November 29, 2020

A Sigh of Relief, But What Next ?

ABSTRACT

In this paper, I wish to showcase the need for speedy justice delivery mechanism in India. At least, for serious offences like rape, we need fast track courts that ensure to the victim quick justice. The main focus of this paper is to throw light on the delay that happens in giving punishment to rape offenders, with the example of the infamous gangrape of 2012, the Nirbhaya Case. Further, to criticise the demand of UN and other human rights activists to abolish death penalty.

The morning of March 20th, brought to all of us, a kind of satisfaction and relief. Finally, the day came when the most awaited case of India reached its destiny: punishment was given to the rapists of Nirbhaya. But, it also called for introspection. Why did it take so long to punish them even when they were proved guilty much before? In a case like this where all levels of inhumanity and brutality were crossed, was it correct to delay the punishment for almost 8 years?

Going back to that horrific night and recalling the events that occurred on the night of 16th December 2012, is something that requires courage. At evening, on that day, Nirbhaya and her friend were returning to their home from a bus. They both were the only passengers in that bus and by the time they realised this, the culprits had already made up their mind. Nirbhaya was not just raped, but also physically abused and tortured. Her friend who tried to save her, was also beaten mercilessly. After these miscreants were satisfied, they threw both of the victims on the road, naked.[1]

When Nirbhaya and her friend were taken to the hospital, the doctors were also shocked to see the kind of barbaric treatment that the girl had undergone.[2] On 19th December 2012, Nirbhaya went through her fifth surgery, which removed most of her remaining intestine. Due to the injuries caused to her, a lot of internal bleeding occurred. Doctors reported that she was in a stable but critical condition.[3] It was decided by the government that she would be taken to a hospital in Singapore, where she collapsed. The chief executive officer of the Mount Elizabeth Hospital said that the victim suffered brain damage, pneumonia, and abdominal infection, and that she was “fighting for her life.” Her condition continued to deteriorate, and she died at 4:45 am on 29 December, Singapore Standard Time.[4]

There were six men involved in this savagery – Ram Singh, Vinay Sharma, Pawan Gupta, Mukesh Singh, Akshay Thakur and a juvenile. Out these six men Ram Singh killed himself in the prison, according to the police authorities, while the juvenile was sentenced to 3 years term at a probation home.[5] In September 2013, it was concluded by the Fast Track Court that Mukesh, Vinay, Akshay and Pawan were guilty of offences including – gangrape, unnatural offence and murder of Nirbhaya and attempt to murder of her friend. Following this the court had awarded death penalty to all the four convicts. After hearing the case as sent to it by the trial court, The High Court, on March 13, 2014 upheld the death penalty for the four convicts. On 5th may the apex court upholds capital punishment to the convicts and declares that the case falls in the category of “rarest of the rare cases”, an offence that created a “tsunami of shock”.[6]

After Supreme Court upholding this judgement, all Indians hoped that the convicts were soon going to be punished and justice to Nirbhaya and her family was going to be given. This however, did not happen. What followed SC’s judgement were a series of petitions and appeals. Our Indian system of law gives sufficient chance to the accused to save themselves from punishment, which is important, I agree. However, what happened in this case was a clear abuse of these safeguards to delay justice delivery. Petition after petition was filed, by each convict separately, and law stood helpless as it had to entertain these petitions.[7] This was the reason that it took us almost 8 years in giving Nirbhaya what she deserved – justice.

Delay in justice delivery in heinous offences like rape, makes common people lose their faith in the judiciary. We need a reformation in our law, a major reformation that gives a sense of security to all people, that in case they are wronged, law is at their side. Delay in justice, discourages people to approach courts. Even in serious cases like rape, women are discouraged to take the matter to court, as they know the amount of grief, they have to suffer – first, in recalling the painful events in front of the police and at every step in the litigation process and secondly, the years of wait that they have to give in for this. The need of the hour, the need of today and the need of a better future is a speedier justice delivery mechanism, at least for cases like rape. Once it is proved that a woman has suffered rape, and the offender has been proved guilty, there should be no delay in giving punishment.

Further, the punishment should be severe. Our law is mainly reformative in nature. It does not promote retribution. This is the reason for rape being divided in different categories when the time for awarding punishment to the culprits arrives. Only those cases which fall under ‘the rarest of the rare cases’, suggest a capital punishment to the offender. Others are limited to life imprisonment or less. Even after this, the UN and other human rights activists, raise a demand that capital punishment should be abolished as it is against humanity. I want to ask them a simple question – a person who rapes a woman, does he deserve any human rights? When an offender breaks all levels of inhumanity and barbarism, shouldn’t the punishment be of the same nature?

Rape is not a crime that can be forgiven or forgotten. It destroys the very being of a woman. And in cases like that of Nirbhaya, even death penalty cannot reimburse for the loss of the victim and her family.

[1] Julia Hollingsworth, Swati Gupta and Manveena Suri – “7 years after bus rape and murder shocked the world, attackers hanged in New Delhi”, CNN Business, March 20, 2020 – https://edition.cnn.com/.

[2] Shivani Gite – “Doctors were shocked to see Nirbhaya at hospital, tears came out of his eyes”, Jan 13, 2020 – https://english.newstracklive.com.

[3] “Delhi Gang rape : victim battles on, undergoes fifth surgery; doctors remove her intestine”, Hindustan Times, December 19, 2012 – https://web.archive.org/.

[4] “Delhi gang rape case : Victim ‘fighting for her life’, hospital says”, The Times of India, December 29, 2012 – https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/.

[5] “4 Gang rape convicts in Nirbhaya Case hanged to death in Tihar Jail”, The Economic Times, March 20, 2020 – https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/.

[6] DH Web Desk – “Nirbhaya Case Timeline : Here’s how it unfolded over the years”, Deccan Herald, March 19, 2020, last update – 20 March, 2020 – https://www.deccanherald.com/.

[7] Jeevan Prakash Sharma – “Nirbhaya case : How Convicts And Court Contributed to Delay Justice”, Outlook, December 23,2019 – https://www.outlookindia.com/.

Author Details: Ridhi Gupta (Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law (RGNUL))

The views of the author are personal only. (if any)

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