Death Penalty for Three Rapists Sets Precedent in India

New Delhi India Gang Rape Court Trial Graffiti Protest, Photo by AFP

New Delhi India Gang Rape Court Trial Graffiti Protest, Photo by AFP

MUMBAI, India - On Friday, three men convicted of two different 2013 rape cases were sentenced to death by hanging. The heavy sentence and relatively speedy conviction are thanks to the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2013.

Mohammed Kasim Sheikh, Salim Ansari, and Vijay Jadhav were the first tried under the terms of the adjusted laws and this will be the first time India has initiated the death sentence for a non-fatal crime.

Among other things, the Act targets repeat offenders and gang rapists. There is also an effort for courts to be more victim-friendly. For instance, it is now illegal to bring up the question of a victim's character during trial. Before the law, reports of rape were largely ignored in India and rape victims were mistreated.

Increased awareness of rape occurred after a fatal case in Delhi in December 2012. A 23-year-old female boarded a bus with her male companion. All six men on the bus beat her companion and raped and beat her repeatedly before dumping them both on the side of the road. She was hospitalized and died from her injuries 13 days later. Public outrage lead to a greater effort to deter rapists and lift the taboo of being a rape victim. The Criminal Law Amendment Act was enacted three months after the Delhi victim's death.

Sheikh, Ansari and Jadhav were originally only charged with the August 2013 rape of a 22-year-old photo journalist who was on assignment in an abandoned mill. After the case became public, an 18-year-old victim came forward and said that these same men had raped her in the same mill only a month earlier. It was this confession that upped their sentence from life in prison to death.