NEW DELHI, (Reuters) – Four men were found guilty today of the fatal gang-rape of a young woman on a bus in New Delhi, a crime that shook India to its core and forced Indians to confront the issue of rampant sexual violence in a society undergoing wrenching change.
Arguments on sentencing are due to begin on Wednesday, a court official said. All four could be hanged for the murder conviction.
With tears in her eyes and wearing a pink sari, the mother of the 23-year-old victim sat just a few feet from the four men who stood against a wall in the court as Judge Yogesh Khanna read the verdict.
“I convict all of the accused. They have been found guilty of gang rape, unnatural offences, destruction of evidence … and for committing the murder of the helpless victim,” Khanna said.
The case resonated with thousands of urban Indians who took to the streets in fury after the attack. Her path through education onto the first rungs of middle-class life seemed to epitomize the aspirations of millions of young women in the world’s second most populous nation.
The brutality of the attack shocked even in India, where newspapers daily publish a grim litany of sex crimes against women.
India is the worst place among G20 countries to be a woman, according to a global poll last year by TrustLaw, a legal news service run by Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Bus cleaner Akshay Kumar Singh, gym instructor Vinay Sharma, fruit-seller Pawan Gupta, and unemployed Mukesh Singh were found guilty of luring the woman and a male friend onto the bus on the night of Dec. 16 as the pair returned home from watching a movie at a mall across the street from the court where they were found guilty.
As the bus drove through the streets of the capital, the men repeatedly raped and tortured the victim with a metal bar before dumping her and her friend, naked and semi-conscious, on the road. She died in a Singapore hospital two weeks later of internal injuries.
“NOT LIKE NORMAL”
Police constable Naresh Chand, who led the four men away from the court after the verdict, said they were subdued. “It was not like normal today. They are usually whispering among themselves, even smiling. Today they were quiet.”
The verdict capped a seven-month trial, often held behind closed doors, that was punctuated dramatically by a fifth defendant hanging himself in his jail cell.
Outside the court, the case cemented India’s reputation as unsafe for women, even after parliament passed new laws against sexual crimes.
After the verdict, Mukesh Singh’s mother, a frail woman in a peach and pink sari, fell to the floor crying outside the court and clutched the feet of his lawyer, V.K. Anand.
Pawan’s lawyer said his client was tearful as the verdict was read out.
Indian law prohibits naming the woman victim, a trainee physiotherapist from a lower-middle class family who had worked in a call centre, but Indian media have dubbed her Nirbhaya, a Hindi word meaning fearless.
In the narrow-laned slum where the men met to drink alcohol and eat chicken before leaving in the bus to find the victim on the night of the attack, neighbours and relatives were glued to television sets awaiting the ruling.
“Now that they are proven guilty, they must be hanged. There can not be any other option,” said student Rajesh Singh, a resident of the Ravidass Camp slum.