themselves, to wash the bus which was stained with the blood of the victims on its seat covers, curtains, stairs, floor, roof and back gate and to burn unabashedly the clothes of the victim by lighting a bonfire.”