Justice to the departed soul of Nirbhaya may not be done on January 22 if the four beastly rapists opt to file curative petitions in the Supreme Court before they are hanged to death. After that, they will definitely opt to file mercy pleas before President Ram Nath Kovind who will most certainly reject their pleas. But whether he will commute any of these rapists’ death sentence to life imprisonment or not, is debatable. It is unlikely – given the international furore this will cause.
That is why the right to life and liberty of those accused of raping and eviscerating Nirbhaya to death will extend to ensure these four convicts — if at all they are hanged on January 22 —will not suffer major injuries on their necks. That is a rule applied for all executions so that the rope used to hang them is soft enough to ensure their necks are not brutally broken. Ironically, this so-called “special rope” is manufactured in Buxar by murder convicts serving life in jail. It comprises 154 soft yarns woven into 154 braids, six of which are woven to make the rope by using a lot of water to ensure it is soft enough not to cause unnecessary pain to those being hanged to death.
The Buxar jail holds the monopoly in making rope for execution of death row convicts. It supplied the noose for Nathuram Godse, who was hanged in November 1949, for assassinating Mahatma Gandhi in January 1948. Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru, 1993 bomb blast convict Yakub Memon and 26/11 Mumbai terror attack convict Ajmal Kasab, all were hanged by ropes made in Buxar jail in Bihar.
And so the state has a duty to be humane to Nirbhaya’s rapists who now enjoy food, clothing and shelter at tax-payers’ expense. After they are hanged on January 22, which is doubtful, their post-mortem reports will reveal how humane the state was in hanging them to ensure their necks did not reveal gruesome injuries during their last seconds on earth. That is guaranteed by Article 21, which ensures the right to life means the right to death by hanging with minimal pain.
And Pawan Jallad, a fourth generation hangman, who is eagerly waiting to discharge his duty to the state, will be gentle enough while hanging the four to death. But the state is dilly-dallying in allowing Jallad to do his job. After all, it was the Tihar jail authorities who wrongly informed the four death row convicts that they had the option of filing a mercy plea to the President. They omitted to mention the curative petition which the four will now definitely file. To further delay their executions.
It was after the Nirbhaya gang rape and the resultant global condemnation that India innovated a fast track court system for rape trials. But going by the fact that the four rapists of Nirbhaya have not yet been hung to death, these so-called fast track courts have become an anomaly. This is because the right to life and liberty of rapists like Mukesh Singh, Akshay Thakur, Pawan Gupta and Vinay Sharma have been enforced by the state through a tortuous judicial process, while the same right of the hapless victim has been forgotten.
And so, it is an inescapable fact that when horrific crimes are committed against women, the latter have no rights at all whereas those who rape and molest them succeed in styming the fast track courts through the unending judicial hierarchies which ensure the rapists have got a fair trial while the rape victims are treated unfairly. This is why the former Editor of Tehelka, Tarun Tejpal, has engaged top-notch lawyers to wear down his victim while a woman editor in Mumbai rushed to his rescue to say Tejpal was sufficiently punished. And so his presence at a literature fest was justified.
India has rightly refused to join the developed nations in abolishing the death penalty because rapists cannot continue to exercise their right to life within the four walls of a prison at tax-payers’ expense while there is a slowdown in economic growth. MLAs like Kuldeep Singh Sengar who is the main accused in the Unnao child rape case can manipulate the CBI, which once had the reputation of being India’s premier investigative agency but is now known to be a “caged parrot” of the ruling party. In Unnao itself, there were 86 rape cases and 185 cases of sexual harassment during the last 11 months of 2019 — with local residents branding the rape victims as being of “loose character”.
Sengar killed the rape-victim's father in police custody and also framed the man in a false case under the Arms Act. But the CBI declared Sengar had not conspired to murder the rape-victim’s aunts by a conspired truck accident. And so Sengar, like the four men who raped Nirbhaya will continue to stymie justice. Sengar’s is a classic case of exploiting religion to justify rape and torture by inciting communal passions.
And so, this right to life and liberty is never enjoyed by hapless women like Nirbhaya and those of her ilk who fall prey to the lust of men like Mukesh Singh, Akshay Thakur, Pawan Gupta and Vinay Sharma whose father proudly displayed a certificate and medal given by the Tihar jail authorities on Independence day in 2017 for “good performance in jail.” After he raped Nirbhaya, remorse resulted in a rapid metamorphosis of Sharma.
Vinay Sharma’s mother, Champa told the national media she was “very happy” because her rapist-son’s “marriage had been fixed” (before he raped Nirbhaya). “The case has been heard from only one side. Even God forgives just one mistake,” she lamented as the Delhi neighbourhood wore a deserted look presumably in support of rapist-Vinay Sharma. But nobody spared a thought to Nirbhaya who succumbed to her horrific injuries in a Singapore hospital 13 days after her brutal rape-and-murder.
The writer holds a Ph.D in Media law and is a journalist-cum-lawyer of the Bombay High Court.