Why bid for death penalty for raping minors will not deter rape

What is important is the certainty of punishment.

 |  4-minute read |   06-01-2018
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India has the dubious distinction of having one of the highest number of rape crimes in the world, and that seems to be a problem with no solutions in the near future.

After every incident that captures the nation’s attention, there are calls for stringent measures to deter criminals. There are vociferous debates on TV channels, protests, candle marches and other methods of expressing our collective anguish. Once the anger subsides, the millions of other cases that escape the media’s radar continue to tarnish our national conscience, until another shameful incident comes to light, and the country is once again demanding the death penalty for the rapists and for the cases to be adjudged in a time-bound manner.

As horrendous as the problem itself is, our response to it seldom involves introspection and rationality. In a state of heightened emotions people often call for retribution, including public executions in the flawed and naïve belief that it would act as a deterrent. This belief resonates with the political parties who seek to exploit public anger for their benefit. Sadly, it appears that even the judiciary has succumbed to this popular, but unfounded belief.

csa_071817052231_010618020437.jpgPhoto: Darpan Magazine

The Uttarakhand High Court on January 5 suggested to the state government that it enact a legislation to award capital punishment for those guilty of raping girls under the age of 15. Last month, the Madhya Pradesh legislature was the first in the country to pass a bill to effect capital punishment for those guilty of raping girls below the age of 12.

This will do little to curb sexual assaults against women or children. Empirical research suggests that capital punishment doesn’t deter rape. In fact, even the Justice JS Verma Committee which was tasked with reforming and strengthening anti-rape laws categorically states that capital punishment is not a deterrent.

The merits and demerits of capital punishment notwithstanding, the very fact that India has the highest number of child marriages will also lead to many complications as intercourse with a minor, with or without consent is treated as rape. This will effectively award the capital punishment to many grooms who are themselves often victims of child marriage. These proposed solutions are a mere eyewash.

What is important is the certainty of punishment. Unfortunately, our society faces an acute shortage of judges which has severely crippled the judicial administration in India. Instead of addressing such issues and introspecting, we are often caught up with knee jerk reactions fuelled by news anchors in TV studios.

Further, the attitude towards women in Indian society is largely hostile. Despite the Supreme Court stating that the "two-finger test", serves no purpose and is humiliating, doctors continue with this inhumane practice, often casting aspersions on the character of the victim. Our society, despite aspiring for progressiveness and gender equality is still extremely misogynistic. Sexual violence is often seen through the prism of "honour" rather than as a violation of a woman’s rights over her body. This probably explains the paradox that despite women being considered goddesses in our society, their choices are curbed and judged by misguided notions of morality.

It is cardinal to ensure that there is a positive attitude towards women’s empowerment if we are serious about purging sexual violence from our society. It is extremely important that our education inculcates gender sensitivity and promotes gender equality. Even the Justice Verma Committee suggested this when it recommended the formation of a constitutional authority on the lines of the comptroller and auditor general to deal with matters relating to education and non-discrimination of women and children.

Instead of stoking rhetoric, the media should play a constructive role in ensuring that legislators act with more maturity and objectivity. Our school curriculum should periodically be audited to ensure that they eliminate the scope of perpetuating prejudice, stereotyping and patriarchy.

Rather than making a spectacle of a few perpetrators to score political brownie points, political parties need to deliberate and arrive at a consensus to ensure there is a climate of respect, conducive to gender justice. So long as we don’t honestly introspect and seek solutions, India will remain a regressive society.

Also read: Nirbhaya’s rapists to hang: Why Supreme Court upheld death penalty

Writer

Madhuri Danthala Madhuri Danthala @madhuism_

The author is a political analyst based out of Bengaluru.

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