Supreme Court Upholds Death Penalty for all Four Convicted in Jyoti Singh Gang Rape Case

"Justice demands that the courts should impose punishments befitting the crime so that it reflects public abhorrence of the crime. Crimes like the one before us cannot be looked with magnanimity."

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday upheld the death sentence awarded by the trial court, and confirmed by the Delhi high court, to the four people convicted in the 2012 Jyoti Singh gang rape case.

The court dismissed the appeals filed by four convicts – Mukesh, Pawan, Vinay Sharma and Akshay Kumar Singh – against the Delhi high court’s order. While one juvenile completed his three-year sentence in a juvenile home, another accused, Ram Singh, committed sucide in Tihar jail.

A three-judge bench comprising Justices Dipak Misra, R. Banumathi and Ashok Bhushan, in its 429-page judgment, rejected the plea to commute the death sentence into life imprisonment. While Justice Misra wrote for himself and Justice Bhushan, Justice Banumathi wrote a separate but concurring judgment with additional reasons.

Justice Misra described the incident as a “tsunamic shock” and said it is necessary to state here that in this case, the “brutal, barbaric and diabolic nature” of the crime is evincible from the acts committed by the accused persons. He said that the nature and manner of the crime devastated social trust.

Twenty three year-old Jyoti Singh, a paramedical student who had gone with her friend to watch a film ,was brutally assaulted and raped by six persons in a moving bus in south Delhi and thrown out of the vehicle on the night of December 16, 2012. Her death sparked national outrage and spurred the passing of stricter legislation on dealing with crimes against women.

A trial court had sentenced the four to death in 2013, an order the Delhi high court had confirmed.

The bench said the death of the victim took place at a hospital in Singapore, where she had been taken to with the hope that her life could be saved. The friend of the girl survived despite being thrown outside the bus along with the girl and the attempt of the accused-appellants to run over them. .

The bench said that rape of the victim was sadistic and had been corroborated by  medical evidence, oral testimony and the victim’s dying declarations. The bench also said that the casual manner with which the victim was treated sounded like a story from a different world where humanity is treated with irreverence. Rejecting the plea for commuting the death penalty into a life sentence, the bench said the aggravating circumstances outweigh the mitigating circumstances.

“The appetite for sex, the hunger for violence, the position of the empowered and the attitude of perversity, to say the least, are bound to shock the collective conscience which knows not what to do…Therefore, we conclude and hold that the high court has correctly confirmed the death penalty and we see no reason to differ with the same,” the bench said.

The bench also praised the Delhi police for completing the investigation in a professional manner and for bringing the culprits to book. The bench held that the charge of “conspiracy” to commit the offence of abduction, robbery/dacoity, gang rape and unnatural sex has been proved beyond reasonable doubt. The victim’s dying declaration is consistent; it has been corroborated and has found acceptance, the bench said and dismissed the appeals of the four accused.

Despite the progress made by women in various fields, respect for women is on the decline and crimes against women are on the increase, the Supreme Court said, and called for concerted efforts to prevent such crimes.

Not just woman rights, but human rights

In her separate judgment upholding the death sentence on the four accused, Justice R. Banumathi said offences against women are not just a gender issue but also a human rights one. The increased rate of crime against women is an area of concern for law-makers and this points out an emergent need to study in depth the root of the problem and remedy the same through a strict law-and-order regime. “There are a number of legislations and numerous penal provisions to punish the offenders of violence against women. However, it becomes important to ensure that gender justice does not remain only on paper,” the judge said.

She said the gang-rape shocked the nation and generated public rage. A committee headed by Justice J.S. Verma, a former chief justice of India was constituted to suggest amendments to deal with sexual offences more sternly and effectively in future. The suggestions of the committee led to the enactment of Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 which, inter alia, brought in substantive as well as procedural reforms in the core areas of rape law.

However Justice Banamuthi said a total of 3,27,394 cases of crime against women were reported in 2015, which shows an increase of over 43% in crimes against women since 2011, when 2,28,650 cases were reported. A percentage change of 110.5% in the cases of crimes against women has been witnessed over the past decade (2005 to 2015), meaning that crimes against women have more than doubled in a decade. An overall crime rate under the head, ‘crimes against women’ was reported as 53.9% in 2015, with Delhi UT at the top spot.

Justice Banumathi said “We live in a civilised society where law and order is supreme and the citizens enjoy inviolable fundamental human rights. But when an incident of gang-rape like the present one surfaces, it causes ripples in the conscience of society and serious doubts are raised as to whether we really live in a civilised society and whether both men and women feel the same sense of liberty and freedom which they should have felt in the ordinary course of a civilised society, driven by rule of law. Certainly, whenever such grave violations of human dignity come to the fore, an unknown sense of insecurity and helplessness grabs the entire society, women in particular, and the only succour people look for, is the state to take command of the situation and remedy it effectively”.

She pointed out that since the hanging of Dhananjay Chatterjee, the country has not witnessed any execution over a decade (for a non-terrorist offence) as death sentences have been commuted to life. She said stringent legislation and punishments alone may not be sufficient for fighting the increasing crimes against women. The public at large, in particular men, are to be sensitised on gender justice.

“The battle for gender justice can be won only with strict implementation of legislative provisions, sensitisation of public, taking other pro-active steps at all levels for combating violence against women and ensuring widespread attitudinal changes and comprehensive change in the existing mind set. We hope that this incident will pave the way for the same,” the judge said.

No leniency?

Justice Banumathi’s judgment also touched on the issue of the death penalty, “mitigating factors” and the convicts’ plea for leniency.

“Justice demands that the courts should impose punishments befitting the crime so that it reflects public abhorrence of the crime,” the judge said. “Crimes like the one before us cannot be looked at with magnanimity. Factors like the young age of the accused and [their] poor background cannot be said to be mitigating circumstances. Likewise, post-crime remorse and post-crime good conduct of the accused, the statement of the accused as to their background and family  circumstances, age, absence of criminal antecedents and their good conduct in prison, in my view, cannot be taken as mitigating circumstances to take the case out of the category of ‘rarest of rare cases’.”

Justice Banumathi also said that in “our tradition-bound society”, attitudinal changes and mind-set changes were needed to ensure gender justice. “Right from childhood, children ought to be sensitised to respect women. A [boy] child should be taught to respect women in the society in the same way as he is taught to respect men. Gender equality should be made a part of the school curriculum. The school teachers and parents should be trained, not only to conduct regular personality building and skill enhancing exercise, but also to keep a watch on the actual behavioural pattern of the children so as to make them gender sensitised,” she said.