New Delhi: It’s 12 hours before the convicts in the 16 December gangrape case are set to be hanged, and a quiet sense of reflection has taken over life at the Ravidas Camp in south Delhi’s R.K. Puram area.
The camp houses the families of three of the four convicts — Pawan Gupta (25), Vinay Sharma (26) and Mukesh Singh (32). The only convict who doesn’t have a home here is Akshay Thakur, who hails from Bihar.
“We are spending our time praying. You wait and watch, god is good and he (Vinay) will live. I told him that yesterday,” says Vinay’s mother, maintaining her composure before breaking into a sob. She does not want to be named, or her face photographed. “He calmed me down by saying the same thing, that I should have faith in god.”
The Sharmas shuttle between disbelief and anguish as they prepare for their son’s death. “A police officer called us today and asked us what we would do with Vinay’s body. I didn’t tell him anything, only that we are Brahmins,” his father says, adding “we have not thought that far”.
Pawan and Mukesh’s houses are locked, as their families have rushed to Tihar for one last goodbye. By Thursday, every legal remedy available to each of the four convicts had been exhausted, and every plea for a stay on the execution rejected.
“I don’t know what to tell you. I’m stressed beyond belief,” says Pawan’s younger sister over the phone, declining to comment further.
For the families, every fresh death warrant brought with it a surge of worry, panic, and despair. ThePrint had reported last month that the death penalty had led both Pawan and Vinay’s families to suffer a spate of illnesses.
Empathy from neighbours, but at arm’s length
Neighbours say even though death warrants have been issued in the past, there has been a palpable shift in the air since the latest one was issued on 5 March.
“They usually keep to themselves, but their despair is there for everyone to see. These last few days especially,” says a neighbour of the Guptas, who does not wish to be identified.
“They don’t speak to us much or ask us for any support, but we have seen that they’ve had to endure spite from the public and media.”
Over the years, residents say they have grown to empathise with the families — but at an arm’s length.
“None of them is very sociable, and they don’t speak to anyone,” says a neighbour of the Sharmas. “What happened with the woman was wrong. I’m a woman myself. But what these families are going through is not right, either. The courts should have reduced the sentence from death to life.”
The lawyer representing the convicts, A.P. Singh, is filing two separate petitions — one in the Supreme Court, and another in the Delhi High Court — challenging their previous orders, in the hope of securing a last-minute stay on execution. But the convicts have exhausted all other legal options.
They were first sentenced to death by a trial court in September 2013, an order which was upheld by the Delhi High Court in 2014. The case then moved to the Supreme Court, which accepted that it was among the “rarest of rare” cases that warranted the death penalty.
The final sentence, ordered on 5 March by a Delhi court, came after the convicts were accused of ‘stalling’ their executions by filing their curative and mercy petitions separately and at different times. At every stage, a death warrant was issued, only to be nullified by a pending curative or mercy petition filed by one or more of the convicts.
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