Updated: Mar 23
An ode to that mother, who waited seven years for justice. An ode to another braveheart, Asha Devi.
AmicusX presents this article to mark the victory of Justice and restoration of faith in the Judicial System and dedicates this article to all the daughters and mothers of India.
Let's take a look at the trajectory since 2012 till today
2012, was a year that will remain etched in memory for years to come. It was the year that India awoke to a new India, the India of Nirbhaya. Till the morning of 16th December 2012, no one knew who Nirbhaya was, but by the next day, she was India’s Daughter. 16th December 2012, was like any other winter evening in New Delhi, but within a couple of hours, something would happen, which would change the entire map of the Indian legal system. Something that would make any person shiver in fear. A young 23-year-old medical student and her friend boarded a bus to return home. However, they never completed their journey. She was gang-raped in the moving bus, and her friend was brutally assaulted. They were thrown from the moving bus on the roadside to die in the Delhi winter. However, by the stroke of luck, they were moved to the hospital, where her treatment was started. Amidst nationwide protests and a demand for the speedy arrest of the criminals, she was moved to Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore, where she breathed her last on 29th December 2012.
The prime accused in the case were Ram Singh, Mukesh Singh, Vinay Sharma, Pawan Gupta, Akshay Thakur and the juvenile defendant, whose name was withheld due to his age. The police worked with exceptional speed and skill, as within 24 hours the driver of the bus, where the crime was committed, Ram Singh was arrested. The male victim, Awindra Pratap, testified before the sub-divisional Magistrate in Safdarjung Hospital. Due to a rise in public and political pressure, fast track Courts were held to try the case. The first landmark step which came in the trial was the trial of the ‘juvenile’. He was decided to be treated as a juvenile by the Juvenile Justice Board, on 28th January 2013, as the age in his birth certificate states, “seventeen years and six months.” It is to be noted that he was said to be one of the most brutal amongst all the other convicts. The judgment of this matter was deferred from July 2013 to August. Finally, on 31st August he was convicted by the Juvenile Justice Board, for three years in a reform center, which included the time spent in remand during the course of the trial. On 20th December 2015, he was released much to the disappointment of the citizens of the country. Now, in 2020, he lives a new life, with a changed name and a new identity. It is also to be noted that within this time frame, Ram Singh the driver of the bus had suicided in his prison cell on the 11th of March 2013.
Now, comes the trial which had the nation glued to its television screens for all these years. 3rd January 2013, the charges were filed against the five men, for rape, kidnapping, and murder. These charges were denied by the accused. On 13th March 2013, a charge for robbery was filed by the police as after committing rape, they went on to rob a carpenter. After the examination of all the evidences and testimonies, the first conviction came on 10th September 2013, where the accused were pronounced guilty by the fast track court in Delhi. They were given the death penalty on the 13th of September. On the step of the trial, before the Delhi High Court, the order of the fast track court was upheld and the death penalty was confirmed in March 2014.
In March 2014, all four accused appealed to the Supreme Court against their conviction. In July 2014, their execution was stayed by the Apex Court. In August 2015, they were sentenced to ten years imprisonment for the robbery of Ram Adhar. However, in 2017, the Supreme Court declared this to be a“rarest of rare” crime and one which had shaken the very core of the society. They were given the death penalty, Now, started the game of cat and mouse wherein one review petition after another was filed and subsequently rejected. In July 2018, the review petitions of three of the convicts were rejected. In November 2019, a further petition for mercy filed by Akshay Thakur was rejected by the Supreme Court. Subsequently, the curative petitions filed by the convicts were also rejected by the Apex Court. The convicts went to file mercy petitions before President Ram Nath Kovind, all of which were declined. In January 2020, the second death warrant was issued by the Delhi Court for the execution to take place on the 1st February after a mandatory 14-day gap. However, at the very last moment, it was stayed by the Patiala House Court. On 17th February 2020, a third death warrant was issued for the 3rd of March, which too was stayed. However, now time was running out for the convicts. The fourth and last death warrant was issued for the 20th of March 2020.
The late-night hearing on 19 March 2020 before the Delhi High Court
Nearing the doomsday, on the 19th of March, past 10 pm the convicts filed another petition before the Delhi High Court to try their chance to extend their lives for few more days. The Bench met at the residence of Justice Manmohan before the division bench of Justice Narula and Justice Manmohan to hear them for the last time and let them try their last chance to stay the execution. The advocate representing the convicts went on to bring up reasons such as Corona Virus for not being able to bring the relevant documents and quoting from ‘Black Warrant’. However, all this was dismissed by the Bench and as they said, “The Time is close for your client to meet God. Why waste our time? We have no time". The execution was not stayed by the Bench. The petition was dismissed due to lack of legal points and the Bench opined "Your contentions have been rejected by the Supreme Court. Can we set aside the Supreme Court's judgement? There will be chaos"
The final try at the wee hours, just 2 hours before the Execution at the doors of Supreme Court
The lawyer, desperate for staying of the execution went on to the residence of the Supreme Court Registrar past midnight, however, this time the Judiciary was resolute. This time the plea was moved on the ground that the second mercy petition filed by convict Akshay Singh was pending before the President. The Bench comprising of Justices R. Bhanumathi, Ashok Bhushan and A.S. Bopanna dismissed the plea, after the special sitting which commenced at 2:45 AM. The Bench while dismissing the plea held that the scope of judicial review over the exercise of mercy powers by the President was very limited as already held by this court in Yakub Menon's Case [(2013) 13 SCC 1]. The bench held that there was no legal foundation in the petition and the same was devoid of merits and execution order was upheld by the Court.
Finally at 5:30 am on 20 March 2020, the four remaining convicts, Mukesh Singh, Vinay Sharma, Pawan Gupta, Akshay Thakur, were hanged till death at Tihar Jail by Pawan Jallad. Thus, bringing this long battle to an end.
The case that changed the face of the Criminal Justice System
This case not only brought out the deficits in criminal law with regard to change but forced the government to amend its laws. The incident had shocked the inner conscience of the society and the Justice Verma Committee was set up to look into the deficits in the legal system which could not protect the daughter of the country. The Committee had suggested amendments to the criminal justice system which would change the face of criminal and finally, in 2013 the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act of 2013 [often known as the Nirbhaya Act] came into force, which amended the laws on sexual offenses and inserted many new provisions to prevent sexual crimes and provide justice to the victims. Further, Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 was brought about which allows juveniles in conflict with the law, i.e between the ages of sixteen and eighteen to be tried as adults. This was a much-required change, for it was because of this loophole that the juvenile perpetrator walked away with a mere three years of punishment in the Nirbhaya case.
The Ongoing Battle for Seven Long Years
The major question one asks is why the Judiciary has taken Seven Long years to bring justice to Nirbhaya when the accused were convicted long ago. Yet again, today the Judiciary has proven that it is independent, impartial, belief in the principles of Natural Justice and is there to provide justice to the victim come what may. The time of the Court may seem to be wasted by many, however, it was the duty of the Court to provide such remedies to provide a fair hearing which is a rule of law principle. To preserve the principles of natural justice and to maintain faith in the impartial justice system of the country, the Judiciary gave the defendants the chance to exhaust all their legal remedies before finally executing the accused. A Delhi Court while deferring the execution of the death sentences, which was scheduled to take place on March 3, observed in the order that "any condemned convict must not meet his Creator with a grievance in his bosom that the courts of this Country have not acted fairly in granting him an opportunity to exhaust his legal remedies." From mercy petitions to redundant and baseless appeals, to the letter to the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi, the lawyers used all their means to save their clients, all were dutifully heard by the Courts. And today, Justice prevailed, but at the cost of seven years of turmoil. India’s Daughter was finally put to rest, but at the cost of countless court visits and humiliation and accusation hurled at the family of the victim.
As the Nirbhaya Case gets finally disposed of today, it marks the end of an era in the criminal justice system. This case is a milestone in the history of the Indian judiciary, which has helped India shape the modern Criminal Justice System. This case had shaken the conscience of the people and after a long time, India saw the unity amongst its people to bring justice not only to Nirbhaya but to all those daughters who have suffered through the pain or passed away silently.
The Case that represents the fight of a mother and all the daughters of India
This case trial was not only about Nirbhaya, but it was also about the unwavering faith and spirit of Asha Devi, the mother of Nirbhaya. She became the face of the justice movement. Her presence at every court hearing and eventual despair when the execution got stayed three consecutive times was visible. Her struggle to get justice for her daughter has finally come to an end. Asha Devi will probably sleep tonight, with a small sigh of hope in her heart that the Judiciary of India still stands strong. It took seven years for justice, but it prevailed. Through Asha Devi, India saw the plight of all those voiceless victims and their families, who will perhaps never come to light. Till 15th December 2012, she was just, Asha Devi, but today, the world knows her the mother of Nirbhaya, the mother of India’s Daughter. Her fight with the system proves the justice stands the test of time, the Indian Judiciary stands the test of time. Justice will prevail in the land of India’s Daughter.
 Nirbhaya Gangrape Case: Supreme Court Rejects Review Petition Of Three Convicts; The New Indian Express; 9th July 2018.
Written by Nayantara Bhattacharyya and edited by Devika Mallik, both of Team AmicusX.