Death Sentences Handed Down in India’s Delhi Gang Rape Case

Sentence hailed as a deterrent for rapists, but women's groups say much still needs to be done

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Saurabh Das / AP

Indian protestors stage a mock hanging scene to demand death sentence for four men after a judge convicted them in the fatal gang rape of a young woman last year, in New Delhi, India, Sept. 10, 2013

An Indian court on Friday sentenced four men to death in the Delhi gang rape case. The men raped and killed a paramedic intern in India‘s capital last December, in a crime that shocked the world with its brutality.

“We are very happy,” said the victim’s father after the judgment. “Justice has been delivered.”

There were two other accused — one a minor who was sentenced to three years in a correction home, and another who hung himself in police custody in March.

Judge Yogesh Khanna said that the court could not turn a “blind eye towards such gruesome crimes” especially when “crime against women is on the rise.” He added: “There cannot be any tolerance.”

On December 16 last year, the victim was on her way home after watching a movie with a male friend, when the men lured them onto a private bus and then repeatedly raped and tortured her. The 23-year-old died two weeks later at a Singapore hospital from grave internal injuries.

(PHOTOS: In India, a Rape Sparks Violent Protests and Demands for Justice)

The shocking attack coupled with the victim’s humble background — she was training as a physiotherapist with dreams of lifting her family out of poverty — struck a chord with women across India. A swelling public outcry and several mass demonstrations forced the government to strengthen its anti-rape law in March. Stalking and voyeurism were also criminalized, provision was made for fast tracking rape trials in special courts (there are 90,000 rape cases pending in courts across the country) and for the imposition of death sentences on those who repeatedly committ crimes of sexual violence.

Despite the stricter laws, in the first six months of 2013 reported rapes in New Delhi soared to 806 from 330 in the same period a year earlier. Around 1780 molestation cases — up from 270 in the first six months of 2012 — were reported in the capital in the first six months of 2013.

Just last month, a photography intern at a Mumbai magazine was gang raped in an abandoned textile mill. Three weeks ago, armed men in Jharkhand state pulled a police officer out of her car — she was traveling with her family to cremate her sister’s body — and repeatedly raped her.

(MORE: New Delhi’s Women Problem: What Does It Take to Make a City, and Society, Safe?)

“More victims are coming forward to report cases,” says Rajan Bhagat, spokesperson for Delhi Police, who have been lauded for their investigation of the Delhi case. “We are also conducting dedicated programs for our officers, to sensitize them to the issue and enable them to handle such cases with the required sensitivity.”

Because it prompted such wide-ranging measures, the Delhi gang rape case will be remembered as a defining moment for Indian women.

“This decision will have a positive effect on patriarchal and reactionary societal attitudes because they only understand the language of fear,” says Jagmati Sangwan, the national vice president of All India Democratic Women’s Association, an organization that works with rape victims. “However, the full effect of this verdict will be felt only when it fast-tracks all other pending rape trials in the country and other rape victims get their justice too.”

Meanwhile, on Friday, outside the court in Saket, south Delhi, protesters cheered and broke into loud applause as news of the sentencing filtered out. “This verdict will drive fear in the hearts of men who want to abuse women,” says Charu Singh, a 32-year-old housewife in Delhi. “Now they will think twice before violating a woman.”

However, there were others who were not so buoyant. “I feel vindicated that these men will be punished for the heinous crime they committed,” says Meenakshi Mathur, a 20-year-old student. “But I still don’t feel safe.”

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