Indian students of Saint Joseph Degree college participate in an anti-rape protest in Hyderabad - Photo by AFP
NEW DELHI: Four men were sentenced to death on Friday for fatally raping a young woman on a bus last December in an attack that triggered angry protests throughout India and widespread calls for their execution.
Judge Yogesh Khanna, who convicted the men for gang rape and “cold-blooded” murder earlier this week, rejected their lawyers' plea for a lighter sentence.
"“This has shocked the collective conscience of society,” he said, referring to the attack.
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.
“Everybody got the death penalty,” said A.P. Singh, the lawyer for Akshay Thakur and Vinay Sharma, outside the courtroom.
Vinay Sharma, a gym instructor, broke down in tears as the sentence was announced and had to be dragged out of the court.
The woman, a 23-year-old trainee physiotherapist, and a male friend were lured onto a bus by five men and a teenager. The woman was then repeatedly raped and tortured with a metal bar.
Her injuries were so severe that she died two weeks later in a Singapore Hospital.
She became a symbol of the dangers women face in a country where a rape is reported on average every 21 minutes and acid attacks and cases of molestation are common.
One of the five men arrested in connection with the attack committed suicide in prison in March, while the teenager was sentenced to three years in a reformatory last month, the maximum sentence that can be given to juveniles under Indian law.
The victim's parents, who were the forerunners of the death penalty in this case, have said their daughter's dying wish was for her attackers to be “burned alive”. They claimed they would not get closure unless the attackers were sentenced to hang.
The father of the victim, who was named Nirbhaya by Indian media which is a Hindi word for fearless, said he was "happy" with the verdict.
Flanked by his wife and sons, he told reporters inside the newsroom, "“We are very happy. Justice has been delivered."
Khanna's ruling still has to be ratified by the Delhi High Court, and the four men can appeal all the way to the Supreme Court.
The appeals process could take years, lawyers said.