Sixty-eight-year old Ram Bai reached Delhiʼs Tihar Jail at around 4.30 pm on 19 March, expecting to meet her son, Mukesh, for the last time. Less than two hours earlier, a Delhi court had refused to stay the execution of her son. He is scheduled to be hanged at 5.30 am on 20 March.
Ram Bai, a frail old woman of less than five feet, seemed crushed by the finality of the decision. She was sobbing. “It's just that I had hoped for so long, so long,” she said, as tears streamed down her cheeks, and fell on the frayed shawl wrapped around her. “What will they get by killing him, tell me? What will they get? They took away my other son, my husband … Now what will they get by taking him away too?”
I last met Ram Bai a little after noon on 31 January, when she had visited Tihar Jail for what she then expected would be the last opportunity to meet her son. At the time, Mukesh was due to be hanged on 1 February. “What do I say?” she asked, her gaunt face looking tired. “Who has ever listened to us?” “We are poor, and the poor have no one,” she told me, her voice cracking. “At night, I am unable to sleep … I just keep wondering how my son is, whether he has eaten.” She herself had lost the desire to eat or drink, she said. “Only one worry is eating at me, that what has god done?”
As cases go, only a handful are known as widely as Mukesh’s—the gangrape and murder of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student Jyoti Singh, in Delhi, which came to be known as the “Nirbhaya” case. (Nirbhaya, which translates to “fearless,” is a moniker that the media gave to the victim. Her parents have since said that they have no objection to their daughter being referred to by her name.) As Ram Bai had been preparing to say a final goodbye to her son, his lawyers had approached Delhi’s Patiala House court, seeking a stay on the execution.