Convicts of the 2012 rape and murder of Jyoti Singh are awaiting the Supreme Court of India’s verdict on their appeal against their death sentence. The court had pronounced death penalty for the four convicts in May 2017.
Indiaâ€™s rape problem was highlighted on a global level with the Jyoti Singh rape case of 2012. This case was considered a turning point in the history of rape culture in India for many reasons.
The public outrage over this rape, which is also called the 2012 Delhi gangrape, was more than any that the country had seen, something attributed to the gruesome details of the rape and murder and also the demographics of the victim. Jyoti Singh was raped in a moving bus by multiple people who also injured her physically in the most violent manner. She fought for life for 16 days in a hospital before succumbing to injuries. She was 23.
Of the six accused, one was a juvenile who was sent to a probation home. Another accused, Ram Singh, committed suicide in his cell in Tihar jail, Delhi. The High Court verdict found the remaining four accused guilty and sentenced them to death. They appealed against this but the verdict was upheld by the Supreme Court of India in 2017. It is the review petition on this verdict that the court has reserved the verdict for on May 4, 2018.
Jyoti Singh was a medical student and lived in the capital city of Delhi, which is also unofficially known as the rape capital of India due to the high rate of the crime. The public outrage was over the repeated assaults against women and the lack of protection and action on the part of the government.
More importantly, the case resulted in Criminal Law Amendment Act (2013) a legislation that made a number of changes to the laws related to sexual assault. The most important of them was considered to be the definition of rape itself under the law. According to the new amendment, any act of penetration of female body by any object or body part would be called rape.
The public outrage in this case greatly influenced the sentiments against the convicts. A British documentary called ‘India’s Daughter’ that was later banned due to its controversial content also helped fuel the public anger against the convicts. The film had interviews with Mukesh Singh, one of the convicts who was unapologetic in his behaviour and believed that the woman’s rape was her fault.
It also showed defence lawyer in the case, A. P. Singh say ‘If my daughter or sister engaged in pre-marital activities and disgraced herself and allowed herself to lose face and character by doing such things, I would most certainly take this sort of sister or daughter to my farmhouse, and in front of my entire family, I would put petrol on her and set her alight.’
These revelations served to further reveal how deep India’s rape culture ran among people across classes. The defence lawyer believed in the same ideals as one of the rapists. Such a situation emerged recently in India when a group of lawyers tried to stop the police from filing the chargesheet in the case of rape and murder of eight-year-old Asifa Banu in Jammu.
The Asifa Banu case, like the Jyoti Singh rape case resulted in huge public outrage. This time, the government’s knee jerk reaction of passing a bill that made it possible to award death penalty to rapists of minors drew widespread criticism even from judiciary. It has also been pointed out that awarding death penalty in the Jyoti Singh case has not helped prevent the rape and murder of countless others including Asifa Banu that happened in India after the Delhi incident.
In this context, the convicts of the Delhi gang rape case appealing against their death penalty becomes relevant.
Convicts Vinay Kumar and Pavan Kumar appealed through their lawyer A. P. Singh that they were not habitual offenders and that they should be allowed ‘to be reformed’. The lawyer also pointed out that death penalty had been abolished in many countries and that it only served to kill the criminals and not the crime. Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra said that death penalty existed in the statute.
As of 2016, India is one among the 58 countries that have death penalty in the statute. Human rights activists and others including women’s rights activists have, time and again raised their voices against the practice.