Four Nirbhaya case convicts hanged to death in Tihar jail

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Pawan Gupta (25), Vinay Sharma (26), Akshay Kumar (31), and Mukesh Kumar (32) convicted for Nirbhaya’s gangrape and murder, were hanged to death in Delhi’s Tihar jail early on Friday morning.

Sandeep Goel, Director-General of Tihar jail, confirmed to reporters outside the prison that the four convicts were hanged together at 5.30 a.m. A doctor has examined and declared all four dead, he said.

A five-member panel of DDU forensic department, under the supervision of Dr. B.N. Mishra, will do the postmortem at 8 a.m., said a Tihar Jail official.

An official said that the convicts had not expressed any ‘last wish’ or will to authorities. Their belongings and money they earnt during their stay in jail will be handed over to their respective family members, the official added.

A last-ditch hearing at 2.30 a.m on Friday before a Supreme Court Bench failed to stay there hanging. Earlier, the convicts had approached the Delhi High Court, too, on Thursday night, but to no avail.

The country was rocked by the brutal nature of Nirbhaya’s gangrape and murder in December 2012, which led to a major reform in rape laws. Tens of thousands of students took to the streets, putting pressure on the then UPA government to act swiftly.

On a fateful night, the 23-year-old victim and her friend, after watching Life of Pi at a cinema hall in south Delhi’s Saket, had boarded a chartered bus from Munirka Bus Stand at 9 p.m. when the gangrape took place.

The victim was rushed to the Safdarjung Hospital, after being spotted by passers-by on National Highway 8 near the Mahipalpur flyover. The girl was later airlifted to a hospital in Singapore, where she died after 13 days.

Arrest and conviction in record time

Within days of the incident, the police arrested all six convicts including the driver of the bus – Ram Singh and the lone juvenile assailant.

A fast track court began proceedings against the five adult accused on January 17, 2013. The same month, the Juvenile Justice Board (JJB) ruled that the sixth accused is a minor, who would be dealt with differently.

On March 11, 2013, Ram Singh, the bus driver, was found hanging in his cell in Tihar jail. The juvenile assailant was on August 31, convicted by the JJB for gangrape and murder and awarded three years term at a probation home.

In September 2013, nine months after the incident, the Delhi court convicts the remaining four men of 13 offenses including gangrape, unnatural offense and murder of the woman and attempt to murder her male friend. It awarded death to all four convicts.

On March 13, 2014, the Delhi High Court upholds the death sentences awarded to the four convicts. Three years later, the Supreme Court on May 5, 2017, upheld the death penalty.

Changes in rape laws

The nationwide public outcry, following the incident, led to the passing of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act in 2013 which widened the definition of rape and made punishment more stringent.

The 2013 Act, which came into effect on April 2, 2013, increased jail terms in most sexual assault cases and also provided for the death penalty in rape cases that cause the death of the victim or leave her in a vegetative state.

It also created new offenses, such as the use of criminal force on a woman with intent to disrobe, voyeurism and stalking.

The punishment for gang rape was increased to 20 years to life imprisonment from the earlier 10 years to life imprisonment.

The string of death warrants

Having exhausted all their legal remedies, the four convicts went on a pleading spree after the first death warrant was issued against them for January 22 at 7 am inside Tihar Jail.

The second death warrant was issued by the Delhi court on January 17 for February 17, but it too got postponed as Vinay’s mercy plea was decided by the President then.

This led to an unprecedented event, in which the Delhi High Court sat for a hearing on a Sunday where Solicitor General Tushar Mehta argued that the four convicts were intentionally delaying the process of execution of death sentences.

On February 17 the Delhi court issued fresh death warrants for the execution of the four convicts on March 3, at 6 a.m.

Vinay Sharma, during this time, also moved the Election Commission of India questioning the timing of the rejection of his mercy plea. In the representation, he contended that the Code of Model Conduct for the Delhi elections was still in force when the Delhi Government made its recommendation to the President to reject his mercy plea.

Finally, on March 5, the Delhi court issued the latest death warrants for the convicts to be executed on March 20 at 05:30 a.m. inside Tihar Jail.

Even a day before their execution, the convicts moved a Delhi court seeking stay of the executions on various grounds. They referred to numerous pending cases involving them including – second review mercy petition by Pawan.

They even pleaded that a divorce petition by Akshay’s wife was pending before a Bihar court.

But the Delhi court rejected their plea remarking, “One who seeks protection of law first needs to learn to respect it. Therefore, I do not find any plausible reasons to suspend the execution of the death sentence simply because convict Pawan has opted not to exercise his legal remedy”.