Why was Nirbhaya’s most vicious and barbaric rapist set free?

Published: December 28, 2015
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The minor who was convicted in the gangrape and murder of Nirbhaya. PHOTO: REUTERS

The gang rape on that fateful night of December 16, 2012 sent shock waves across India and the world. It was not just the brutality or brazenness of the assault that was terrifying, but it was also the fact that it happened in the heart of the country’s capital, right in the midst of its usual hustle and bustle. It wasn’t perceived as a stray incident of rape in an isolated outpost, it was an assault on the people’s sense of security. Middle class India identified with Nirbhaya, and a society that is normally divided over most issues suddenly coalesced in its collective outrage.

As the public rallied behind Nirbhaya, there were protests, debates, introspection, and a call for serious action to stem the rising menace of rape in India. The police swung into action, and even before Nirbhaya succumbed to the horrific injuries she suffered, the perpetrators had been apprehended. A trial followed and all the accused were found guilty and sentenced.

Ordinarily, the sentencing would have taken the case to its logical conclusion, bringing about a sense of closure. However, there was one discomfiting element. Among the five rapists, there was a minor and he was supposedly the most vicious and barbaric of the perpetrators. Due to the prevailing laws, the maximum punishment he could receive was three years in a juvenile home. That three-year sentence recently came to an end and he walked free. In the immediate aftermath of the incident, the process for formulating a new law dealing with juveniles accused of committing heinous crimes had been initiated. However, due to political differences, this new law had been stuck in the Rajya Sabha, the Upper House of Parliament.

The run-up to the rapist’s release led to another round of turmoil and angst, and reopened old wounds. The public sentiment against the juvenile rapist was so strong that it even compelled the Rajya Sabha to finally pass the bill, although it was not applicable retroactively. Several attempts were made to thwart his release and various organisations explored multiple avenues to ensure his continued incarceration. These efforts ultimately went in vain as the courts interpreted the laws in letter and spirit.

As much as all of India would have liked to see him behind bars forever, the judiciary had to respect the letter of the law, which is actually a reflection of the solidity of the country’s judicial set up. Many people nevertheless felt frustrated with what they see as the impotence of the legal system. Very often it has been seen that people get disproportionately harsh sentences for minor offences while in certain cases, people have gotten away with relatively lighter punishment for more heinous crimes. At any rate, the juvenile rapist, now 20-years-old, was a free man on the evening of December 20th, 2015.

Those opposing his release, including Nirbhaya’s parents, see this situation as a travesty of justice. They advance the argument that a person who is capable of committing such savagery is surely not deserving of any leniency and will clearly be a threat to society. He is unlikely to be reformed and it has been reported that he remained unmoved and uncommunicative with reform home workers through his three-year term. The Delhi state government is giving him a sewing machine and a grant to start a tailoring shop. The question many Delhiites want to ask Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal is whether he would be willing to send his own daughter, alone, to such a tailor to give her measurements.

The authorities do plan to monitor him but they need to ensure that it is done effectively. He must not be allowed to slip under the radar and get involved in more violent and destructive activities.

The Nirbhaya case was a pivotal moment in the continuing evolution of Indian society. The one positive thing that has come out of this tragedy is that sexual violence, which is actually a global issue, took centre stage in Indian public discourse. Since then genuine efforts have been made to reduce this kind of violence against women.

Toughening the laws is a welcome step, but it will be a tough battle in the backdrop of the prevailing patriarchy and misogyny in society across South Asia. It will require tough enforcement of the laws, a sustained campaign to sensitise young males about the need to respect women, a reformation of the mind-set that mostly blames the victim for the crime, and ultimately education in responsible management of personal sexual desire. All societies owe it to themselves to equip their members with the skills to manage their energies and impulses at the mental, emotional, and physical levels in ways that are not harmful to other people.

In addition to robust preventive measures, it is also important to reform the way rape is treated. There is much to learn from the way ancient India handled these issues. Rape is deeply traumatic, but it need not be stigmatised. That’s an extremely important aspect to consider and society must provide complete support and sympathy for the victim. Her physical violation should not be linked to her honour or self-worth. Rape is abhorrent and reprehensible. Every incident of rape deserves the utmost indignation and outrage and every perpetrator must be held to account. Hopefully, the country is moving in the right direction, towards a more equal society, liberated from the burden of gender oppression.

Amit Nangia

Amit Nangia

The author is a learning and development professional with a background in finance and human resources that informs his commentaries on geopolitical and socioeconomic trends. He tweets as @amitnangia06 (twitter.com/amitnangia06)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • http://thoughtsandotherthing.blogspot.fr/2015/11/bleeding.html Supriya Arcot

    He got the punishment as per the law. If we want something beyond the rule book , then then its a diff matter. The idea is to reform him as he is too young for hard core punishment and ( still ) at an impressionable age.Recommend

  • rationalising argument.

    he was set free because he belongs to muslim community.Recommend

  • abhi

    you are right to some extent but we don’t know what is his real age anyway.Recommend

  • Sonia Khawaja

    To the writers of this article. THERE WAS NITHING SEXUAL IN HIS ACTIONS. It was a barbaric, unimaginably inhuman crime that belongs in horror movies. He ripped her intestines out of her body!!! She was missing 80% of her intestines when she was taken to the hospital. The doctors said they had never witnessed something as horrific in their life. He is a monster and needs to be eliminated!Recommend

  • Sane

    You mean to say all Muslims in India remain unpunished. Ha….ha….ha…… By the way he is Hindu.Recommend

  • citizen

    it is a shame that he is walking free . A big slap on judiciary . He deserved exemplary punishment .I feel for Nirbhaya’s parents . Sorry Nirbhaya , we could not give you justice .Recommend

  • rationalising argument.

    no he is a muslim. and many muslim terrorists are let out by congress for the sake of muslim votes.Recommend

  • Indian

    Everyone is trying to prove their nehruvian version of secularism…. Md. Afroze the brutal rapist who not only raped her but also pulled her intestines out after inserting an iron rod inside her……is being protected coz he is ofa particular religion… That is all the objective of kejriwals and congress folks…Recommend

  • Milind A

    Definitely.. Had India embarked upon punishing Muslims for their crimes, the way China & Russia are doing, we would have seen a different picture… You & your country too would have been wiped out by now.. The list of crimes of the Muslim community runs long…Recommend

  • Parvez

    From what I understand is that possibly the punishment for a minor, as stipulated under the law, needs to be addressed…….laws keep changing with the demands of society, there’s nothing wrong in that.Recommend

  • Banana

    There was news (even reported in some Pakistani sites) that he is being kept under watch because he was radicalised by a jihadi militant in the prison. Many media houses have reported his name to be Mohd.Afroz. And here you are laughing with all your ignorance. The joke’s on you.Recommend

  • Stealthy

    Not gonna happen in a country like India.Recommend

  • Ali

    Yeah he isnt a muslim.
    Please take responsibility for the actions of your kind. Its really unprofessional when you blame others.Recommend

  • J

    Wrong. Supriya. Again. There is something very evil about him.
    Very likely a severe mental disorder. Bordering on Schizophrenia.
    [which is caused by excess production of a chemical in the brain]
    There is no cure. The chemical can be controlled by medications.
    Allowing them to live a near normal life. Function in society. They
    also suffer from depression. A no no subject anywhere in the world.
    The excess production decreases as they age. They MIGHT get
    better in their late 40’s or 50’s. Years of psychotherapy….[in India?]
    These are people who hear voices in their heads. And have suicidal
    thoughts. And are prone to self destruction. It starts in the teen years.
    This is just guessing, not a diagnosis.Recommend

  • Sane

    Today a young girl was raped by two Indian army personnel in Jharkhand. India needs to do something to get label of ‘Rapist Country’ removed.Recommend

  • Sane

    Congress let out Muslim terrorist and BJP let our Hindu terrorists. battleground is ready. What you had in your last dinner?Recommend

  • Sane

    Yes, he deserves exemplary punishment for rape. Please also have arrested those Indian army personnel who raped a girl in Jharkhand today. raping culture is rampant in India. Put a stop.Recommend

  • Time Is Up

    No worries, they will be punished! In India they do not put Army as the right hand of god!Recommend

  • Gullu

    On these pages of ET, hindu trolls do a lot of ‘inventing’.
    Facts, figures, percentages, all churned out by BJP, Shiv
    Sena. RSS, …..so go invent some more. Ha..Ha…Ha…Ha.
    By the way, he is a hindu,…from the rape capital of the world.Recommend

  • rationalising argument.

    the juvenile is a muslim , why don’t you take responsibility for your actions.Recommend

  • Sane

    New Indian law defined – All criminals in India are Muslims and all Hindus in India are innocent. You have hard skin not to be ashamed. What about your PM Modi? Is is still known as innocent?Recommend

  • Sane

    Thank you to tell us that Muslims are protected in India so much so that even a declared rapist is saved from punishment coz he is Muslim. All Muslims of the world must be thankful to Hindus of India. Really a great country. I suggest that all Muslims in the world must migrate to India as Muslims in India are protected that much that even if they commit a crime would not be prosecuted. Mind that whatever crime a Muslims commit shall remain unpunished even in case of rape. But, shall be killed if any Muslim eats beef.Recommend

  • http://thoughtsandotherthing.blogspot.fr/2015/09/hyderabad-as-i-know-and-feel.html Supriya Arcot

    The threat TO him is now more than the threat FROM him ( mob fury et al… )Recommend

  • wb

    Few facts checks.

    1) This young boy is a Muslim and is believed to have developed Jihadi tendencies when in jail.

    2) No matter what, he had served his term and there was nothing that could have been done.

    3) He has been given counseling to get rid of his Jihadi mindset that he has developed.Recommend

  • Swaadhin

    Man you seem to wake up from your slumber as soon as you hear the word “rape”.Recommend

  • Sane

    Do you read your newspapers after weeks?Recommend

  • Banana

    Really? Can you show me which clause? I think you are mistaking the blasphemy law in Pakistan for some Indian law.Recommend

  • Banana

    Says the citizen of a country where rapists cannot be convicted until there were 4 witnesses. Also, what happened to Kasur? Have you already legitimized child abuse videos as a legal and profitable business? After all 50 cents are hard to come by in your part of the world, right?Recommend

  • Ali

    He has a hindu name. So he isnt a muslim.
    Nice try bud.Recommend

  • Vinod

    Muslims are protected in India that’s why their population has doubled while Hindus in Pakistan are extinct.Recommend

  • Gullu

    No. This commentator from Bharat is fixated on ET
    and other Pakistani newspapers. RSS and
    BJP plus Shiv Sena pay Indian commentators Rs. 25 per
    comment. [if printed,… in any Pak newspaper.]
    That’s why you see a deluge of these Indian commentatorsRecommend

  • Swaadhin

    Gullu, are you alright.Recommend

  • Swaadhin

    Depends on what you mean by news papers.Recommend

  • Sane

    Another Incident (Jan 03, 2016) one taxi driver reported raping a mother of two kids in the rape country of the world India.Recommend

  • Time Is Up

    Criminals will be dealt with. Thanks for taking notice.Recommend

  • LS

    His name is Mohd Afroz known by his alias Raju to hide his identity by Indian press.Recommend