There were six of them. The oldest and the youngest got away, in a manner of speaking. The former through a suicide or murder while in jail, the latter because he was not old enough to be tried for rape and murder.
Who were the six men who, on the night of December 16, 2012, brutalised a 23-year-old physiotherapy student in such a horrendous manner that even a nation inured to crimes against women flared up in anger and outrage, and forced the government to change rape laws?
THE WEEK profiles the six convicts:
He was 30 at the time of the incident, and the oldest member of the group. Originally from Rajasthan, he lived in Sant Ravi Dass Camp, a slum in South Delhi. The third among five brothers, Ram Singh was the driver of a contract bus. This was the bus that the victim and her friend boarded the night of the crime.
Ram Singh was not a savoury character. He had injured an arm in an accident in 2009, and it had never properly healed. He, however, continued to work as a bus driver. A widower and alcoholic, Ram Singh was disliked and avoided by his neighbours. He was known to pick quarrels with them. Some say he wanted to adopt a son of his brother, Suresh.
Ram Singh was the first to be arrested in the Nirbhaya case, when the bus was identified by CCTV footage outside hotels in Mahipalpur, where the victim and her friend were dumped on that cold night.
While lodged in Tihar Jail as an undertrial, Ram Singh was found dead on March 11, 2013, hanging from the window grill with his shirt as a noose even as his cell mates slept undisturbed.
The police called the death of Ram Singh a suicide. His parents and lawyers said he was killed, an accusation that led to speculation about conditions in a jail where undertrials in such a high-profile case could commit suicide or get killed, even though they were on “suicide watch”.
Mukesh was Ram Singh's younger brother. He lived with Ram Singh and was a cleaner on the bus.
Mukesh, then 26, was driving the bus that night and he was the one who lured the victims to board it. He later also hit the victims with an iron rod. Mukesh had also pleaded that since he was driving the bus, he had not raped the woman. The sessions court judge, Yogesh Khanna, who sentenced the men to death, however, was clear that there was enough evidence of common intent. Khanna said it did not matter who actually committed the rape and what was the degree of whose brutality: They were all equally culpable in the rape and eventual death of the victim.
Mukesh kept away from any work during his term in jail, though he did make an attempt to write his class 10 board examination. He did not pass.
Mukesh was the first to move the president's office for clemency; his plea was rejected in a record four days.
Vinay Sharma (28)
Then 20, Sharma also live in Sant Ravi Dass Camp. He had the most promising future. In fact, Sharma could have been a mascot for Aspiring India. He worked as a gym assistant, earning Rs 3,000 a month. He has a younger brother and two sisters, one of whom suffers from juvenile diabetes.
Sharma was doing a bachelor of arts programme through correspondence, and he aspired to join the Indian Air Force. In April 2013, he actually was planning to appear for the entrance exam, but he suffered a fracture on his left arm and injuries on his left leg. Sharma alleged, through his lawyer, that he was beaten up by fellow inmates in jail and he pleaded to not be returned to that place. The jail authorities, however, said he injured himself with a fall.
Vinay Sharma took to painting while serving his jail term. He has remained disturbed and perhaps repentant. He received 11 punishments while in jail. In 2016, he attempted suicide by consuming some pills and trying to hang himself. He has earned Rs 39,000 as wages in jail.
Akshay Thakur (36)
Then 28, Thakur had fled to his village in Bihar after the crime, from where the police picked him up within days. Thakur is married and has a 10-year-old son. Thakur tried to remove evidence after the crime by washing the bus. The investigators, however, were able to clinch enough forensic evidence, despite this attempt, to clinch the case.
Thakur worked as a helper on contract buses and had no fixed address, often sleeping inside the bus at night.
Odontological evidence (dental features, which are unique to every individual) was used for the first time as a forensic tool in India in the Nirbhaya case. Bite marks on Nirbhaya's body were identified as those of Akshay Thakur and Ram Singh.
In his review petition before the Supreme Court, Thakur had said since pollution in Delhi had already reduced his life, he should be spared the noose.
Thakur has otherwise remained less troublesome than others, having received only one punishment for bad conduct and having earned Rs 69,000 as wages, the maximum among the four.
Pawan Gupta/Kaalu (27)
Pawan Gupta sold fruits for a living, lived in a humble home with his parents, a younger brother and sister. Pawan was 19 at the time he committed the crime.
At every stage of trial and appeals, Gupta's counsels have cited his age as a mitigating factor. Initially, his counsels had tried to pass Pawan off as a juvenile, but the judge refused a bone ossification test to determine his age, choosing to rely on official records, instead.
Trial court judge Yogesh Khanna, while passing the death sentence, had mentioned the tender age of Gupta, Mukesh and Sharma as a mitigating circumstance for a lighter punishment. But he said when weighed against the depravity of the crime, which he termed as rarest of the rare, to show mercy would be a travesty of justice and a plea for leniency would be wholly misplaced.
Gupta received eight punishments for breaking the jail code of conduct, and has earned Rs 29,000 in wages.
While only a few months apart in age, Gupta goes to the gallows while the sixth accomplice has escaped with a much lighter “punishment'” of three years in a remand home, and an anonymity that will help rebuild a life, in case he has chosen to reform.
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- Nirbhaya-style horror in UP: Woman gang-raped, killed; FIR against temple priest
- Nirbhaya's father launches petition asking men not to be silent spectators
- Devil's advocate: How A.P. Singh made every effort to save Nirbhaya convicts
- Why Nirbhaya case hangings are not likely to be deterrent to crimes against women
As in Gupta's case, the court preferred to go by official records, and in this boy's case, that was the date of birth recoded in the dusty, yellowing pages of a school register, where he had been enrolled, but clearly not received any education.
This boy, who was released in 2015, has disappeared into the oblivion he came from before he committed this crime. He hails from a poverty-stricken family in Islamnagar, Badayun, in western Uttar Pradesh, and had left home as a young boy, taken to work in tea shops and other enterprises in Delhi.
For some years, the boy sent money back home, then his connection with home, always tenuous, completely snapped. That was till he came into limelight after the crime and his family was traced. His ailing father and long-suffering mother had given him up for dead, they were so intent surviving on a daily basis. His teenage sisters worked as daily wage labourers, while the mother tended to a clutch of young brothers born after he had left home.
The remand home was the first proper roof the boy had, where he was properly fed and clothed. In fact, he was almost loath to leave the place after his term ended and stayed back for several months.