The fast-track court that convicted the four accused in the December 16 Delhi gangrape case has dictated a 240-page judgement and is still to pronounce the sentence for them. But the key lessons an expectant India can take away from hearing the four declared guilty are pretty straightforward:
One, the harshest penalty appears a near-certainty.
Held guilty on almost every charge — rape, gangrape, kidnapping, murder, criminal conspiracy and destruction of evidence – the court has thrown the book at the suspects. There is every reason to believe that the court will consider this a ‘rarest of the rare’ case, and will be unlikely to show any mercy when it comes to pronouncing the quantum of punishment. However, if the trial court pronounces the death penalty, the sentencing will have to be ratified by the Delhi High Court, Supreme Court and is subject to multiple reviews before it is carried out.
Two, forensics matters.
Apart from the 85 prosecution witnesses, the key eyewitness account by the victim’s surviving friend and the victim’s dying declaration which was relied upon by the court, investigators pieced together incontrovertible evidence to buttress the prosecution.
This included DNA samples lifted from the crime scene, the iron rod used to attack the victims, clothes of the accused and victim and more. For perhaps the first time in a rape case, dental records were used to prove that bite marks on the victim’s body were left by the accused.
Delhi Police have called this a model case insofar as investigating techniques and processes are concerned and the court has showered some generous words of praise on the investigators for their probe. The energy, time and resources invested in the preparatory stages of the trial were stellar by Indian police standards.
Three, you can cover up but you can’t hide.
Alongside the verdict delivered in a courtroom in Saket, New Delhi, that was the message handed out to the convicts. Their cloaked faces may have have had the cover of anonymity as they were produced out of court at the end of the hearing, but television channels made sure that wasn’t for long and did well to constantly flash their photographs.
As Sandip Roy of Firstpost argued earlier, “Why are they afforded the face-saving shield of hooded privacy? The initial reason to cover their faces might be to prevent prejudicing an identification parade but once that’s over what’s the point of saving their faces?”
The TV news made sure the country has seen the faces of four men who brutalised a 23-year-old in December last year, the message is now that rapists don’t get protection.
Four, blaming the media or “public pressure” is not a good defence
Shifting the blame in any rape case, and hardly so in a case as shocking and high-profile as this one.
“This a clear case of acquittal. But due to political pressure they have been sentenced,” AP Singh, the lawyer who represented one of the accused in court, said after the verdict.
“The accused are poor powerless people, which is why they have been found guilty,” he said.
From trial by media to popular pressure on the police to ensure a conviction in the case, the defence lawyer tried everything. None of this could have been farther from the truth — the trial was conducted mostly in-camera, the media was largely barred from reporting on proceedings and the investigation into the case had been painstaking.
Four simple takeaways from the most-awaited court verdict in a long time. A glimmer of hope for victims and families in 23,000-odd rape cases awaiting trial.