16X9: Death penalty stayed for 2 of 4 men convicted in fatal gang rape of Jyoti Singh
WATCH: 16×9’s “Bus Rape Outrage”
India’s top court has temporarily stayed the hanging of two of the four men convicted for the 2012 gang rape and murder of Jyoti Singh on a bus in New Delhi.
The Supreme Court’s order came in response to a petition filed by an attorney for the two men that said the appeals court that confirmed their death sentence had completely ignored their defence.
Earlier, defence lawyers pledged to appeal all the way to the Indian Supreme Court, if necessary.
Lawyer AP Singh, who represented two of the accused, claims that public pressure led police to fabricate evidence and beat confessions out of his clients.
“No decision should be taken under the pressure of media or on the basis of sentiments, but it happened in this case,” says lawyer AP Singh.
Jyoti Singh, the young woman who was brutally beaten and viciously gang raped on a bus gave police two statements. In the first, she recalled being attacked by two unidentified men.
But in a second statement given shortly before she died, police claim she was not only able to remember being attacked by all six men; she also identified them by name.
AP Singh says that dying declaration was given only after police had arrested the suspects. He believes police told the victim what to say to strengthen their case.
Read more: India’s Moral Police
“Afterwards, all these things were incorporated [into her story]. Names, descriptions, identities…In the start, the victim said there were four people and she was raped by two of them. Now, how is it possible to involve six persons and hang all of them?”
The lawyer also says the confessions given by the accused were the result of police beatings.
“The statements were recorded forcibly. They were beaten in the police station and all the confessions statements are written by the police, and their signatures were obtained on blank papers.”
16×9 was able to obtain a copy of the case file, and confirm the victim’s second statement, given after the suspects were arrested, contained a treasure trove of new information. The confessions given by the accused were identical in the wording and the handwriting, even though some of the suspects were literate and could have written their own confessions.
Longtime activist Kavita Krishna says that isn’t uncommon in India.
“I would say that that kind of….investigation that we have in our country which largely relies on forced confessions and so on that is something which never really gets us very far with the truth or with justice.”
The details were unimaginably horrific. Police say six men repeatedly raped her, tore up her insides with an iron rod, and literally pulled out her intestines with their bare hands. The doctors who treated her said her injuries were the worst they’d ever seen.
As those details emerged, unprecedented and spontaneous protests broke out across the country, for the young woman who’d become known as “Amanat” – India’s daughter.
Krishnan became the unofficial spokeswoman for those protests – she says it was a moment that had been coming for a long time.
“What I really feel was that in a way it was a river dam bursting whereby there was a lot of accumulative anger… And saying that we will not consent to being put in the dark for rape, we will not be having women blamed for rape anymore.”
Indian women have long been treated as second-class citizens. A poll conducted earlier this year by TrustLaw, a legal news service run by Thompson-Reuters, found India the worst country to be a woman among the world’s twenty largest economies, based on factors such as violence, slavery, political rights and poverty. Indian women suffer one of the highest rates of sexual violence in the world, and their attackers usually get a free pass.
But this time would be different.
Huge crowds of protesters clashing with police got wall-to-wall media coverage around the world. In the three months after the rape, visits to India by female tourists dropped by 35 per cent. The government needed to act to counter the growing perception that India is hostile to women.
Jyoti Singh died on December 29th and, only days later, six men were arrested and charged with the rape. Almost immediately, a special “fast track court” was set up to deal with the case. Only three months after the crime, new laws were passed allowing for the death penalty in rape cases.
The case against the accused was seemingly ironclad. The police had DNA evidence, confessions from all six of the accused men, and before Jyoti Singh died, police say she gave them a statement implicating the accused, even identifying them all by name.
But lawyer AP Singh says the government’s rush to pacify an outraged public obscured what really happened that evening.
“Justice won’t be delivered by candlelight vigils. Justice is not delivered by shouting slogans. Justice is only delivered by the truth.”
He believes that the men were targeted because in India’s highly-stratified social order, they were expendable.
“All of them belong to respectable, but poor families. They don’t have money, power or political muscle. It is saddening that in India, money, public and political power counts.”
In March, the reputed leader of the rapists, Ram Singh, was found dead in his cell. It was ruled a suicide, but his family suspects he was murdered. The lone juvenile among the accused was sentenced to three years in prison in August.
The four remaining accused were sentenced to death by hanging in September, including AP Singh’s client, Vinay Sharma.
16×9 visited his mother, Champa Devi, at the south Delhi slum she calls home.
“God knows why they have done this,” she said. “I always think am I not a human being? Don’t I have any rights? Is there no law for us?”
Now, she can only visit her son in prison, and hopes his life will be spared.
Meanwhile, the Indian government gave Jyoti Singh’s family a new home after the gang rape. But for her father Badri, it doesn’t come close to replacing what they lost.
“Our lives have become totally meaningless… I stop myself as soon as I start to think about her because the more I think about her the more it hurts.”
Badri says the death sentences fulfilled her daughter’s dying wish to see her attackers executed.
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