The teenager accused in the Delhi rape case was told “let’s go and have some fun today” as he and five others embarked on a bus ride around the city that allegedly ended with the lethal assault on a young student and her male companion.
According to an interrogation report compiled by Delhi police and seen by The Independent, the 17-year-old told investigators that on 16 December last year, the main accused in the case, bus driver Ram Singh, had been asked by his employer to fill his vehicle with fuel. Instead, with Mr Singh’s brother, Mukesh, driving the bus, they set off on a night of violence in which the 23-year-old woman was repeatedly raped and her friend, Awindra Pandey, beaten with iron bars. Having concluded the assault and presuming the pair might be dead, another of the accused, Akshay Thakur, had said: “Let’s throw them under the bus.” The teenager told police that the pair were then thrown out of the moving vehicle.
In the aftermath of the attack on the student, who died two weeks later in a Singapore hospital, few aspects of the case have sparked more debate within India than the alleged role of the teenager – and what should happen to him if he is convicted.
According to Indian law, he is to be treated as a juvenile and can face a maximum of just three years’ detention. Yet many people, among them the family of the victim, have demanded that he face the death penalty. “The juvenile should be punished first,” the father of the dead woman recently told the India’s Economic Times newspaper.
The teenager is due to return to a juvenile court in Delhi for another hearing. Some of the fury has been roused by claims in the Indian media that he was among the most savage of the attackers and that he internally assaulted the woman with an iron bar. Yet his confession statement, and that of Ram Singh, does not necessarily support that claim. The statement makes for disturbing reading. It details how the men lured the student and Mr Pandey aboard the bus and charged them 10 rupees (11p) to make them believe everything was normal. After a while, Ram Singh asked Mr Pandey where he was going. “What’s it got to got to do with you?” he replied.
“Ram Singh slapped the boy and the boy pushed Ram Singh away,” said the juvenile, who cannot be named for legal reasons. “Everyone began kicking and punching the boy.”
In his statement, the teenager said Ram Singh subdued Mr Pandey by hitting him repeatedly with an iron bar about the head. “Then Ram Singh was the first one to rape the girl,” he said. “The girl kept screaming and howling but, in the moving bus, everybody raped her one by one. And they bit the girl on different parts of her body.”
After throwing the pair from the bus, the juvenile then explained how they washed the vehicle and then divided up the possession they had taken from the couple and from another man they had robbed earlier in the evening. “I got one mobile and 1,100 rupees from the looted goods,” he said. “[Ram Singh] gave me one ATM card and asked me to keep it safe, [saying] ‘We will use it later to take out money’.”
The 17-year-old grew up in a village near Islamnagar in the state of Uttar Pradesh. In an interview last month, his mother said she had dispatched him to work in Delhi when his was 11 years old. The teenager is the oldest of six children from a desperately poor family. The boy’s father suffers mental health problems and cannot work and the two girls, aged 11 and 13, who earn around 50 rupees a day, are now the family’s main source of income.
The teenager told police that when he arrived in Delhi he worked as a helper in a series of roadside eateries in the east of the city. He later found work at a dairy and then washing buses for a company for which Ram Singh, 32, was also employed. That was how the two men became friends. It was Ram Singh who had said to the juvenile, “Let’s go and have some fun.”
The five men accused in the case, Ram and Mukesh Singh, Akshay Thakur, Vinay Sharma and Pawan Gupta, have all pleaded not guilty to charges of gang-rape and murder. If convicted they could face the death penalty. Charges against the juvenile have not yet been formally drawn up. A member of the juvenile’s legal team, who asked not to be identified, said the 17-year-old had been troubled by watching television programmes focusing on the public anger towards him. “The boy is traumatised,” said the lawyer. “When he gets before the magistrate he will say whether or not he is guilty.”
Asked about the juvenile’s apparent confession, the lawyer claimed police routinely fabricated statements in order to make sure individuals were booked by the courts. “Once the case comes before the courts, the confession has no value in law. In 100 per cent of cases you will find the police extract a confession to ensure the case is registered,” the lawyer said. A spokesman for Delhi police could not be reached.
The trial of the five men is being held in a fast-track court in Delhi where up to 80 witnesses are expected to give evidence. The first to appear was the student’s male friend, Mr Pandey, 28, who recently spent two days giving evidence. Still suffering from injuries received in the assault, he was pushed from the courtroom in a wheelchair to identify the white bus on which the attack is said to have taken place.
Judge urged to bar media from courtroom
Police have urged a judge to continue to ensure media are barred from covering the case.
After Yogesh Khanna, the judge who is hearing the rape case, ruled that the trial should be held in camera and warned lawyers not to brief the media, journalists filed an appeal with the Delhi high court. They argued the media should be allowed access to the proceedings. But on Wednesday, Dayan Krishnan, a lawyer representing the Delhi police, opposed the request. Justice Rajiv Shakdher asked Mr Krishnan whether accredited journalists could be allowed to cover the court proceedings. The lawyer said no.
The case was adjourned until 28 February.