New Delhi: The four Nirbhaya convicts - Akshay Thakur, Mukesh Singh, Vinay Sharma and Pawan Gupta - spent a restless night as they awaited their hanging in the wee hours of Friday. They wanted to see each other, but Tihar Jail authorities denied the permission.
Sources inside the high-security prison, which went into a lockdown mode prior to the most anticipated execution of the four men convicted for the brutal gang-rape and murder of a 23-year-old medical student in 2012, told IANS that at around 12 midnight, the hangman from Meerut, Pawan Jallad, was allowed to see the faces of all the four convicts, whom he was to execute in the next five-and-a-half hours, for the first time.
All four were asked to go to sleep early Thursday night ahead of their execution but they remained wide awake till late. They were asked to take a bath but none of them did. All of them were served their last meal but one of them refused breakfast before being taken to the gallows, an official said.
According to officials, the convicts even started to behave hysterically and misbehaved with the police personnel keeping an eye on them.
Prior to the hanging, the executioner, who woke up at around 4 am held a meeting with prison authorities. The executioner had already inspected the gallows the night before.
The convicts were escorted to the scaffold with their faces covered in black cloth and the executioner put the noose around the neck one by one.
At the scheduled time, the jail superintendent waved his hand to signal the hangings, which were then conducted simultaneously.
A glimpse of the hangman
At 1 am, Akshay wanted to meet Mukesh, but he was denied permission by the head warden. He caught a glimpse of the hangman, when he passed by and wanted to know about the new face roaming around. The head warden told him that he was just another prison staff.
Tihar Jail Director General Sandeep Goel confirmed that none of the death row convicts managed to sleep even as their lawyer was making last ditch efforts in the Supreme Court to save them somehow. Vinay had kept sitting in his cell.
At 3.30 am the apex court gave the go ahead for their execution.
By then, paramilitary personnel were deployed outside the Tihar Jail complex in order to prevent any untoward incident, even as the four convicts prepared for their final journey from their cell to the execution platform, more than seven years after their heinous crime led to judicial reforms in India's rape laws.
At 4 a.m., the assistant jailer asked all the four men to take bath and get ready, to which Vinay retorted, sources said.
At 4.15 a.m., they were granted time to read any religious scripture they wanted to. But all of them turned down the proposal.
The four were then served their last breakfast.
At around 4.30 a.m., they prepared to take the long walk to the hanging area.
The four convicts underwent a medical check-up, which established that they were fit to bear the punishment handed out to them. Meanwhile, the jail superintendent also checked for any letter or notice which could have prevented the execution, but no such document was received by the jail authorities.
At 5.20 a.m., with their faces covered with a cotton cloth and hands tied behind their backs, the four convicts were taken to the 'Phansi Kothi' (execution chamber), as the hanging area in Tihar Jail is commonly known. During this time, none of the other prisoners were allowed to leave their respective cells.
The District Magistrate, Medical Examiner, Jail Superintendent and 10 other jail officials were present in the execution chamber.
At 5.25 a.m., a cotton cap with a flap was put on their faces just before they entered the gallows enclosures. Once inside the 'Phansi Kothi', the District Magistrate (DM) asked each of them for their final wish. Tihar sources said that none of the four convicts expressed any last wish.
The DM then counter-signed the 'black' warrant.
The convicts were then mounted on the scaffold and placed directly under the beam to which the ropes were attached. They were now under executioner Pawan's watch, who strapped their legs tightly together and adjusted the rope around their necks.
"The Superintendent then gave the signal and the executioner pushed the lever to release the trap-door," a Tihar source said.
After the execution, the bodies of the four men remained suspended for half-an-hour and were taken down at 6 a.m. after the doctor present announced that "life is extinct".
After seven years, Nirbhaya finally gets justice
The hangings for which the entire nation waited with bated breath finally took place at 5.30 a.m. on Friday, as the four men convicted for the brutal gang-rape and murder of a medical student in December 2012 were hanged inside the high-security Tihar Jail here.
Sandeep Goel, Director General of Tihar Jail, confirmed that the four convicts - Vinay, Akshay, Mukesh and Pawan -- were hanged together at 5.30 a.m. They were declared dead at 6.10 a.m.
"I am feeling satisfied as my daughter got justice today," Nirbhaya's mother Asha Devi said after the news of the executions broke out.
Following the hangings, the executioner Pawan Jallad stated, "I am feeling happy after hanging the four convicts. I had waited for this moment for a long time."
With this, justice has finally been imparted to India's daughter, Nirbhaya. Pursuant to the hangings, a crowd burst into celebrations and began cheering outside the jail premises, undeterred by the coronavirus scare.
Slogans of "Nirbhaya Zindabad" were raised alongside posters reading "Thanks to Judiciary" while some unfurled the tricolour.
"As soon as the news broke that the convicts have been hanged, we hit the roads with the tricolour to extend our tributes to Nirbhaya," Meena Sharma, a local resident, said while waving a flag.
A man named Umakant Sharma even climbed on the railing outside the jail with a poster in his hand which rued the delay in serving justice to the victim. "The motive is to highlight the loopholes in our judicial system," Sharma said.
Over the years, the convicts adopted several manoeuvres to delay the hanging and even succeeded thrice. This time, however, they could not escape the clutches of the judiciary.
"This is a big day in the history of the nation. The hangings will send a message to the world that such acts should not be committed," said social activist Yogita Bhayana, who has been associated with the case since its beginning.
The gang-rape and murder that shocked India
Four men were hanged Friday, more than seven years after the crime that stunned India. Here are the facts surrounding the crime.
A 23-year old paramedical student was returning home from the cinema with a male friend when they boarded a private bus on the evening of Sunday December 16, 2012.
Six assailants knocked out the male friend and dragged her to the back of the vehicle where they raped and assaulted her with a metal rod.
After an ordeal lasting more than an hour, she and the friend were dumped for dead.
She survived long enough to identify her attackers but died a fortnight later in a Singapore hospital.
She was dubbed "Nirbhaya" ("fearless") by the Indian media.
Police tracked down the driver of the bus and arrested him and three others on December 18. The remaining two were arrested within a week.
The five adults and one juvenile were charged with 13 offences in February 2013 by a fast-track court.
A month later, the main accused Ram Singh was found dead in his prison cell. Officials said he killed himself, but his family and lawyer alleged he was murdered.
That August, the juvenile was found guilty of rape and murder and sentenced to three years in a correctional facility.
The four remaining adults were found guilty and sentenced to death the following month in a fast-track court.
But it took more than six more years until they were hanged after a series of legal appeals.
Victim and rapists
Nrbhaya was studying physiotherapy and worked at a call centre. Her family had moved from a rural area and her father earned around $100 a month as an airport baggage handler.
The men on the bus - Ram Singh, Mukesh Singh, Vinay Sharma, Akshay Thakur and Pawan Gupta - did menial jobs and lived in a slum in south Delhi.
Nearly 34,000 rape cases were reported in India in 2018 but there are likely many more victims too scared to come forward.
Huge and at times violent demonstrations involving tens of thousands of people broke out in Delhi and elsewhere over Nirbhaya's case.
Under pressure the government introduced harsher penalties for rapists and the death penalty for repeat offenders.
But justice remains elusive, and horrific crimes against women continue to be reported.
At the end of 2017, there were almost 150,000 rape cases pending trial in India's labyrinthine legal system.
India is among a dwindling group of nations that still have capital punishment.
A total of 186 people were given the death penalty in India in 2018, according to Amnesty International which said it was the highest in nearly two decades.
At the end of 2019 there were 378 people on death row, according to the National Law University.
However executions are rarely carried out, the last being in 2015 over bomb attacks in Mumbai in 1993.