Sixteen organisations and over 360 individuals working for women’s rights on Tuesday urged President Ram Nath Kovind to stop the execution of all the four convicts in 2012 Delhi gangrape case. This came on the day the Supreme Court dismissed the curative petitions of two of the convicts – Vinay Sharma and Mukesh Singh.

On Wednesday, the Delhi High Court dismissed the plea filed by one of the convicts, Mukesh Singh, against the death warrants issued against him. His mercy petition , filed before President Ram Nath Kovind on Tuesday, is still pending. Singh and three other convicts – Vinay Sharma, Akshay Singh and Pawan Gupta – were scheduled to be hanged at 7 am on January 22. But they are not likely to be hanged till Singh’s mercy petition is decided, the Delhi government and Tihar jail authorities told the High Court.

“We understand the inexorable pain of the parents and other loved ones of women and children who are raped and, in many cases, killed,” the statement said. “However, efforts by politicians and parties, courts and other vested interests to capitalise on their pain and make the case a matter of the nation’s honour give false hope that the harshest punishment of death will prevent all such cases in the future.”

The signatories included lawyer Indira Jaising, historian Uma Chakravarti, scholar Nivedita Menon, food rights activist Veena Shatrughna, and filmmakers Nishtha Jain and Anand Patwardhan.

The statement listed out five reasons for their stand against the death penalty. It noted that the punishment was “not a deterrent against crimes”, and cited studies from across the world. The signatories said that there was “no shortcut to justice and safety”, adding that there was a need to focus on long-term social change and the failure of the authorities to ensure women security.

They also pointed out that brutal sexual assaults take place with “frightening regularity and impunity”, especially against members of the Adivasi community, Dalit women, workers in the unorganised sector, members of the queer community, and sex workers. It also noted that similar cases occur in conflict-ridden areas such as Jammu and Kashmir.

“There is a need to understand the pervasiveness of this kind of violence on women and evolve punishments that act as true deterrents to the very large numbers of men who commit, and get away with, such crimes,” the statement added. Majority of sexual crimes are committed by family members or people known to the women, the signatories said, adding that reports of such crimes were abysmally low.

“Consequently, most perpetrators of sexual violence enjoy a high degree of impunity, including being freed of all charges which we believe is the greatest cause for the continued prevalence of such violence,” it noted. The signatories said they were “anti-punishment” and instead “pro-justice”. It highlighted that the Justice Verma Committee, set up after the 2012 Delhi gangrape case, was against the death penalty for sexual assault.

Irrespective of the nature of the crime, the group said, “every human being has an inalienable right to life” and had the potential for reform, provided the state and the society commit themselves to it. “There is no quick answer to stopping sexual crimes,” the statement noted. “We need to walk together on the long and complicated path to dismantling patriarchal and caste/community-based privilege, impunity and power, and the pervasive misogyny based in customs, tradition, law, the courts, government and society.”

The case

The four men, and two others, raped and brutally assaulted a 23-year-old woman in a moving bus in Delhi on the night of December 16, 2012. She succumbed to injuries two weeks later at a hospital in Singapore. The gangrape triggered huge protests across India.

One of the convicts died in prison, while a minor was sent to a detention home for juveniles. He was released in December 2015. The four others were awarded the death penalty by a trial court in September 2013. The ruling was upheld by the Delhi High Court six months later and the Supreme Court in May 2017.

Vinay Sharma, Mukesh Singh and Pawan Gupta filed review petitions against the punishment, but the Supreme Court rejected them in July 2018. In December 2018, the Supreme Court dismissed a petition seeking the immediate execution of the four. Akshay Kumar Singh filed a review plea last month, but it was also rejected by the top court.

In October, Tihar Jail officials informed the four convicts they had exhausted all their options for legal recourse, and were only left with the choice to file a mercy petition before the president of India. Their deadline was November 5. Of the four, only Vinay Sharma filed a petition. The Delhi government, however, recommended that his mercy petition be rejected.