Sunday, August 25, 2013

Death Penalty is not the Solution for Rape Crimes but a Retrograde Step

On Thursday Aug 22 2013 , a 22-year-old woman, an photojournalism intern with an English magazine, was allegedly raped by the five accused at the Shakti Mills compound in one of the Mumbai’s most affluent areas Parel  in evening 8 pm when she had gone there with a male colleague on an assignment. The accused tied the hands of the victim’s colleague with belts and took her to a thicket where they took turns to rape her. The incident, which is reminder of the December 16 Delhi gang-rape case of last year, has sparked nationwide outrage again.

In between two cases in Mumbai and Delhi, there have been numerous other cases in both the cites, though they mostly doesn’t make the headlines. These aren’t even counting the sexual assaults which never go reported, walled away by shame or hidden inside our homes. If there has been any positive to these horrendous cases, it has been the enormous outcry from Indian society. In December last year,  student-led protests in New Delhi grew to encompass Indians from all walks of life. Tens of thousands took the streets with the clear message that something has to change, and that women should no longer have to live in fear. A similar wholesome outrage is witnessed now after the shameful incident here in Mumbai.

Among the many progressive and constructive calls to authorities to control the menace, there are sizable number of people  calling for mandatory death sentence in cases of sexual violence.The anger felt is completely understandable, as it is the desire to impose stricter laws around sexual violence to ensure that what is happening in Delhi, Mumbai and every other part of India, should never happen again. But imposing the death penalty would just perpetuate the cycle of violence.

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all circumstances, regardless of the circumstances or the nature of the crime. It is the ultimate cruel and inhuman punishment, and a violation of a fundamental human right - the right to life. Today, 140 countries in the world have abolished executions in law or practice. Only some 58 countries (including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, China in south east Asia) are actively practicing it.  In the European Union member states, Article 2 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union prohibits the use of capital punishment.  The United Nations General Assembly has adopted, in 2007 and 2010, non-binding resolutions calling for a global moratorium on executions, with a view to eventual abolition. Over past fifty years, there is a global trend moving towards the abolition of the death penalty.

Throughout history, there is no evidence to suggest that the threat of execution works as a special deterrence. In London in 18/19th centuries when even pickpockets were hanged publicly, those gathered to watch the spectacle of hanging use to get their pockets picked again.

In present context of Indian situation, certainty of punishment rather than the severity is the solution. Its the woefully low conviction rate for these crimes which has to be addressed. Imposing the death penalty for sexual assault cases would only worsen this situation, as judges would hesitate to give such an extreme sentence, and the legal process would become even lengthier and more complicated. The laws and the justice system must be reformed, and the definition of rape, which is currently far from adequate, should be amended. Many women are reluctant to report crimes, fearing humiliation and degrading treatment by the police, or the social stigma that comes from society at large. The efficiency of Indian legal system coupled with abatement of sexism from our society is the way forward.There is no question that the country's women deserve much better legal protection, but the death penalty is not the answer.

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