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4 convicted in rape case that transfixed India

Sentencing is today, with some calling for death

Demonstrators protested outside the Saket Court complex in New Delhi, calling for the hanging of the convicted rapists.

Prakash Singh/AFP/Getty Images

Demonstrators protested outside the Saket Court complex in New Delhi, calling for the hanging of the convicted rapists.

NEW DELHI — Four men were convicted of all charges Tuesday in the rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman who was attacked when she boarded a bus in New Delhi last December, bringing a bitter close to a case that tore open the subject of sexual violence in this rapidly changing society.

The last and most urgent question — whether any of the men will receive the death penalty — will be answered Wednesday, when they are sentenced at a morning hearing. The family of the victim has demanded death sentences, and much of the public seemed to share their anger, flooding the streets last year to demand swift punishment in the case. Police here were braced for protests that might follow the sentencing.

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The crime stood out for its horror, even in this sprawling and chaotic city.

The woman was returning home from a movie with a male friend and boarded a private bus with a group of men, mostly working-class migrants who the police said had been drinking. While the bus circled Delhi, the men attacked the pair, knocked the woman’s friend unconscious, and took the woman to the back of the bus and raped her, sometimes using a metal rod. The two were dumped on the roadside, naked and bleeding.

The woman died two weeks later of her injuries.

Her death seemed to open a vault here, and nine months later reports of rape still saturate the country’s newspapers — whether because of increased attacks or increased reporting is not clear. Under pressure to respond to the surge of public anger, the government toughened laws on sexual violence. But the drumbeat of fresh reports offers little hope that this society has confronted the problem, and foreign women have become increasingly wary of traveling to India.

After the verdict, a group of protesters stood outside, five of them men wearing black hoods, with heavy nooses looped around their necks. Young women stood with them, holding the ropes aloft.

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“Hang the rapists! Hang the rapists! Hang the juvenile! Hang the juvenile!” they chanted.

Vikas Tyagi, 31, who was with the group, said he thought executions were necessary to put an end to rapes.

“Only fear can stop it,” he said. “We are the youth of India. We are her voice.”

The prosecution benefited from detailed witness statements given by the victim before she died, and from her male companion, who came to court in a wheelchair to testify. But despite the establishment of special fast-track courts for sex crimes, it has moved slower than many hoped, unfolding under unprecedented scrutiny.

One defendant, Ram Singh, who was driving the bus at times during the assault, hanged himself with his bedsheet in his Delhi prison cell this year as his cellmates looked on. His family said he had been subjected to sustained abuse while in custody, and at one point had been forced to drink urine. They believe he was murdered by the police.

A second defendant, who has not been named because he is a juvenile, was sentenced last month to three years in a juvenile detention center — the heaviest sentence possible in India’s juvenile justice system.

The defense for the men has been patchy. Three of the men said they were never on the bus, and Singh said he was driving and unaware of the crime.

Early in the process, one defense lawyer argued that the attack would not have taken place were it not for “the lust of the boy” who accompanied the victim to the movies, and recommended that it was her companion who should be hanged.

Judge Yogesh Khanna, who issued a 240-page judgment Tuesday, told the court, “I convict all the accused. They have been found guilty of gang rape, unnatural offenses, destruction of the evidence, and of committing the murder of the helpless victim.”

Lawyers for all four men vowed to appeal the decision, and one of them said the trial was tainted by the extraordinary public interest in the case.

“There was media pressure,” the lawyer, V.K. Anand, said. “There was public sentiment. This is a harassed judgment.”

And A.P. Singh, who represented three of the four men, called into doubt whether, after taking morphine, the victim was capable of giving an accurate witness statement. He also questioned whether she had died of her injuries.

“The victim was killed by a doctor,” he said. “It was a political murder, and this is a political decision.”

Prosecutors had given a different picture. As testimony drew to an end, the special prosecutor in the case, Dayan Krishnan, said each of the six defendants was linked to the crime through DNA evidence.

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