By Nazo Demirdjian
The 2012 Delhi Gang-Rape in India garnered unprecedented national and international coverage. No rape in India had amassed such attention before this incident. In 2013, the Delhi High Court justified capital punishment against the adult rapists, since 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 and 2018. This piece will explain the 2012 Delhi Gang-Rape very briefly before clarifying the decisions of India’s Courts. Furthermore, this piece will discuss the changes to India’s Penal Code.
2012 Delhi Gang-Rape
On December 16 2012, the victim, Jyoti Singh (referred to as Nirbhaya before her identity was revealed), and her male companion, Awindra Pratap Pandey, 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 as the two. Soon after, Pandey 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 Singh and their relationship. Pandey was beaten before being knocked unconscious by the perpetrators on the bus. Singh was then taken to the back of the bus, where she was repeatedly raped. The two victims were thrown out of the bus and discovered around 11 PM by a passerby. Pandey did not have any fatal injuries, but Singh did. On December 28, she was transferred to Singapore for further care after undergoing multiple surgeries. The next day, Singh 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 Singh’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 sentenced the rapists to death by hanging. In March of 2014, the Delhi Court upheld the verdict and the sentencing. This was as a result of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act of 2013, which allowed capital punishments for rapists whose victim had died, been in a persistent vegetative state, or if the perpetrator had been 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. In July 2018, the Indian Supreme Court once again rejected the appeal of three of the rapists. As of this publication, approximately six years since the 2012 Delhi Gang-Rape, the four adult rapists are still alive. 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 hear cases and implement sentences. The attention that was garnered by the 2012 Delhi Gang-Rape caused “fast-track” courts to handle future rape cases as quickly as possible. However, these courts have raised many issues. Primarily, they only apply to rape cases instead of all serious cases – such as murder. Secondly, “fast-track” courts lead to quick decisions with the possibility of finding an innocent bystander 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 penile 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 and transgender individuals, 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 everyone and criminalizing marital rape, India’s Penal Code will begin to take more needed steps. The Delhi Gang-Rape garnered unprecedented attention, now India must turn that attention into concrete progress.