By Nazo Demirdjian
The 2012 Delhi Gang-Rape in India garnered unprecedented national and international coverage. Prior to this event, no rape in India amassed such attention. In 2013, the Delhi High Court justified capital punishment against the adult rapists, because the case fell under the “rarest of rare category”. The Indian Supreme Court upheld that decision in 2014 and rejected the rapists’ appeal in 2017. This piece will explain the 2012 Delhi Gang-Rape very briefly before clarifying the decisions of India’s Courts on this issue. Furthermore, this piece will discuss the implementation and ramifications of “fast-track” courts in India.
2012 Delhi Gang-Rape
On December 16 2012, the victim, Jyoti, and her male companion, Awindra, were returning home after watching a movie in South Delhi, India. They boarded an off-duty bus, which had six male passengers, including the driver, who said they were heading in the same direction. Soon after, Awindra realized the bus had gone off course and was headed in another direction. He objected only to be verbally abused about the nature of his outing with Jyoti and their relationship. Awindra was beaten before being knocked unconscious by the perpetrators on the bus. Jyoti was then taken to the back of the bus, where she was raped. The two victims were thrown out of the bus and discovered around 11 PM by a passerby. Awindra did not have any fatal injuries, but Jyoti did. On December 28, she was transferred to Singapore for further care after undergoing multiple surgeries. The next day, Jyoti died.
Following the rape, the Delhi Police began arresting the perpetrators, including a 17-year-old juvenile. In September of 2013, over nine months after Jyoti’s death, the Delhi Court found the four adults guilty of rape and murder. (One of the rapists had hung himself in jail in March and the Juvenile was sentenced to three years – the maximum punishment for a juvenile by Indian Penal Code). Three days later, the Delhi Court concluded that the rapists would be sentenced to death by hanging. In March of 2014, the Delhi Courts upheld the verdict and the sentencing. This was as a result of Indian Penal Code reforms (376A) that allowed capital punishments for rapists whose victim had died, been in a persistent vegetative state, or if the perpetrator was a repeat offender. The same month, the Indian Supreme Court stayed the execution of two of the rapists to appeal their case. In May 2017, the Supreme Court rejected the appeal and upheld the Delhi Court’s decision. As of this publication, approximately five years since the 2012 Delhi Gang-Rape, the four adult rapists are still alive in jail – despite being sentences to death. While juvenile laws were amended in 2015, they cannot and were not implemented retrospectively. The juvenile has since been released from jail after serving the full three years.
Implementation and Reforms
While the Indian Court’s verdict was a positive step forward, the rapists are still alive. Indian Courts often take multiple years to try cases and implement sentences. The attention that was garnered by this rape caused a “fast-track” court to try the perpetrators as quickly as possible. However, these courts have raised many issues. Primarily, they only apply to rape cases instead of all cases, such as murder. Secondly, “fast-track” courts lead to quick decisions with the possibility of finding innocent men guilty.
In 2013, Indian Penal Code reforms amended the age of a juvenile, the age of a minor, and defined rape more explicitly. Furthermore, any type of penal penetration is considered rape under the reforms. Prior, only vaginal penetration was considered rape. However, marital rape remains legal in India if the wife is above the age of 15. Additionally, the punishment for rape is synonymous with any same-sex activity – consensual or not. Lastly, under section 375 of the Indian Penal Code, rape is defined as sexual intercourse solely with a woman. This ignores men who are raped by women or other men – marginalizing an entire community of rape victims.
The 2012 Delhi Gang-Rape produced ripples through India’s justice system and penal code. The Indian government has begun to take steps in making the necessary changes, yet there is still a long way to go. Continuing to define rape explicitly in the Penal Code is the biggest hurdle India needs to overcome. By including men, protecting same-sex couples, and criminalizing marital rape, India’s Penal Code will take the needed steps to end the epidemic of rape. The Delhi Gang-Rape garnered unprecedented attention, now India must turn that attention into concrete progress.