New Delhi: The four convicts in the Nirbhaya case – Akshay Thakur, Mukesh Singh, Vinay Sharma and Pawan Gupta – were hanged in the Tihar Jail at 5:30 am on Friday. But before that A.P. Singh, counsel for Pawan Gupta, and another lawyer, made a last-ditch attempt to save them by moving the Supreme Court. However, at 3:30 am the apex court dismissed their final pleas, paving the way for the hanging.
Nirbhaya’s mother, Asha Devi, later said “as soon as I returned from Supreme Court, I hugged the picture of my daughter and said today you got justice”. Thanking the judiciary and the government for ensuring the execution of those who raped and tortured her daughter on December 16, 2012, ultimately leading to her death 13 days later, she said: “It may have taken time, but justice was finally delivered.”
SC heard the matter during the day and then in the night
As the scheduled time of hanging – 5:30 am on Friday – drew close, the Supreme Court on Thursday morning first heard the curative petition moved by death row convict Pawan Kumar Gupta against the court’s earlier verdict rejecting his claim that he was a juvenile at the time of the offence.
A six-judge bench comprising Justices N.V. Ramana, Arun Mishra, R.F. Nariman, R. Bhanumathi, Ashok Bhushan and A.S. Bopanna held that “the application for oral hearing is rejected. We have gone through the Curative Petition and the relevant documents. In our opinion, no case is made out within the parameters indicated in the decision of this Court in Rupa Ashok Hurra vs. Ashok Hurra & Another, reported in 2002 (4) SCC 388. Hence, the Curative Petition is dismissed.”
Another plea was moved during the day before the trial court for seeking a stay on the execution of the four convicts. But the trial court dismissed the plea of Akshay Kumar Singh, Pawan Gupta and Vinay Sharma that sought a stay on their death warrants.
Thereafter, three of the accused moved the Delhi high court on March 19 evening, challenging the trial court order.
Arguments before HC went on past midnight
A bench comprising Justices Manmohan and Sanjeev Narula heard the matter at 9 pm. The hearing went past midnight. During the arguments, advocate A.P. Singh challenged the trial court’s order. But the judges asked, “there is no annexure, no memo of parties, there is nothing in this matter, no affidavits, nothing. Do you have permission to file this petition?”
In its order past midnight, the high court refused to grant any relief, saying the petition by the three convicts was devoid of merits.
The bench also said that the plea of juvenility of Pawan had been raised all the way up to the Supreme Court and was rejected every time and thus could not be argued again.
SC heard matter past 3 am
With less than three hours to go for the hanging, advocate Singh, representing Pawan, moved the Supreme Court, seeking a stay on the execution.
He argued before a bench of Justices R. Banumathi, Ashok Bhushan, and A.S. Bopanna that the claims that various documents pertaining to his client’s age were concealed from the authorities and that the trial court could not have rejected the plea for stay of execution on Friday while a plea challenging the rejection of Akshay’s mercy plea remained pending before the Supreme Court. He also insisted that Pawan’s FIR against the Mandoli jail authorities, where he was allegedly tortured, was pending.
Another advocate, Shams Khwaja, submitted that there was a possibility that one of the four convicts may or may not have been part of the premeditated crime.
But the Supreme Court dismissed the pleas, saying the same submissions were made in previous rounds of litigation.
In its order, the bench also said that the Supreme Court was of the consistent view that the scope of judicial review against the rejection of a mercy plea by the president is very limited. It also held that the petitioner was not right to claim that the plea of juvenility was not considered properly by the courts.
On the allegations of torture, the bench said that it cannot be a ground to challenge the rejection of the mercy plea by the president.
‘Celebrations outside Tihar, at society of Nirbhaya’s parents’
With the Supreme Court not giving any relief, a large number of people began to assemble outside Tihar Jail early in the morning on Friday. As the four convicts were led to the gallows inside Jail No 3, the crowd outside began doing a countdown.
Outside the jail and outside the housing society where Nirbhaya’s parents reside in Dwarka, there were celebrations when the clock struck 5:30 am and the four convicts were hanged.
‘No last wish’
Director general of Tihar Central Prisons Sandeep Goel later confirmed the hanging took place at the appointed hour. He said the convicts had not expressed any last wish.
Their bodies were later taken to the Deen Dayal Hospital for post mortem, following which they would be released to their families.
‘Now people know they will get punished’
Meanwhile, Delhi Commission for Women’s chief Swati Maliwal reacted to the hangings by saying it was a victory for the whole country. She added that a strong system was needed to tackle such crimes.
The chairperson for the National Commission for Women Rekha Sharma said an example had been set. “An example has been set today though it could have been done earlier. Now people know that they will be punished, you may extend the date but you will get punished.”
However, the International Commission of Jurists released a statement condemning the execution. “State-sanctioned executions are little more than public theatre that risk celebrating and perpetuating violence at the expense of the rule of law,” it said.
An ICJ press release also quoted senior Indian lawyer and human rights defender Vrinda Grover as having said, “Instead of compelling the state to invest in plugging the gaps in the investigation, prosecution and adjudication of sexual crimes and formulating victim-oriented processes, the clamour for execution of the convicts has hijacked the discourse. Seven years later, the power of the state to extinguish life stands entrenched, while women and girls in India continue to struggle to live a life of freedom, safety and dignity, as equal persons.”