People protest in New Delhi in 2017 against the gang rape and murder of a medical student in 2012. (ucanews photo)
Church leaders in India have cautiously welcomed the death warrants issued to four men convicted of the horrific 2012 gang rape and murder of a young woman in capital New Delhi.
The warrants, issued by a Delhi court on Jan. 7, had been expected since the Supreme Court rejected one of the men’s final review pleas last month. India’s president can still intercede but that is not expected to happen.
The four men are scheduled to be hanged at 7am on Jan. 22 after a case that sparked nationwide protests and brought global attention to India’s problem with sexual violence.
“The court has given its verdict but we are free to express our opinion and in my opinion let the law of the land decide what is good for the country and society. We respect the verdict,” said Bishop Joshua Mar Ignathios, vice-president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India.
Bishop Ignathios, bishop of the Eparchy of Mavelikkara of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church in Kerala state, said that “the case falls in the rarest of rare cases and the judgment was according to that — it would be inappropriate to comment on the judgment. But, of course, the Catholic Church has been and will always be pro-life, and in front of God we all are equal.”
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal welcomed the verdict, saying it would act as a deterrent to such heinous crimes.
He said the verdict would be a lesson for all those who mistreat women. "People will be scared that, even though a little late, the law will give them punishment and justice will be served," Kejriwal said.
"The death warrants have been issued and people are satisfied. It took seven years. This system has to change. There should be a system that allows rapists to be hanged within six months.”
Sister Anastasia Gill, a member of Delhi Minorities Commission and a Supreme Court lawyer, told ucanews that she has full faith in the judiciary and respects the verdict.
“But I feel that just giving death sentences will not stop rape cases unless the mindset of society changes because when a woman is raped she dies every day, mentally and spiritually,” she added.
“Government and civil society must change the mindset of people and society to respect women. Until that happens, rape and atrocities against women will continue.
“Some people have no fear of the law and that can be seen when we read and hear the news. There should be some mechanism to make people understand that in front of the law we all are equal. Some people think women are objects and can be used as they like, but that perception has to be changed.”
In December 2012, a 23-year-old medical student and her male friend were heading home from a cinema when six men lured them into a bus.
They beat the man with a metal bar, raped the woman and used the bar to inflict severe internal injuries. The pair were dumped naked on the roadside. The woman died two weeks later, leaving the nation shocked and angry.
The six attackers were arrested by police soon after the crime. Four defendants were sentenced to death in 2013. Another suspect, Ram Singh, was found hanged in his cell in 2013 before his trial began. The sixth assailant was 17 at the time of the murder and sentenced to three years in a reform institution.
The men due to be hanged are Akshay Thakur, 31, Vinay Sharma, 26, Pawan Gupta, 25, and Mukesh Singh, 32.
Asha Devi, mother of the victim, thanked the media and society for supporting her throughout the case and said that “the entire country will get justice.”
India rarely carries out death sentences and only four people have been executed since 2004. The last man to be executed was Yakub Memon, who was convicted of financing the deadly 1993 Mumbai bombings. He was hanged in 2015.