India's top court upholds death sentence against Delhi gang-rapists

India's top court upholds death sentences against four men who fatally gang-raped a woman on board a bus in 2012, a crime that sparked widespread protests and drew international attention to violence against women.

'Barbaric' attack on bus meets 'rarest of rare' standards, judges say

The five men and one youth, their faces covered, accused of the fatal gang rape of a young woman on board a bus in Delhi in 2012, are escorted to court in January 2013. Four of the men were sentenced to death, while the fifth hanged himself in prison. The youth was sent to a reform home. (Reuters)

India's top court on Friday upheld death sentences against four men who fatally gang-raped a woman on board a bus in 2012, a crime that sparked widespread protests and drew international attention to violence against women.

Applause broke out in court among relatives of the victim — whose identity is protected by law — as judges explained the crime met the "rarest of the rare" standard required to justify capital punishment in India.

Today I am happy.— Female victim's mother

"It's a barbaric crime and it has shaken the society's conscience," Justice R. Banumathi said, as a three-judge Supreme Court panel threw out an appeal on behalf of the defendants.

The five men and a juvenile lured the 23-year-old trainee physiotherapist and her male friend on to a minibus in New Delhi on Dec. 16, 2012, before repeatedly raping the woman and beating both with a metal bar and dumping them on a road.

The woman died of internal injuries two weeks later in a Singapore hospital.

"I am very satisfied. Today I am happy," the victim's mother said.

Her father said: "It's not just a victory for my family, it's a victory for each and every woman in our country."

Four of the attackers were sentenced to death in 2013 by the trial court while the fifth hanged himself in prison during the original seven-month case. The verdict was upheld by the high court in 2014.

The four — gym instructor Vinay Sharma, bus cleaner Akshay Kumar Thakur, fruit-seller Pawan Gupta, and unemployed Mukesh Singh — then appealed to the Supreme Court.

The sixth defendant, a minor, was sent to a reform home for three years and has since been released.

The defendants were not in court on Friday.

Demonstrators attend a candlelight vigil to mark the first anniversary of the Delhi gang-rape, in New Delhi in December 2013. The crime led thousands of women across India to break their silence over sexual violence that often goes unreported. (Anindito Mukherjee/Reuters)

Rape epidemic

A.P. Singh, a lawyer representing three of the condemned men, said that justice had not been done. He vowed to file a review petition to the chief justice of the Supreme Court.

The last recourse of the convicts, all of whom are now in their 20s, would be to seek clemency from President Pranab Mukherjee.

The crime sparked big protests and led thousands of women across India to break their silence over sexual violence that often goes unreported.

It also shone a spotlight on what women's groups call a rape epidemic in the country. In 2015, police registered more than 34,000 rape complaints and 84,000 women filed sexual harassment cases, according to the National Crime Records Bureau.

Authorities have stiffened penalties against sex crimes, introduced fast-track trials in rape cases and made stalking a crime.

Despite the toughening of the laws, debate continues over whether they serve as a sufficient deterrent.

On average, 50 crimes against women are registered every day by police in Delhi, including at least four cases of rape, according to a senior official in the federal home ministry.