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4 Men Hanged In India For 2012 Gang Rape And Murder That Sparked Outrage

Security personnel stand guard as an ambulance carrying the bodies of four executed men enters Deen Dayal Upadhyay hospital in New Delhi Friday.
Money Sharma
AFP via Getty Images
Security personnel stand guard as an ambulance carrying the bodies of four executed men enters Deen Dayal Upadhyay hospital in New Delhi Friday.

Shortly before dawn on Friday at a high-security prison on the outskirts of New Delhi, four men were hanged for the December 2012 gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman who became known as "Nirbhaya," or the fearless one. The widely publicized crime prompted large street demonstrations and a reform of India's laws on sexual assault.

"Today, justice has been done after seven years," Reuters quotes the victim's mother as telling reporters outside the prison. "I salute Indian judiciary and thank god for hearing our prayers ... my daughter's soul can now rest in peace."

No other state execution had taken place in India since 2015, and it was the first time since 2004 that the death penalty was carried out in a case of rape and murder.

The gang rape occurred when the victim and her male companion, who had just gone to see Life of Pi at a movie theater, boarded a private bus. They were then assaulted by six men aboard the bus as it traveled through the streets of New Delhi.

The woman, a physiotherapy intern, was raped and severely battered with an iron bar before she and her companion, who was also beaten, were dumped along a road. She died 13 days later in a Singaporean hospital after being moved there for more advanced medical care.

All six of the men were convicted of rape and murder in 2013. One, who at the time of the attack was 17, was released from a juvenile facility in 2015; he had served the maximum three-year sentence allowed in India for a juvenile. Another, the driver of the bus, died in what appeared to be a suicide while imprisoned in 2013.

The public outcry in India that followed the grisly crime led within days to the formation of the three-member Verma Committee. Its report, issued a month later, recommended broadening the legal definition of rape to include "any non-consensual penetration of a sexual nature." Rape and sexual assault, the committee noted, "are not merely crimes of passion, but an expression of power."

Lawmakers subsequently codified an expanded definition of rape to include forced penetration by any object in any orifice. India's chief justice inaugurated fast-track courts to deal with rape cases. And a sex-crimes ordinance increased penalties for rape.

However, official crime statistics show that reported cases of rape have actually increased since 2017, the year India's Supreme Court upheld death sentences against the four men who were hanged.

The most recent data from India's government indicate that in 2018 there were 91 rapes reported daily and a total of almost 34,000 for the year. But those numbers are tiny for a country of more than 1 billion people.

Most rape and sexual assault is believed to go unreported.

Some Indian officials have acknowledged not enough has been done to address rape in their society.

"We get disturbed as and when the incidents happen and forget about them later," Indian Vice President Venkaiah Naidu lamented two years ago. "What is required is not a bill alone, but political will, administrative skill to kill the social evil. ... There is a need for a change of mindset of men."

Women in India say little has changed for them despite the outrage over the gang rape and murder that led to Friday's quadruple hanging.

"How do women and girls in India ensure their safety? By doing what we always do — that is, by restricting our own freedoms," says the BBC's Geeta Pandey.

"We dress modestly while going out, we don't stay out late, we keep looking over our shoulders at all times, we drive with our doors locked and windows rolled up."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.
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