All four men convicted of rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman in what has come to be known as December 16 Delhi gangrape received a death sentence on Friday, a decision the judge said sent a message to society that there can be no tolerance for such a savage crime.
Cheers went up from a crowd outside the Delhi court when lawyers rushed out to announce the death sentence for the Delhi gangrape accused for last December's assault, which triggered furious protest across India and rare national debate about violence against women.
"Delhi gangrape has shocked the collective conscience of society," Judge Yogesh Khanna said, condemning the men to death by hanging.
"In these times when crime against women is on the rise, courts cannot turn a blind eye towards such gruesome crime. There cannot be any tolerance.... This crime in every way falls within the rarest of rare category warranting a death sentence."
The sentencing was one of the biggest tests in years of India's paradoxical attitude towards the death penalty.
The country's judges hand down, on average, 130 death sentences every year but India has executed just three people in the past 17 years. Despite its apparent reluctance to carry out the sentences, last year India voted against a U.N. draft resolution calling for a global moratorium on executions.
Lawyers for all four Delhi gangrape convicts said they would appeal, which means their execution could still be years away. The case will go to the High Court and then Supreme Court. If they confirm the sentences, the final decision will lie with the president, who has the power to grant clemency.
One of the four, gym instructor Vinay Sharma, wept as he was dragged out of the court, where police with riot gear had formed a barricade to keep crowds back.
The Delhi gangrape victim, who was raped for an hour and tortured with an iron rod on a moving bus, became a symbol of the dangers women face in a country where a rape is reported on average every 21 minutes