The four men convicted of the New Delhi gang rape that took the life of a 23-year-old woman last December will learn their fate on Friday.
The court considered Wednesday whether they should get capital punishment or life in prison.
In sentencing arguments that stretched to three hours, public prosecutor Dayan Krishnan called on the court to impose the death penalty for what he called a “diabolical” crime.
He said the death penalty was justified on the grounds of “extreme brutality,” citing how the men had inserted iron rods inside the young woman and pulled out her organs with their hands. “There can be nothing more diabolic than a helpless girl put through torture,” Krishnan said, adding that “the common man may well lose faith in the judiciary” if the harshest punishment is not given.
The victim’s mother, dressed in dark green, sat beside her husband as they watched the proceedings in the tiny courtroom. The men convicted of killing her daughter stood just behind her, flanked by police.
Defense attorney A.P. Singh said that “awarding the death penalty will not end crime in the streets.” He said it would be a primitive and cold-blooded response to a complex issue. Pleading for leniency, he invoked Gandhi’s famous quote that “only God can give life and only he has the right to take it away.”
“The world is watching India,” Singh said.
Vivek Sharma, attorney for 19-year-old Pawan Gupta, a fruit vendor and youngest of the convicted men, said his client’s “tender age” should be considered a mitigating circumstance as it holds the promise of “the chance of the defendant being reformed.”
Gupta strained to see Sharma address the court, seeming anxious to know whether he would be spared.
Dressed in T-shirts and blue jeans with their faces no longer covered, the other three defendants — Mukesh Singh, Vinay Sharma and Akshay Thakur — stood expressionless during the nearly three-hour long arguments to determine whether they would spend the rest of their lives in prison or be hanged. It is not clear how much of the proceedings they understood. English is the main language of India’s courts, and only one of the men speaks some English. There was no interpreter.
Sharma, the attorney, closed his remarks by saying it is “debatable whether the death penalty is a deterrent,” and noted that human rights concerns have made many countries pull back from the use of capital punishment.
Judge Yogesh Khanna listened intently to the arguments that would determine the fate of the men who he said Tuesday had committed “cold-blooded murder.”
Later, the victim’s mother was asked about the defense counsel’s reference to Gandhi’s words against the death penalty. She replied: “Gandhi may have said that. But he also never asked people to behave like animals in the way these men did, killing my daughter.”
The case has pricked the conscience of the nation over the treatment of its women, and public anger has been stirred.
Outside the courthouse, a woman physically accosted defense attorney V.K. Anand. She threw her shoe at the man who represents Mukesh Singh, 26, the driver of the bus on which the victim was raped that fateful night.
“I am fighting for all women,” she said. “All four [of the convicted men] should be hung.” Speaking of the defense lawyers, she shouted, “If their mother or daughter was raped, would they be defending the accused? … Can’t [they] see what has happened?”
In this atmosphere of public anger and recrimination, Judge Khanna must decide whether he will impose the death penalty, which is rarely carried out in India, or consign the four men to prison for the rest of their lives.