After 7 years of the gruesome gang-rape that led to her death, Jyoti Singh — named ‘Nirbhaya’ (intrepid) by The Times of India and ‘Damini’ (inspired by the protagonist of a Hindi film) by India TV — finally got justice on Friday morning. Sirf News had made it a point never to reveal her identity until the hanging of the four convicts Akshay Thakur, Mukesh Singh, Pawan Gupta and Vinay Sharma even as the name of the victim’s mother, who appeared quite often on television through the last seven excruciating years, was drilled into public memory. And Wikipedia told the uninitiated that Nirbhaya was Jyoti Singh, a paramedic student who took that ill-fated bus ride on 16 December 2012.
While the bodies of the convicts have been despatched for postmortem, their parents have refused to take the corpses and, so, the Tihar Jail authorities are now looking for a spot to conduct the mandatory last rites.
Seven years, three months and three days ago, the incident of gang-rape had shaken the conscience of the entire nation. A flood of youth had come out on the streets to demand justice which the judiciary of the country took long to deliver, never mind that the first court where the trial was held was referred to as “fast-track”.
Asha Devi, who fought for justice for all these years, announced that on 20 March every year, she would celebrate the Nirbhaya Day. Asha Devi says she will now fight for other daughters of the country. Going by the adage “justice delayed is justice denied”, Jyoti (flame) flickers today instead of shining bright.
Nirbhaya denied justice for more than 7 years
The lawyer of the four convicts tried all tricks up his sleeve that the system of India permitted to postpone and even cancel his clients’ execution till the last day. Lawyer AP Singh filed a petition in the Delhi High Court to defer the death warrant a day before the hanging, but the verdict went against the culprits.
In the middle of the night, Singh had moved the Supreme Court but his clients were left with no valid argument. The death warrant, therefore, sustained. Singh continues to call this hanging wrong and accuses the media and politics for the hanging of his clients.
Humanity was shamed on 16 December 2012
In the night of 16 December 2012, Jyoti Singh and her friend boarded a private ‘chartered’ bus on their way back home from a cinema in Saket in Munirka, Delhi, after failing to get regular public transport from the spot where the first vehicle had dropped them. After a while, six people assaulted and raped the paramedical student in the moving bus, which passed through several barricades that the police install even today across the city without often bothering to man them. This infuriated the masses, as at least the brutality of the rape could have been mitigated by the state if one of the barricades actually functioned.
Other than the four convicts who were hanged today, the bus’s primary driver Ram Singh and a ‘minor’ helper Afroz (identified by BJP activist Subramanian Swamy by this name) were the most bestial in the attack. It was Afroz reportedly who had inserted an iron rod into the victim, which ruptured her internal organs, eventually leading to her death later that dark December in a Singaporean hospital. Earlier, Safdarjung Hospital had said making the victim recover was beyond them.
The victim’s friend was beaten up badly. The woman and her friend were thrown out of the moving bus after which another instance of state apathy came to the fore. While some locals found the traumatised victims by the roadside, the police station dithered in registering a case. This, in fact, made the Justice JS Verma committee — formed under the pressure of public outrage — to make necessary changes in the law for registering an FIR.
The victim lost the battle of life on 29 December while still undergoing treatment. The victim’s mother said her daughter wanted to live till her last breath.
The struggle to see the tormentors of Nirbhaya punished took the route of a Saket ‘fast track’ court via Supreme Court to the president of the country.
During the court hearings, Ram Singh committed suicide in Tihar Jail. Afroz got away with murder, showing his school certificate to prove he was a juvenile even as educational documents from Uttar Pradesh are hardly considered reliable across the country. This was yet another case of callousness by the state where judges assumed the role of scientists to rule that a biological determination of the age of an individual was impossible!
Arguably the most ruthless of the convicts, Afroz today leads a life of anonymity reportedly in a coastal town of southern India, working as a help in a restaurant.
The remaining four convicts played legal bets many times, sometimes petitioning the Patiala House Court and sometimes moving the Delhi High Court or the Supreme Court. In the interregnum surfaced yet another flaw of the Indian state. After the verdict of the Supreme Court in 2017, the Delhi government, which was supposed to move the file to President Ram Nath Kovind via Union Ministry of Home Affairs, sat pretty. When the BJP, the party ruling at the Centre, questioned the delay, the AAP, ruling Delhi, hit back, saying that the union government was to blame because this was a central — and not a state — subject!
Many times, the hanging was postponed due to pending curative and mercy petitions but finally today, the four were hanged.
The mother of Jyoti aka Nirbhaya, Asha Devi said she could not save daughter but got her justice. She said the Singh family would never celebrate on any occasion for the rest of their lives.
Asha Singh thanked all those who supported her in this fight. She said, “We do not need to be afraid and ashamed. Those who commit crime should be ashamed.”
The mother said, “We will request the Supreme Court to issue directions so that criminals in future cannot adopt any tactic for escape. Now women will definitely feel safe.” Will they, given that the travail of Jyoti Singh threw up at least five flaws in the Indian justice delivery system that continue to prevail?
- Negligence by the police: In guarding the city and registering an FIR
- Red tape: In passing the case file from one government to another
- Tortuous trial: More than 7 years (India is infamous for a rape case running for more than two decades and also the case of a victim who finally had to be administered euthanasia years after her rapist disappeared into thin air after serving a term)
- Awkward jurisprudence: Judges turning biologists
- Undue review opportunities for convicts: Why should the rejection of a clemency plea by the president of the country still be subjected to another review?
And then there is the precedent set by the case Harbans Singh versus the State of Uttar Pradesh due to which convicts in a group crime cannot be hanged one by one — lest one of them should get mercy, thereby causing different punishments for a given crime.
To add insult to injury, the Juvenile Justice Board Act 2014 made Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal gift Afroz a sewing machine and Rs 10,000 for his “rehabilitation”. Even accepting the convict’s age to be of 17 years and six months, as the courts ordained, what can reform an almost-adult who commits rape?
The mother and father of Nirbhaya alike said their wait for justice was extremely painful. “We appeal that today’s day Nirbhaya should be celebrated as ‘Judgment Day’,” they said.
The Jyoti of Nirbhaya at best flickers; it does not shine bright.