Less than two hours to go for the execution, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court dismissed the last desperate appeal from men convicted for the horrifying gangrape and murder of a 23-year-old woman in Delhi, dubbed Nirbhaya, more than seven years ago. The convicts had taken their petition for a reprieve to the Supreme Court after it was turned down by the Delhi High Court and the trial court in a span of 14 hours.
The Supreme Court, which hours before, heard the same arguments - claims of being a minor by one, and challenge to the President's rejection of mercy plea by another - was unmoved. "We do not find any grounds to review the decision of the President of India," said the bench led by Justice R Bhanumati.
The execution of Vinay Sharma, Mukesh Kumar Singh, Pawan Gupta and Akshay Singh will be held at 5.30 am at Delhi's Tihar jail today. Three earlier execution orders became null after repeated petitions -- filed in turns by the convicts -- a process that prompted the High Court to question today if anyone was "playing the system".
The two-judge bench of Justices Manmohan and Sanjeev Narula had dismissed the petition, calling it a shoddy job that failed to make a proper case. Pointing to the lack of supporting documents, the court said the petition lacked merit.
"In our jurisprudence, the Supreme Court is the final word on it. All submissions have been looked into and have been dealt with adequately," the judges said.
The extended courtroom drama had started two days ago with the convicts filing yet another petition in the trial court to play for more time. That petition was dismissed earlier on Thursday, with the court saying that the convicts have exhausted all legal options.
The convicts next moved to the High Court. Their lawyer AP Singh, who once bragged to Nirbhaya's mother that the "hanging will never happen", pleaded to the court that life, even on the India-Pakistan border, will be acceptable to them.
The mother of the young woman -- who was kept waiting outside the court because of the restrictions imposed in view of the coronavirus -- said she was happy that justice was finally being done. "Tomorrow's sun will rise for all the women of this country... for Nirbhaya," she told reporters.
The four men, along with two others, had attacked the young woman and her friend after luring them to board a bus - empty but for themselves -- on the night of December 16, 2012. The woman was gang-raped for hours and tortured with an iron rod as the bus plied through the city, and then thrown off the vehicle. Fighting for life for days, the woman - dubbed "Nirbhaya", meaning "fearless" -- died on December 29 at a hospital in Singapore.
The main accused in the case, Ram Singh, was found hanging in jail. The other, just a few months short of 18 when the crime was committed, was released after spending three years at a reform home.
The case made headlines across the world and. as a shocked nation hit the streets demanding justice, led to a host of changes in laws and security system.