The two crimes were strikingly similar: In both, a young, ambitious woman was gang-raped by a group of impoverished men in one of India’s premier cities.
But their connection didn’t end there.
National outrage at the first case, involving a physiotherapy student who died from her injuries in New Delhi in Dec. 2012, arguably had an impact on how the country reacted to the second, in which a photojournalist in Mumbai was attacked while out on an assignment in an abandoned area of the financial capital.
They are also linked through the law.
The Delhi rape triggered changes to legislation to protect women that were subsequently used to convict the men charged with the attack in Mumbai.
Parts of that toughened up legislation, which made death the maximum penalty for rape in the case of repeat offenders, are also being used, for the first time, against the men guilty of gang-raping the Mumbai photojournalist.
Three of the four men convicted of gang-raping the photojournalist have also been convicted and sentenced to life in prison for gang-raping a telephone receptionist a few weeks earlier at the same location.
This makes them repeat offenders, so eligible for the death penalty, said the public prosecutor when he pressed fresh charges against the men last week in the hope of securing a death sentence for them at a trial court in Mumbai.
In the case of the Delhi victim, the attackers were punished under the previous version of the law, which awarded the death penalty for murder in the rarest of rare cases but set the maximum penalty for rape to a life term of 14 years.
The trial judge in the case in Mumbai allowed the prosecutor to introduce the new charge of repeated offense before sentencing began, but the defense lawyers appealed against the decision in the high court. The defense also challenged the constitutional validity of handing the death penalty to repeat gang-rape offenders.
The Mumbai High Court rejected the defense’s appeal against the fresh charges but refrained from expressing its view on the “tenability of framing additional charge.”
The judges added that their decision not to interfere in the trial court hearing fresh charges should not be construed as approval.
The High Court judges also observed that sentencing repeat gang-rape offenders to death could bypass the “rarest of rare” criteria, which has long been invoked to prevent judges from using the death penalty too frequently or in an arbitrary manner.