Saturday, September 14, 2013

India: Update--Four Defendants Sentenced to Death in Rape, Murder of 2012 University Student, 23

According to The Bangkok Post, a New Delhi court on Friday (September 13) sentenced to death four defendants for the December 2012 gang rape and murder of a young New Delhi woman, 23, who was pursuing a physiotherapy degree, ordering them to the gallows for a brutal attack that riveted India, where it became a symbol of the rampant mistreatment of women and the government's inability to effectively deal with crime.

Issuing his decision, Judge Yogesh Khanna said the attack "shocked the collective conscience" of India. "In these times, when crime against women is on the rise, the courts cannot turn a blind eye toward such gruesome crimes."

Like all death sentences, Khanna's order must be confirmed by India's High Court. Those convicted can appeal their case to the High Court, as well as to the Supreme Court, and even ask the president for clemency.

The victim's family, along with numerous politicians and government officials, had long called for the gang-rapists to be executed. The family was in the courtroom as the sentence was announced, and were relieved at the results. "I am very happy our girl has got justice," said the victim's father, who cannot be named under Indian laws guarding his daughter's identity as a rape victim.

The rape victim and a male friend, who not romantically involved, were returning home after seeing the movie, "Life of Pi,"when the assailants lured them into boarding a bus they were joy-riding through the city. The defendants quickly beat up the male friend, held the woman down and took turns raping her. Brutally, they also penetrated her with a metal rod, causing the injuries that led to her death in a Singapore hospital shortly after the gang-rape. 

COMMENT: India's Supreme Court has ruled that the death penalty should be used only in "the rarest of rare cases," though what defines those cases remains highly debated. Only two people — both terrorists — have been executed in India since 2004.

Under intense pressure, the Congress party-led national government worked hard to project a tough-on-crime image after the attack, reforming a series of laws on sexual violence. Many in the Congress, which faces dwindling support for national elections next year, had made clear they wanted the men to be executed.

An estimated 100 and 150 people are sentenced to death in India in most years, but the vast majority of those cases are eventually commuted to life in prison. 

Ram Singh, 33, hanged himself in prison, though his family insists he was killed. Another man — an 18-year-old who was a juvenile at the time of the attack and cannot be identified under Indian law — was convicted in August 2013 and will serve the maximum sentence he faced, three years in a reform school.

The underlying current in the India of today is that most women are treated as second-class citizens and as sexual objects to be routinely abused and exploited, even by family members.

At the time of the attack, the victim was awaiting exam results for a physiotherapy degree. Regrettably, the results came after her death. She had successfully passed.

As noted in previous postings in sexual assault, rape and gang-rape in India, I discourage solo foreign women from traveling alone in India, given the large number of foreigners who have been attacked and/or raped.

I have posted a number of security tips for foreign women traveling alone in India. If any of our readers want me to re-post this list, just email me at: