It has taken seven long years but the D-day has finally been fixed. Four men who raped and tortured ‘Nirbhaya’ on a cold December night in a moving bus in Delhi will be hanged at 7am on January 22. Judge Satish Kumar Arora issued the warrant on January 7 at the request of the police and the victim’s mother, who had celebrated the top court’s 2017 verdict rejecting an appeal against the death sentence as “justice at last”.
The 23-year-old physiotherapy student died in a Singapore hospital after battling for life for 13 days. She was brutally assaulted in a moving private bus by five men and a juvenile before being thrown out with her male friend. The case shook the conscience of the nation and it erupted in protest. There were demonstrations and candlelight vigils across the country, demanding justice for Nirbhaya.
The woman’s mother has waited for seven years to see the men convicted of gang rape and brutal attack to be hanged but the Indian legal system has taken seven long years before she can witness closure of the case.
A fast-track court convicted bus driver Ram Singh, his brother Mukesh, Vinay Sharma, Pawan Gupta and Akshay Thakur in September 2013. During trial, Ram Singh was found dead in his cell in Tihar Jail. The remaining four got death sentence for gang rape and murder. Then the case went to the high court for confirmation of death sentence, and to Supreme Court. In December 2018, the union cabinet requested the President to reject the mercy petition of one of the convicts.
The mother had filed a petition in a trial court to issue the black warrant, formally called the ‘warrant of execution of a sentence of death’, which was issued on January 7, giving the convicts the mandatory 14 days to use their legal remedies that could include a curative petition in the Supreme Court or a mercy plea to the President. The black warrant is issued by the same court that gives the death sentence.
Nirbhaya’s mother, who has steadfastly stood her ground to see her daughter’s killers hanged, was in tears in December 2019 when judge Arora deferred the case, indicating that he wanted to wait for the mercy petition filed by one of the four convicts to be decided first. After the January 7 order, she said the execution of the four convicts will empower women and “strengthen the trust of people in the judicial system”.
The jail officials have begun the preparations of the execution. Dummy trials have been done, ropes have been brought from Buxar Jail in Bihar, hang man has been requisitioned and the four have been shifted in solitary confinement cell.
It will be after 37 years that four people will be hanged together on one day. The last time this happened was in October 1983 when four serial killers were hanged in the Yerawada central jail in Pune for the muder of 10 people in the mid-1970s. It was the first such execution in Independent India. The four hangings in the Nirbhaya case will be only the second time.
In Tihar, the last hanging took place in 2013 when Afzal Guru went to the gallows for attack on Parliament.
On the day of the execution, the superintendent will visit the convicts in their cell and get any document – his will etc – signed. After this, the officials will tie the hands of the four men and take them to the gallows. A cotton cap with flaps will be put on their faces just before they enter the enclosure. The prisoners will not be allowed to see the gallows.
The jail manual says that the prisoners will then be handed over to the hangman, who will tie their legs, adjusts the rope around their necks and draw the bolt at a signal from the superintendent. The bodies will remain suspended for half an hour before being taken down, or until the resident medical officer has certified that the life is extinct.
The Delhi Prison Rules categorically mentions that the execution should take place early in the morning before it gets bright. The time in different seasons will be in accordance with orders passed separately by the government. For the Nirbhaya’s killers, the time fixed is 7am.
An engineer of the Public Works Department (PWD) will inspect the gallows and the rope in the presence of the superintendent the evening before the execution. The height from which a prisoner is to be hanged is decided on the basis of his weight. For example, the manual says that if a person weighs less than 45.360 kg, he should be given a drop of 2.4440 metres.
The prison rules say that superintendent, deputy superintendent, medical officer in-charge and resident medical officer should be present at all executions. The rules also require the presence of district magistrate, and in his absence, the additional district magistrate. “If the prisoner so desires, a priest of his faith may be allowed, at the discretion of the superintendent,” say the rules.
No other person, especially relatives of the prisoner, should be allowed to witness the execution, the prison rules categorically say, adding that the superintendent can permit social scientists, psychologists etc for research purposes but only after prior approval from the government. The rules also specify the number of officials to be present during an execution: 10 constables/warderers, two head constables/head warderers and an equal number from the Prison Armed Guards.
Nirbhaya’s mother has requested the jail authorities to allow her to see the execution. Whether that is allowed or not remains to be seen but in either case, the four hangings will closure to a long legal battle for justice.
THE FOUR TO BE HANGED
Akshay Thakur (32): He is a school dropout from Aurangabad district in Bihar convicted for raping the woman. He is married with a two-year-old son. His family had been claiming that he was at home on that night.
Mukesh Singh (31): He was the cleaner of the bus and hit the woman and her friend with an iron rod on board the bus. In an interview from jail for a BBC documentary aired in 2015, Singh had said that women who went out at night had only themselves to blame if they attracted the attention of gangs of male molesters.
Pawan Gupta (23): A fruit-seller, Gupta took turns to rape the woman and assault her friend. Youngest of the four convicts, Pawan is pursuing graduation from inside Tihar Jail.
Vinay Sharma (25): He drove the bus when the other four men and a juvenile raped the woman. He then gave the wheel to Mukesh to take turn to rape her. Lodged in Tihar Jail, Sharma filed an application in the court saying that he was beaten up “very badly” by five or six inmates of the jail in 2015. He added that he feared a risk to his life as some other convicts had “openly” issued murder threats to him.
Ram Singh: He was the driver of the bus, known to be notorious for caring little for law. Elder brother of Mukesh Singh, he attacked the woman with an iron rod causing her intestines to spill out. In December 2013, he was found hanging in his cell at Tihar Jail. He was the first one to be caught on December 17, 2012. When the police nabbed him, he was sitting in the same bus where his bloodstained clothes were also found.
The Juvenile: Now 23 years old, the juvenile was tried by the Juvenile Justice Board for raping and assaulting the woman. He was released after he completed his term in December 2015. He works as a cook at a dhaba somewhere in south India.