Nirbhaya rapists are on death row in Tihar Jail
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Every year, trial courts in India award dozens of death sentences. Many of these eventually get commuted to life sentences. You don’t hear much clamour to hang these people. You don’t see outrage on the streets. You don’t see national TV channels interview the family of the victims in these cases on a daily basis.

Here’s the data: Between 2000 and 2014, Indian courts sentenced 1,810 people to death, according to Project 39A of the National Law University in Delhi. More than half of these were commuted to life imprisonment by the courts. A quarter of the convicts were acquitted (such as former Gujarat minister Maya Kodnani). Of these hundreds of cases, only the high-profile ones seem to actually meet the hangman.

Yet, the 2012 December Delhi gangrape case, commonly known as the Nirbhaya case, is different. It is a high-profile case. It ‘shocked the conscience of the nation’. And so, the men who raped and killed must be hanged. Can we please hang them before 8 February? There’s an election in Delhi and the BJP would like to show an achievement.

So, the Narendra Modi government is very unhappy that something as serious as taking away people’s lives can be delayed by a few days because the convicts want to make a case to not be hanged, to live unhappy prison lives instead.


Also read: How 16 December gang-rape convicts are making last-ditch attempts to escape the noose


Rarest of the not-so-rare

There’s something obscene and rotten about the death penalty in India.

We don’t discuss or debate it because the Right-wing accuses us of defending rape, murder, terrorism if we oppose the death penalty.

No, opposing the death penalty does not imply defending the unspeakable horrors inflicted by death row convicts. It is not a debate over crime, but over justice. What is justice? What is just punishment? What do we speak of when we speak of justice and punishment?

After Afzal Guru, Ajmal Kasab and Yakub Memon were hanged, next are the ‘Nirbhaya’ killers. Does it strike anyone that only high-profile criminals are getting executed? That alone should be grounds enough to not hang Nirbhaya’s killers. There are so many cases of gangrape and murder out there, but only these four are to be hanged.

According to the Supreme Court of India, the death penalty is to be given in the “rarest of the rare” cases. How rarest of the rare is gangrape followed by murder? Do you hear anyone clamour for the death penalty for the Kathua rapists? Do you see the victim’s family being interviewed every day?

Cases of rape-and-murder have been rising along with the number of death sentences given by courts. Despite widespread awareness that there could be a death penalty in such cases, rapists seem to be killing their victims more frequently. That’s because, many fear, the death penalty is the biggest incentive to murder. They don’t want the victim to stay alive and file a complaint or give a testimony in court.


Also read: Don’t hang Godse, said Gandhi’s sons. This is how Nehru, Patel and Rajaji replied


Undoing death

The certainty of punishment rather than the degree of punishment will deter more crimes. Most state governments are yet to set-up fast-track courts for sexual offences. They don’t have money, they say. Hanging the Delhi rapists and murderers will satisfy our bloodlust, but it won’t make justice any faster.

If killing the killers is justice, why don’t we argue for raping the rapists, robbing the thieves, setting on fire the houses of arsonists?

The ugly truth about the death penalty in India is that it is a political tool. The politically embattled UPA-2 government hanged Afzal Guru and Ajmal Kasab to show that it was a strong government. Guru was not hanged for years but suddenly, national politics found an opportune time to do it.

Now, it turns out that there may be some doubt over whether Afzal Guru really deserved to die. He had claimed that he did whatever he did on the behest of a Jammu and Kashmir police officer. In 2020, the same police officer, Davinder Singh, was arrested ferrying terrorists.

We can’t make that police officer confront Afzal Guru face-to-face today because Afzal Guru is dead. That’s the thing about the death penalty. It can’t be undone.

There have been cases where the Supreme Court has, many years later, admitted mistakes in awarding the death penalty. In 2009 the Supreme Court admitted it had  wrongly sentenced to death 15 people over 15 years.

If there’s a mistake in awarding life sentence to someone, you can undo that mistake, release the person, perhaps even give compensation. How do you undo death?


Also read: Modi govt moves SC to speed up hangings, change its 2014 guidelines on death row convicts


Civilised ways of seeking closure

In a country where Maya Kodnani gets acquitted and a cop accused of being Afzal Guru’s handler goes unquestioned, the death penalty is a bad joke. Across the world, 102 countries have completely abolished the death penalty. And some more have abolished it in practice.

The countries that have death penalty are countries India usually doesn’t like to be clubbed with. Except for the US, they are mostly not democracies. It is time we had a debate over abolition.

Supporters of the death penalty will often say, what if it was your sister? Families of victims don’t get to decide what is just punishment. That is for a society to decide together. And yes, closure is important. But the death penalty is not the only way families of victims can achieve closure. There are more civilised ways to do that.

Views are personal.

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53 Comments Share Your Views

53 COMMENTS

  1. Hanging a man by another man is itself a barbaric act. The death penalty has not served the purpose of deterrent effect. When a large no. of countries have either abolished it or has put a moratorium, India should should also think about abolishing this penalty. The imprisonment for life should be the maximum punishment.

  2. OK guys. But why you people are silent about the barbaric act of Jamshedpur railway station rape and murder case in August last year where a 4 year old little girl was abducted while sleeping with her mother and was raped and murdered brutally. Why not anybody asking for the justice about it. Was not that more heinous crime than nirbhaya case. Was not she more innocent than nirbhaya. Was not her little body severely mutilated and cut into pieces? A 4 year old little girl who even did not see the world and did not know the meaning of rape was treated so brutally. Shame on the media, Shame on the system. First hang the culprits of jamshedpur railway station rape case before nirbhaya’s.

  3. Law has got its two roles. Saving who are not guilty and punishment for guilty. Now, this depends on severity of crime. Law has to ensure trust and fear both – yes fear! A culprit should think twice before committing smallest crime. Nirbhaya rapists- one is free, others alive for 7 yrs now! Reason rapes are happening and continuing to happen. Advocates are fighting for right to live- what about right to live of nirbhaya? Any replies? How brutally was she murdered. Also it is high time now to change the law of being a minor. This guy inflicted maximum injuries, raped ! A person, whatever age, comitting this type of crime is a minor? Nowadays- due to access to internet and mobiles – a 10th std kid knows much better about all this that wat you would had known at double of his age 10 yrs back. Now even 14,15,16 yr old are comitting rapes! We need a speedy change and speedy hangings in such cases. It should be 7 days and not 7 yrs. then only things will change. Need of time , high time . Mr author , pls reboot your thought process. You are running on windows 7 ! Change it or change ur job!

  4. Terrorists do it for a cause or because they are not in their right state of mind. There would be a section of Rapists who might again not be in their right state of mind(I’m talking about extreme cases of psychiatry). These regular working class men breed on their courage that they draw from suppressing women around them. There should be an example set to create fright among such and this can be achieved by hanging/brutally killing those rapists.
    Coming to 102 countries abolishing death penalty, most of them developed countries of Europe, American continents have a secure educational system, society as a civilized structure, developed by their governments where this kind of brutality hasn’t been seen for decades. India is far behind in any of these civilized developments. Men are not taught morals here, 90 % of the police don’t know their job or are corrupt for the lust of even the smallest of incentives.
    In this case specifically, where it stands in one of the rarest of the rare cases of raping a women, depriving her of her rights, destroying her soul and pulling out her intestines with a metal rod shows the amount of arrogance and brutality with which the rapists murdered her. And if the rapists walk away free or get a life-imprisonment, does not stand for the justice that the whole country is looking for. And the way the convicts’ are using the same law that was made to protect the rights of all Indians is only setting out an example that rapists of such brutality can hope to walk free.
    I agree that the death penalty can be abolished but there is a lot of time for it to happen in a country like India.
    So it is of utmost importance that these people be hanged to satisfy not the wishes of the mother to get justice for her daughter but to instill a sense of security in the Indian women that no bon-animal group can brutally kill you, exhaust you of your rights to live, to experience liberty of thought, your freedom of speech, your dreams, your ambitions, finally your body organs and still dream to walk away free after serving a mere half tenure of their life without even paying back with the same loss

  5. Print should be ashamed of having published this,if this be the state the credibility is sure to go down .Can’t have trust on print

  6. I guess the author who wrote this for sure has criminal bent of mind .No sane person will be able the make these kind of statement .

  7. If this author was brutalized and left bleeding on the street with his intestines hanging out, would he still hold the same view while he bleeds to death? It’s all logical and fair as long as it doesn’t happen to you isn’t it? I am a mother to a daughter and i still shiver to think that the most brutal murderer of this incident, the juvenile who was released in 2015 and whose whereabouts and identity is unknown, he could still be lurking somewhere nearby and somebody’s daughter’s life is still at stake! Juvenile or not a crime is a crime and if you were cold hearted enough to commit such an offence then there is no need for the state to show any mercy to the criminals when they did not show any mercy to the victim

    • This piece itself is like a criminal act if measured with brutality it carries towards the victims. Had the author himself been a victim with his entrails oozing out of his anus, or someone he loves (if he is capable of doing so), I am sure he would have not been in a “mental state to write this piece”.

  8. death penalty should not be abolshed, although depending on the case of intentional murder/accidental murder it should be given accordingle. nirabhya was not murdered intentionally but aassaulted badlly that resulted in her painful death, the mother can pardon the rapist if she wants.

  9. I disagree with author’s statement”If killing the killers is justice, why don’t we argue for raping the rapists, robbing the thieves” because there is a big difference between killing the murderers and raping and robbing the rapists and thieves.Killing murderers will reduce the crime of murder, while rape of rapists and robbery of thieves will not affect rape and robbery crime.It is not hidden from anyone who has the slightest understanding.

  10. What a load of waffle, where is the sympathy for the victims families and the victim who was raped repeatedly and brutally assaulted then chucked out like a piece of meat. Death penalty is not revenge i tell you want revenge is the victims own family killing the convicts. In some circumstances the death penalty has to exist why should criminals roam around in jail and breath. To me it feels like the evil are getting the backing

  11. The biggest argument against death sentence is that all life is sacred – even the life of a criminal. we can’t create a life, we can’t give back life – so we should not take a life. The purpose of punishment should not be revenge but to make sure that first, the criminal does not repeat the crime and second, that it acts as a deterrent to others. So, in case of rape, hanging could be replaced by imprisonment and reversible chemical castration. In a macho society like ours, the second may be a stronger deterrent than the first or indeed than death.

  12. Can we get to see the Hanging of the culprits live on TV ?, Perhaps, they should do that in full public view, instead of enclosed

  13. according to the author, we should treat rapist and murders as superheroes and hand over to them more daughters to rape! we should let them live in prison in security and waste taxpayers money for feeding them as the author is unemployed he also wishes to have an easy life of prison. in short, the author feels people should get raped and live peacefully.what will happen to the rapist they rape and get an easy prison life and when they come out they will rape even more people and repeat the same cycle

  14. Feeding these kinds of animal from past 2012 isn’t a good sign of progressive nation, they should be killed the very moment they were found guilty 😵

  15. Well said. Implementing capital punishment is just like murdering somebody with revenge. After all, just a justification that justice is delivered through killing a convict.

  16. The nirbhaya case was the rarest of the rare because those rapists apart from raping her, violated her with a metal rod. They pulled out her intestines while doing so. And you mofo think think the death penalty is not fair? They should be publically hanged till death. And you don’t get to decide what justice is. Go and ask the victim’s mother. I don’t know who you are, where you are from, what else you do apart from writing bullshit; I just want to say, Go Fcuk Yourself. 🙂

    • I do not think that death sentence for rape is not fair. Quite the opposite i personally think that not even the worst form of torture is enough for those lowlifes. But i would still defend the author, for two reasons. One, because it’s not upto the victims families to decide what proper punishment is for such cases. Revenge is for fools. Yes it’s unfair, but law and order in society is more important especially in India where intolerance is a greater evil. Two, it is unfortunate that even with there being death penalty it is instead being used as a political tool and an excuse by the legal justice system to pardon their incompetence. This level of deterance is not enough. No one is afraid of the legal justice system. Harsh punishments are not going to stop these lowlifes. The certainity of punishment will deter them.

  17. Are you implying that the family of victims who are clamouring for justice in the form of death penalty some how less civilised than the leftists?

  18. Disagree. Although capital punishment is not a good option , considering the heinous crime these four committed anderssen they deliberately tore away inner parts of a woman after raping her definitely does not deserve to get away with just life sentences
    Sadly, there must be a message to all people who thinks of committing such crimes in future.
    India cannot afford to ill treat their womenfolk the way it is done now.

  19. I feel bad for the writer of this article. His inclined view towards humanist ideology with no empathy towards the victim and the family showcases how little he knows about pain. He should throw away the pen he used to write this article. Since long the death penalty has existed which the author has no idea of. The death penalty is not just a symbol that law will protect you but a symbol to all those in the society that seek to harm and break the fabric of the society. I question him that was Lord Ram wrong when he killed Ravana even though the latter was a knowledgeable person and also a devotee of shiva. It’s not barbaric but the right way a society functions. I am sure the author is a good person but why was he not there that night to protect Nirbhaya. I am ashamed of myself that I could do nothing. Sorry I am not a writer but I stand against your views. These humanistic ideas and laws have let many criminals go for their heinous crimes against the society. I stand with the society today and I am sure you are not against a better society for tomorrow. This article is a senile view by the author to stand out but I hope people don’t get lured in this trap.

    The author can write about so many more things such as a decrease in education spending, sexual health education.

    I urge you please do not let the term the pen is mightier than the sword to fail.

  20. I respect people who are against the death penalty but this column is filled with inaccurate information, inaccurate conclusions and spurious arguments. Consider this one for instance: “Cases of rape-and-murder have been rising along with the number of death sentences given by courts.”. Note that the author is well aware that the vast majority of criminals who are sentenced to death never face the death sentence – so why should a sentence be a deterrent? The fact remains that only a handful of people have actually received the death penalty in more than 10 years. Things are so bad that there isn’t even a hangman available nor is the equipment in working order.

    Here is a more insidious example of how elites like Vij manufacture entire mountains out of thin air. The “rarest of the rare” is a doctrine propounded by the Supreme Court that didn’t want to sentence anybody to death but wanted to maintain their popularity. This doctrine is not based on any law or anything in the constitution. Nor does it add an iota of clarity as to who should face the death sentence. But now the same elites who propounded this thesis to start with build a mountain of arguments on top of a doctrine which is fallacious to start with.

    Finally, here is the most serious problem with this entire line of elitist thinking. Those who think that capital punishment is bad would be expected to work to improve the delivery of justice. In this article, do you see the writer complain about how the Supreme Court wouldn’t even give a hearing to this case for years, while they had the time to hear Chidambram more than a dozen times within the space of a few days? Do you see any compassion for the parents of Nirbhaya in this article? Our elites destroyed the legal system over the last 70 years. They removed any place for the victim or their families in the process. Delays that stretch into the decades are normal. Yet, have you heard any of our elites complain when it took more than 10 years for a decision in the Salman Khan case, which was then overturned in 30 minutes the same day? Do you ever see a write up by Vij about the miscarriage of justice in the Uphaar cinema case that occurred in the hallowed halls of the Supreme Court right under our noses? Remember, Babri Masjid was just a land case that sat in the courts for 50 years. Now imagine the trauma that would have been avoided if the case had been resolved in any reasonable time.

    People like Vij are tuned into the western mode of thinking (and there is nothing wrong with that). They echo many of the same ideas about abolishing the death penalty. But have they looked at how much more efficient the delivery of justice is in those countries? Or, how much more the judiciary is faithful to enforcing the law in the west? Vij talks about a large number of cases that are overturned in appeals. How many witnesses remain after decades? How many prosecutors and police are still on the same job after decades of delays? It boggles the mind to read an article such as this, which betrays not an iota of caring about the destruction of our legal system and, yet wants to talk about abolishing the death penalty.

  21. so your point is if we stop death penalty there would be less crime? so why don’t we stop the courts itself then there will be no crime? as you mentioned that certain high profile cases gets or meet the hangman, so here its a flaw that needs to be fixed. Ever rapist should be hanged that’s should be our aim. If there are accidents on the road you shouldn’t ask to close it down.

  22. Thank you for saying what needed to be said. We need to keep saying this – not just when there is a case on hand but when there is not. It is less emotive when the argument is in the abstract. May be people will listen then.

  23. not all rapes have intestines pulled out from the woman/victim……..the brutality in this rape was rare enough indeed, and death penalty is not at all unfair here……..death penalty is the least we can do in the name of justice

  24. If you think this case was just rape and murder, then thats a very incorrect understanding. This was disfigurement of a human, extremely barbarous and beyond comprehension. I haven’t heard of many cases where someone was murdered by pulling out their intestines while they were still alive – so yes, I’d think of it is rarest of rare. Ofcourse this is subjective – but for such a crime, death penalty is appropriate and just. It did shake my conscience and that of almost everyone else I know. 7 years later, we can hardly relate to the pain of the innocent girl who died such a brutal death, but are most focused on the emotions of the convicts. Thats why the saying justice delayed is justice denied.
    Politics come into picture into almost all things in India, as unfortunate as that is, that can’t be a reason to not hang a death row convict, just as politics can’t be a reason to award death penalty to someone who doesn’t deserve it. It’s sad and unfortunate that parties are playing polities around this, but that doesn’t take away from the crime and the punishment.
    I am not political, the millions of people who’re demanding justice for Nirbhaya are not political – this was what I’d felt in 2012, and what I feel now.
    It is extremely unfortunate that it’s taking this long in a case which is fairly black and white (in terms of establishing the crime and who committed it), and with so much media attention. My heart goes to other similar cases that we may never get to hear about.
    However, that still can’t be the reason to reduce the sentence in this case. Each case needs to be looked at on its own merit.
    As for the argument of other countries having abolished the death penalty – a single point comparison doesn’t hold. Tons of other factors come into play and each one should be analysed in depth, including but not limited to – speed of delivery of justice, population, jail reforms, stage of society, propensity of crimes being committed etc. A number of advanced nations still retain the death penalty including USA, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand etc.

  25. Please keep your views to yourself. Other rapists from some other cases are not hanged , it doesn’t mean that Nirbhaya rapists are not to be hanged. Is this even a qualification?

  26. Justice is about commiserate punishment and accountability. The punishment increases with the heinousness of crime committed. It is a form of “civilized” retribution. To say that Nirbhaya incident is not rarest of rare is unsympathetic and callous of the author. However you want to intellectualize it, the perpetrators deserved to die. This is born out of empathy and not blood lust. The most “uncivilized” thing would be to abolish death penalty and send a signal to all potential child rapists, serial killers and mass murderers that no matter what you do, you can scam the system and some misguided “activists” would always be fighting for your “rights” even inside prison until you are pardoned eventually for one reason or the other.

  27. Mr. Shivam Vij i would like to inform you I’m not convinced by your article, People who are indulged in gruesome wrongdoings must be punished harshly, The way i see it, Punishment should be more harsher than HANGING Thats All.

  28. If societies get to decide for what is the loss to an individual family, then one shouldn’t advocate for the right of freedom of speech for an individual if the society at large doesn’t agree with it vis-a-vis hurting religious sentiments. On this issue Shivam Vij would jump the gun in other direction. It’s one thing to preach higher standards, but pretend otherwise…

  29. These are my feelings exactly , very well written VIj , I would like to add to a bit here .The convicts in the Nirbhaya case are impoverished subalterns of society , i personally intuit that till the crime they committed , they must have been victimized in various ways , that of course is not a rationalization for the crime they committed . Our society is not humane in many ways , capital punishment is one more inhumanity in the name of justice .As for the clamor for hanging of these men , I suspect that , human beings take undue pleasure in other peoples misfortunes , but one must remember but for nature’s grace , the same fate could have befallen I .

  30. The punishment of death sentence in rape cases is excessive .it is/may be o.k. in heinous and pre-planned murder cases. Rapes are more common than murders , so it may lead to a situation where news papers headlines are talking of this or that Jallad {Hangman } frequently . If the society approves and awards death penalty in rape cases , it is likely to endanger the life of rape victim to destroy the evidence. This is what happened recently with unfortunate rape victim in Hyderabad. Not every where cameras are installed to provide actionable leads in crime detection. I am not saying that rape is not heinous crime. but imposition of heavy financial penalty, longer imprisonment will also prove potent deterrent. And most important is speed with which investigation is completed and initial trial and subsequent appeals by decided.

    • If you think, this was just a gangrape, then you don’t know the case. Please read about it. They pulled out someone’s intestines while the person was still alive. That is murdering someone in the most brutal way.

  31. Punishment is something that undergoes after which one realises his error. Therefore Capital Punishment is not really a punishment. It is a process of eliminating people who are irredeemable and unsafe to return to society and whose further existence is a confirmed danger to society.
    It is therefore not revenge nor does it have anything to do with the views of the victims or their relatives.

  32. >> “A quarter of the convicts were acquitted (such as former Gujarat minister Maya Kodnani). ”
    By including Maya Kodnani in the article the author reveals his bias. What was the compulsion to name Maya Kodnani? Because she is related to the Gujarat riots when Modi was CM ?

  33. This is a bogus reason not to carry out death penalty. Punishment certainty and extent of punishment are not mutually exclusive. Why everything needs to be politicized. Whether politics or not, death penalty is certainly a deterrent to heinous crime.

  34. Mr Shekhar Gupta, what is wrong with you? Why are you publishing rubbish like this? This is a tweet blown into a thousand words. It is a cry. There is no new insight, no fresh thinking, no new angle, no new legal line. It is the very same old argument against capital punishment. Whether this line of thinking is correct or not, is not the point. The author has, after all, hedged himself by saying that the views are personal. But isn’t it the same old thing being regurgitated?
    The core of the problem is, journalism is slipping into activism. You, Mr Shekhar Gupta, are an outstanding journalist, with long years of experience in the profession and have seen all the major events of the recent Indian history from the ringside. YOU, more than anyone else, should guard against activists taking over journalism.
    Please.
    I’m also a member of the profession. I feel sad that you are letting it happen.

  35. Good suggestion by Shivam. However, to balance the act, all Indian librandus be hanged in place of rapists so that Indian society become peaceful..

  36. And moreover why are bringing politics into it?
    Your logic that if one criminal is not punished then no criminal should be punished stinks like a rotten apple.
    Let not your hatred for BJP color all your articles

  37. Mr.shivam vij
    We must also give rs.10 lakhs each to start a new life
    We must also give them compensation for the time spent in jail
    And also why not an award for their couragey act
    It is a shame
    As long as people like you keep supporting the rapists the rapes in the country is only going to increase
    It is equally sad that we are not even humane enough to empathize with the victim’s family

  38. This guy is a liability on the print. He wants terrorists and killers to roam free. The cases which he is comparing with other ones does not make any sense as death penalty is awarded after through procedure. May be those didn’t deserve. But the convicts who are given death penalty, the process must be carried out.

  39. When ur own gets raped, only then u realise what death penalty really is ! It gives a sense of relief to the victims family.

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