Four men convicted of raping, torturing, and killing a young woman on a bus in India will be hanged, the country’s highest court ruled Friday.
The crime, which took place in December 2012, sent shockwaves around the world and shined a spotlight on the Indian government’s seeming failure to adequately prosecute sexual assaults.
Supreme Court Justice R Banumathi said that the men had committed a “barbaric crime” that had “shaken society’s conscience,” according to the BBC. Applause reportedly broke out in the courtroom when the judgment was handed down.
Jyoti Singh, a 23-year-old physiotherapy student, had just seen “The Life of Pi” movie in Delhi with a male friend when the two boarded a bus bound for the suburbs. Six men including the bus driver then accosted the pair: the men beat, gagged, and knocked the male friend unconscious, and gang-raped Singh while the bus drove around for nearly an hour.
The two victims were found on the side of the road later that night. She had suffered massive internal organ damage as a result of having been violated with a metal rod, and died from her injuries about two weeks later at a hospital in Singapore. Her friend, Awindra Pratap Pandey, survived.
“We are very happy that [the] Supreme Court has heard our voice, and that they understood Nirbhaya’s pain in this matter, and that along with Nirbhaya, the whole country has found justice,” Badrinath Singh, the victim’s father, told reporters outside the courtroom, using a nickname for his daughter. Indian law forbids the press from reporting the names and identities of rape victims, so Jyoti Singh became widely known as Nirbhaya, which means fearless one in Hindi. (Media outlets in other countries did report the victim’s name.)
One of the six males arrested was 17 years old and therefore tried in juvenile court; he was released in 2015. Another died in police custody, possibly by suicide, months after the incident. The remaining four men were convicted and sentenced to death in September 2013. They appealed their sentences, and the case went to the Supreme Court.
Though criminals in India are frequently given the death penalty, it is rarely carried out; there have been only six executions there since 1995.
After Singh’s vicious rape and murder came to light, thousands of protesters gathered in Delhi and in cities across the country to condemn both the societal attitudes they said led to violence against women, and the government’s failure to do much about it.
In the face of these protests, the Indian government passed laws increasing penalties for sexual violence and established a special committee dedicated to finding ways to reduce it.
The number of reported rapes in India has soared since the incident. India’s National Crime Records Bureau says that nearly 35,000 rapes were reported last year, with victims ranging in age from 6 to over 60. Analysts say the increase was likely due not to an uptick in sexual assault but rather to a greater awareness about what constitutes rape and the importance of reporting those crimes.
Nevertheless, Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association, said last August that rape continues to be “highly underreported.”