Hanging of 2012 rapists stirs women’s safety debate in India


The mother of Indian gangrape victim 'Nirbhaya' (C) talks to the media (Photo: MONEY SHARMA/AFP via Getty Images).
The mother of Indian gangrape victim 'Nirbhaya' (C) talks to the media (Photo: MONEY SHARMA/AFP via Getty Images).

By Amit Roy

AT 5.30AM (12am GMT) last Friday (20), four men – Mukesh Kumar Singh, 32; Akshay Kumar Singh, 30; Vinay Sharma, 26; and Pawan Gupta, 25 – were “hanged simulta­neously” in Tihar Jail in Delhi.

They were put to death for the gang rape on December 16, 2012, of a 23-year-old medical student who died of her extensive injuries a fort­night later in a Singapore hospital.

Afterwards, the bodies were kept hanging for half an hour as stipu­lated by the jail manual. Before go­ing to the gallows, Vinay and Muke­sh “had roti, dal, rice and sabzi for dinner and Akshay only tea in the evening”, an official revealed.

India hasn’t abolished the death penalty, but it is imposed only in the “rarest of rare” cases. This was con­sidered one, given the horrific way in which five men and a 17-year-old – the latter was released after three years while Ram Singh, 34, appar­ently committed suicide in prison – took it in turn to brutalise their vic­tim inside a moving bus before tossing out her bruised body along with her beaten male friend.

The victim was given the pseudo­nym Nirbhaya – “the fearless one”.

One commentator, Namita Bhandare, argued: “Indian law does not permit the naming of rape victims. Presumably this is because the crime of rape is so terrible that, in society’s eyes, it stains not the rapist, but his victim with shame; a shame so indelible that her honour and that of her family is irretrievably lost.

“The hangman’s noose was, de­spite the delays, an inevitable desti­nation for the four convicts. The question to ask now is what really changes for India’s women? That answer is depressingly brief. Noth­ing. But for now, to honour the one who died, we could begin by re­claiming her identity and calling her by her name.”

Surely, she has a point.

The BBC’s Gita Pandey pondered: “Has India become safer for women? A short answer to that question would be: No. And that’s because despite the increased scru­tiny of crimes against women since December 2012, similar violent in­cidents have continued to make headlines in India. And statistics tell only a part of the story – cam­paigners say thousands of rapes and cases of sexual assault are not even reported to the police.”

Punishment for sex crimes has been toughened in India, but ap­pear to have done nothing to re­duce attacks against women. Quite the reverse, in fact. The National Crime Records Bureau reports that 378,000 cases of crimes against women were recorded across India in 2018 compared to 359,000 in 2017 and 338,000 in 2016. Rape in 2018 totalled 33,356.

The executions were condemned by Amnesty International India as a “dark stain” on India’s human rights record, but were otherwise widely welcomed. The victim’s mother, Asha Devi, said: “Justice was de­layed but has been delivered finally. I hugged the photo of my daughter and said, ‘Today you got justice.’”

Prime minister Narendra Modi tweeted: “Justice has prevailed. It is of utmost importance to ensure dignity and safety of women.”

There were approving responses from many Bollywood personali­ties. For example, Preity Zinta said: “I wish it would have been faster but I’m happy it’s over. If Nirbhaya rapists were hung in 2012, the judi­cial system would have stopped so much crime against women. Fear of the law would have kept the lawless in check. Prevention is always bet­ter than cure.”

In Britain, the home secretary Priti Patel has been taken to task for remarks she made on the BBC’s Question Time in 2011, but in India, no one would have quibbled.

Patel had said: “I do actually think when we have a criminal jus­tice system that continuously fails in this country, and where we have seen murderers, rapists and people who have committed the most ab­horrent crimes in society, go into prison and then are released from prison to go out into the communi­ty to then re-offend and do the types of crime they have committed again and again. I think that’s ap­palling. And actually on that basis alone, I would actually support the reintroduction of capital punish­ment to serve as a deterrent.”

Recently, she insisted: “I have never said I’m an active supporter of it and (what I said) is constantly taken out of context.”

India is different. As soon as the jail authorities confirmed the hang­ings, many in the crowd outside began clapping and chanting Van­de mataram and Bharat Mata ki jai.

Although the death penalty was abolished in the UK in 1969, multi­ple or fatal gang rapes in this coun­try are relatively rare. They remain far too common in India, with no solution in sight.