Four rapists convicted of the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman on a moving, off-duty private bus in Delhi in 2012 were hanged yesterday morning, bringing to a close a long-drawn and painful case in India.
The brutal assault triggered widespread outrage across the country, directed at the nation's inability to prevent incidents of violence against women and punish those responsible.
The case and its fallout also grabbed the international media spotlight and prompted landmark legal changes in India that expanded the definition of rape and instituted stricter punishment for sexual violence against women.
Ten days after she was assaulted, the victim, a physiotherapy student, was flown to Singapore for emergency treatment at Mount Elizabeth Hospital, where she succumbed to her injuries on Dec 29, 2012.
She was famously dubbed Nirbhaya - the fearless one - by the media, as rape victims cannot be named under Indian law.
Yesterday's hanging is the culmination of a tortuous legal process that saw the victim's parents fighting tirelessly for justice.
A special fast-track court had handed out the death sentence in September 2013, a decision upheld by the Delhi High Court in March 2014 as well as the Supreme Court in May 2017. The executions had, however, been delayed over pending legal remedies, including mercy petitions made to the President of India.
The pre-dawn executions took place at Delhi's Tihar Jail, less than two hours after the Supreme Court dismissed the final petition of the convicts. On Thursday night, the convicts had also petitioned the Delhi High Court, which dismissed their plea.
These were India's first executions in a rape-and-murder case since 2004.
The victim's parents welcomed the executions. "They have finally been hanged. It has been a seven-year struggle... Nirbhaya has got justice," her mother, Ms Asha Devi, told reporters outside her home.
The hanging has also been welcomed by many others in India, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi. "Justice has prevailed. It is of utmost importance to ensure dignity and safety of women," he tweeted hours after the executions.
Chairperson of the National Commission for Women Rekha Sharma told ANI news agency: "Justice has been delivered, even though late. This will act as a deterrent... I hope such gruesome cases are dealt (with) by fast-track courts that quickly hand out such sentences and that they are implemented."
Six people were arrested for the attack. One of them, Ram Singh, allegedly committed suicide in jail in March 2013. Another, who was 17 at the time of the offence, served three years in a reform facility - the maximum term possible for a juvenile in India - and was released in 2015.
Nirbhaya, along with a male friend, had boarded a private bus on the evening of Dec 16, 2012, after watching a film. The six men, who were already on the bus, assaulted the couple and took turns to rape the woman. The couple were thrown out of the bus onto the road later in the night, following which some passers-by called the police.
While the executions have sparked jubilation, questions remain over the use of the death penalty, which many argue has not helped the cause of women's safety. India's poor law enforcement and judicial systems also remain a concern and are often cited as a reason for a public thirst for revenge.
Ms Karuna Nundy, a Supreme Court advocate, told The Straits Times that when people cheer for the death penalty, it highlights a desperation for justice. "This is the urge that supports, within otherwise reasonable people, vigilantism, encounter killings and also the death penalty (for) rapists. The context is lazy governments who fail to fix the system and make sure that a would-be rapist knows that he will be certainly convicted and sentenced fast to whatever punishment," she said.
Ms Nundy added it was important, therefore, to strengthen India's justice system as a deterrent, and focus on behaviour change with "would-be sexual assaulters and misogynists".
Key dates in Delhi gang-rape case
MUMBAI • India yesterday executed four men convicted of the gang rape and murder of a woman on a New Delhi bus in December 2012, in a case that shamed and outraged a nation with one of the world's worst records for crimes against women.
Here is a timeline of the case:
Dec 16, 2012: A 23-year-old physiotherapy student is brutally raped on a moving bus in the Indian capital of New Delhi.
She and her male companion are tortured. A metal pipe is pushed into her abdomen, and a large section of her intestines is pulled out.
She is thrown on the roadside and left for dead.
Five men and a juvenile are arrested for the crime.
Shocked by the brutality of the crime, large crowds gather for candlelit vigils in cities throughout the country, expressing their outrage and praying for the victim as she clings to life.
Dec 29, 2012: The victim dies in a hospital in Singapore after battling serious internal injuries.
Protests erupt across India, calling out government indifference, gaps in law enforcement and rising sexual crimes against women.
Jan 17, 2013: A fast-track court begins proceedings against the five men and one juvenile in the case.
March 11, 2013: Ram Singh, one of the main accused in the case and the driver of the bus, is found hanged in his prison cell.
April 2, 2013: A tough new anti-rape law is passed, making stalking a crime and introducing the death sentence for convicted rapists.
September 2013: The court sentences all four adults to death in the case.
The juvenile accused is remanded to a three-year term in a detention centre and is released in 2015, after serving his term.
May 5, 2017: India's Supreme Court upholds the death penalty of the four remaining convicts. The men file review petitions challenging the order.
Jan 17, 2020: Indian President Ram Nath Kovind rejects their pleas for mercy.
March 20, 2020: The four men are hanged at dawn in New Delhi's Tihar Jail.