Four Men Convicted in Rape Case That Transfixed India
By ELLEN BARRY - THE NEW YORK TIMES - September 10, 2013
NEW DELHI — Four men were convicted of all charges Tuesday in the rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman who was attacked when she boarded a bus in New Delhi last December, bringing a bitter close to a case that tore open the subject of sexual violence in this rapidly changing society.
The last and most urgent question – whether any of them will receive the death penalty – will be answered Wednesday, when they are sentenced at a morning hearing. The family of the victim has demanded death sentences, and much of the public seemed to share their anger, flooding the streets last year to demand swift punishment in the case. The police here were braced for aftershocks that might follow the sentencing.
The crime stood out for its horror, even in this sprawling and chaotic city.
The woman was returning home from a movie with a male friend and boarded a private bus with a group of men, mostly working-class migrants who the police said had been drinking. While the bus circled Delhi’s ring road, they attacked the pair, knocked her friend unconscious and took her to the back of the bus and raped her, including with a metal rod. The two were dumped off on the roadside, naked and bleeding.
She died two weeks later of her injuries.
Her death seemed to open a vault here, and nine months later reports of rape still saturate the country’s newspapers – whether because of increased attacks or increased reporting is not clear. Under pressure to respond to the surge of public anger, the government toughened laws on sexual violence. But the drumbeat of fresh reports offers little hope that this society has confronted the problem, and foreign women have become increasingly wary of traveling to India.
After the verdict, a group of protesters outside chanted, “Hang the rapists! Hang the rapists! Hang the juvenile! Hang the juvenile!” Five men were wearing black hoods, with hangman’s nooses around their necks. “I just want them to be hanged because there is no other way to stop it,” said Vikas Tyagi, 31, who was with the group. “We are the youth of India, and we are her voice.”
The prosecution benefited from detailed witness statements given by the victim before she died, and from her male companion, who showed up in a wheelchair to testify. But despite the establishment of special fast-track courts for sex crimes, it has moved slower than many hoped, unfolding under unprecedented scrutiny.
One defendant, Ram Singh, who was driving the bus for some part of the assault, hanged himself with his bedsheet in his cell in a Delhi prison cell this year as his cellmates looked on; his family said he had been subjected to sustained abuse while in custody, and believe he was murdered by the police.
A second, who has not been named because he is a juvenile, was sentenced last month to three years in a juvenile detention center – the heaviest sentence possible in India’s juvenile justice system.
As testimony drew to an end, the special prosecutor in the case, Dayan Krishnan, said each of the six defendants were linked to the crime through DNA evidence.
Bite marks on the woman’s body contained material identifying Mr. Singh and Akshay Thakur, who worked as an assistant on the bus, Mr. Krishnan told the Press Trust of India. He said Vinay Sharma, who worked as a handyman at a gym, had left fingerprints on the bus, and phone calls made from the vehicle were traced to a fruit seller, Pawan Gupta. Another man, Mr. Singh’s younger brother, Mukesh, has admitted taking part, he said.
In the cramped settlements which were home to Tuesday’s defendants, some neighbors said the case had cast a stain on all of them, and hoped the men would receive the toughest punishment possible. Soon after Mr. Singh was arrested in December, an unknown attacker tried to detonate two crude bombs in front of his home.
Ram Bai, a wraithlike woman who is mother to Mr. Singh and Mukesh, maintains that her surviving son is innocent, and has made it a point to attend the trial, if only to be near him for a few hours.
“When I sat next to him in the courtroom, sometimes I just wanted to reach out and hold my son,” she said, sobbing. She added, “All I can do is pray to God now. God will be the final judge.”
The defense case for the men has been patchy.
Manohar Lal Sharma, the lawyer for Mukesh, argued in an interview that the rape would not have occurred except for “the lust of the boy” who was accompanying the victim to the movies, and said, “This is the boy who should be hanged.”
In another public statement, he suggested that the victim was responsible, saying, “Until today, I have not seen a single incident or example of rape with a respected lady.”
V.K. Anand, a defense lawyer for one of the men, said the trial had been tainted by the extraordinary public interest in the case. “There were no strong arguments on the part of the prosecution,” he said. “There was media pressure. There was public sentiment. This is a harassed judgment.”
The victim’s parents have called for the death penalty throughout the process.
“These monsters should be hanged,” said her mother, Asha Devi, in an interview to the news channel NDTV, as the family left for court on Tuesday morning. “When I saw her in the hospital later, she burst into tears and said, ‘Mummy, they beat me up very brutally.'” Her father, Badri Nath Singh, agreed.
“If they are not hanged,” he told the reporter, “it will be a shame for everyone.”
But A.P. Singh, who represents three of the four defendants, called into doubt whether the victim had in fact died of her injuries, saying he believed she had died as a result of electric shocks administered to her in the hospital. “The victim was killed by a doctor — It was a political murder, and this is a political decision,” he said.
The victim, who hoped to become a doctor but settled for a physiotherapy course, had become a vessel for the hopes of her father, who left his native village to build a life for his family in Delhi. He acknowledged, in an interview last winter, that he lavished more attention on her, his firstborn, than he did on her two younger brothers, and jokingly called her “beta,” Hindi for son.
Father and daughter sometimes daydreamed that she might rise in society to eclipse their most accomplished relative, a judge, Mr. Singh said in an interview in January. Scrimping to pay her tuition, he sold the land he owned in his village, borrowed money and worked 16-hour shifts loading baggage at the international airport in the capital.
Her story was retold in lavish detail by Indian newspapers and clearly resonated with aspiring young people in this city, who turned out by the thousands to protest, surprising authorities.
“It must have been building up over a long time,” said Dharmendra Kumar, special commissioner of the police, to a local news channel this week. He said that when he asked his daughter, who is 24, about the protests, “she said, ‘Dad, you don’t realize what women have to face on the roads, or the stations, or the way people look at them.'”
He said, “I realized even she was very angry with us, that nobody is doing anything.”
Betwa Sharma contributed reporting from New Delhi