A Delhi court convicted four men yesterday of the gang rape and cold-blooded murder of a student on a New Delhi bus in a crime that sickened the nation and led to new laws to tackle endemic sex crime.
Judge Yogesh Khanna said the men, who could now face the death penalty, were guilty of murdering a ‘helpless victim’ last December, as he announced that arguments for sentencing of the four would be held on Wednesday.
“I convict all of the accused,” Khanna told a packed court room. “They have been found guilty of gang rape, unnatural offences, destruction of evidence ... and for committing the murder of the helpless victim.”
The four -- Mukesh Singh, Akshay Thakur, Pawan Gupta and Vinay Sharma, aged between 19 and 29 at the time of the crime -- had all pleaded not guilty to the charges. The victim’s parents, who wept in court as the verdict was announced, have led the calls for them to be hanged, saying that they would only find closure if the four are executed.
Their 23-year-old daughter died of grievous internal injuries on December 29 in a Singapore hospital after being lured on to the private bus following a cinema trip with a male companion.
After beating up the friend, the gang brutally assaulted her behind tinted windows for 45 minutes before flinging the bloodied and barely conscious couple from the vehicle on a road leading to the international airport.
Lawyers for three of the convicts said they would appeal the verdict while the fourth was considering his options. “My client was simply driving the bus. He confessed fairly that he was driving the bus but he did not know what went on inside,” said VK Anand, the lawyer for Mukesh Singh.
AP Singh, the lawyer for Akshay Thakur and Vinay Sharma, called the verdict a ‘political conviction’ and said they would appeal. Mukesh Singh’s mother, draped in a beige saree, fell to Anand’s feet and broke down in tears outside the courtroom. “We will not accept anything below the death penalty,” the victim’s father said.
“If all four are sentenced to death, I can’t imagine anything being better than that ... We will get closure.”
The guilt will always remain, says friend who was with the victim
“For me, I lost a friend... The guilt will always remain,” said the 28-year-old about the gang rape on December 16.
“She was cool, funny, mischievous had a great presence of mind. She could make anyone smile and maybe that is the reason why every Indian was angry and sad when she died,” he said. He had visited his friend twice at a Delhi hospital before she was airlifted to Singapore by the government for further treatment.
“She was in enormous pain but wanted to talk to me and her family. She would recall the incident and get very angry... We would quickly change the subject.”
He was the first of up to 80 witnesses to reveal before the court what he had experienced and seen on December 16. The pair had spent the Sunday evening watching Life of Pi and were trying to flag down an auto rickshaw when a bus pulled up.
It was only after boarding that they realised it was no ordinary bus and that their fellow passengers were in fact a group of drunken joyriders.
Nearly unconscious after being savagely beaten, he could do nothing but watch as his friend was repeatedly raped and then violated with an iron rod.
Severe injuries left him unable to attend his friend’s funeral. The accused had broken his leg, stripped him and kicked him out of a moving bus along with the victim.
Sometimes he goes to the cinema alone but his friend’s fate is never far from his mind. “Sometimes I think about my friend, sometimes about the rapists. It sends shivers down my spine.”
Shocking figures that show how unsafe Delhi is for women
Did you know?
Delhi is among the six top-most cities of India where 2.8 per cent rape cases per lakh of population were registered in 2011. Bhopal tops the list, followed by Jabalpur, Gwalior, Indore and Faridabad
1,036 Number of rape cases registered in the first eight months of this year in Delhi
393 Number of rape cases recorded from Jan 1 to March 31, 2013
152 Number of rape cases recorded from Jan 1 to March 31, 2012
643 Number of rape cases registered from April 1 to Aug 15, 2013