Akshay Thakur, Mukesh Singh, Pawan Gupta and Vinay Sharma were hanged at a jail in the Indian capital on Friday, March 20, more than six years after being convicted of raping and killing the woman, known only as “Nirbhaya.”
The case prompted outrage around the world and in India, where protesters demanded justice for Nirbhaya, a pseudonym given to the student that means “fearless.” Under Indian law, victims of certain crimes cannot be named.
Campaigners called for tougher laws on sexual assault in a country where, based on official figures from 2018, the rape of a woman is reported every 16 minutes.
While reports of rape are all too common, the execution of prisoners for any type of crime in India is rare.
A horrific attack
At about 8:30 p.m. on December 16, 2012, Nirbhaya and her boyfriend took a chartered bus home after watching the film “Life of Pi” at a Delhi movie theater. It’s common in India for chartered buses to pick up additional passengers during odd hours.
While the bus was moving, a group of men stole the pair’s belongings, then took the victim to the back of the bus where they raped and assaulted Nirbhaya with iron rods, according to court documents. They also stripped and beat her boyfriend, who they held down during the attack.
Afterward, the men threw the naked victims from the front door of the moving bus and tried to run them over. They then cleaned the bus with the victims’ clothes, before burning them and dividing the “loot” among themselves, including two mobile phones, a wrist watch, and a pair of shoes.
The men involved
Soon after the attack, police located six suspects, who knew each other before the incident.
The oldest was 34-year-old school bus driver Ram Singh, who “routinely” drove the vehicle where the attack took place, according to court documents.
The youngest, who was only 17 at the time of the attack and who cannot be named for legal reasons, was sentenced to three years in a juvenile correctional facility, and was released in 2015.
The other four, aged between 28 and 19 at the time of the attack, were convicted and sentenced to death less than a year later.
They include bus cleaner Akshay Thakur, part-time gym instructor Vinay Sharma, fruit seller Pawan Gupta, and Ram Singh’s younger brother Mukesh Singh.
A wider issue of rape
In 2018, more than 33,000 cases of alleged rape were reported — roughly 91 cases each day, according to India’s National Crime Records Bureau.
The number of reported rapes has risen since 2012, potentially because of greater awareness and the perception that something will be done.
Legal reforms and more severe penalties for rape were introduced following Nirbhaya’s death.
Those included fast track courts to move rape cases through the justice system swiftly, an amended definition of rape to include anal and oral penetration, and the publication of new government guidelines intended to do away with the two-finger test which purportedly assessed whether a woman had sexual intercourse recently.
The authorities also updated the law to allow the death sentence for repeat rape offenders. Prior to that, the maximum punishment for rape was life imprisonment. In 2018, the law was amended so that the death penalty can be handed down in cases where the victim is a girl under the age of 12.
CNN’s Esha Mitra contributed reporting from New Delhi.