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India hangs four men for horrific rape-murder

Catholic leaders give qualified backing to the execution but call for a change to society's attitude to women

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India hangs four men for horrific rape-murder

People hold Indian national flags as they stand outside the gates of Tihar Jail in New Delhi on March 20 to celebrate the execution of four men convicted of the gang rape and murder of a student in 2012. (Photo: Money Sharma/AFP)

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Church leaders in India have cautiously welcomed the execution of four men convicted of the 2012 gang rape and murder of a young woman in the national capital.

The four involved in the shocking crime on a moving bus in New Delhi were hanged at 5.30am on March 20, more than seven years after they committed the murder.

Bus cleaners Mukesh Singh and Akshay Thakur, fruit seller Pawan Gupta and gym instructor Vinay Sharma were hanged simultaneously inside Tihar Jail in Delhi, director-general of police Sandeep Goel said.

“We respect and uphold the verdict of the judiciary in our country, but at the same time as Christians we believe in pro-life and reconciliation. I still feel there should have been enough efforts from our society, government and concerned persons for repentance,” Sister Anastasia Gill, a member of Delhi Minorities Commission, told UCA News.

Sister Gill, a Supreme Court lawyer, said the execution “will give a clear message to society that there is a law, though it took a long time, but at last justice was done and it will give more confidence to people, especially women.”

She added: “Government and civil society must think of a solution to change the mindset of people and society to respect women. Until that happens, rape and atrocities against women will continue.”

On Dec. 16, 2012, a 23-year-old physiotherapy student and her male friend had watched a movie and were looking for a ride home when they were lured into a private bus, empty but for six men including the driver and the cleaners.

The woman was raped for hours and tortured with an iron rod before being thrown onto the road with severe internal injuries. She died on Dec. 29, leaving the nation shocked and angry.

Besides the four men hanged today, two more men were arrested by police days after the crime. Ram Singh was found hanging in his cell and the sixth, who was just short of 18 years old when the murder was committed, was released after three years in a reform home.

The crime sparked widespread protests across the country and massive global outrage. It also led to the toughening of laws against sex offenders in India.

The accused men were convicted within a year and their death sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2017. But defense lawyers used legal moves to delay the convicts’ execution.

The parents of the woman, especially her mother Asha Devi, continued with the legal battle to see the culprits hanged.

“It was delayed but we got justice. Today my daughter got justice and girls of the country got justice,” Devi told reporters after the execution.

“This will be a message for the entire country. Girls will now feel safer. After the execution, families will start teaching their sons and use the hangings as an example.”

Father Savarimuthu Sankar, spokesman of Delhi Archdiocese, told UCA News that “we welcome the final judgment of this heinous crime. The country wanted justice for the victim, but of course the Catholic Church has been and will always be pro-life — and in front of God we all are equal.”

Father Sankar said the big question is whether hanging four people will change society.

“You take any newspaper or television report and you can read or hear news of rape and murder. Sometimes even a toddler is raped,” he said.

“Only time will tell the impact of this judgment, but certainly this will give a message in society that there is a law, it is for all and in front of the law we all are equal irrespective of who we are.”

Rape is the fourth most common crime against women in India. Recently released figures from the National Crime Records Bureau show police registered 33,977 cases of rape in 2018, an average of 93 every day.

Many rapes go unreported in various countries including India. In India, consensual sex given on the false promise of marriage constitutes rape. The willingness to report rape has increased in recent years after several cases received widespread media attention and triggered public protests. This led the government to reform its penal code for rape and sexual assault.

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