On India‘s rape problem

Cruelty toward any living being, human or non-human, is crime against humanity . It is antithetical to the values the civilized the world over cherish. Rape — forced or coerced sexual intercourse of any kind — is one of the worst forms of cruelty. Ironically, this crime is still being perpetrated even in the part of the world that prefers to describe itself as advanced with a democratic system based on a maximum possible public consent.

Regrettably , the record of our own democratic state in combating this crime has been very disheartening.  Our political leadership at the Centre and in the provinces  still does not seem to be genuinely serious about combating this evil . Recently, our Union Cabinet has approved an Ordinance to provide death penalty for rapists of girls below 12 years. Earlier, the  state governments in   Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana and Arunachal Pradesh sought to amend our law to prescribe the death penalty for rape. 

The new Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance is said to provide for a jail term of minimum 20 years or life imprisonment or death for the rape of a girl under 12 years. The ordinance has the minimum punishment increased from 10 years to 20 years in the case of rape of a girl under 16 years. Minimum punishment for rape of women has been increased from rigorous imprisonment of 7 years to 10 years. Punishment in all rape cases can be extended to life imprisonment.  The ordinance also provides for investigation and trial to be completed in two months. It has no provision for anticipatory bail for a person accused of rape or gang rape of a girl under 16 years.

I do not think capital punishment for rape or any crime is a right remedy. Given the realities of life and its circumstances, it is almost impossible to be sure about the perpetrator of a crime. A reward of capital punishment would leave one with no space to rectify a wrong judgement if it is found out at some later stage that an innocent person was  wrongly convicted in the case. Pertinently, I am in agreement with the opinions of Mahatma Gandhi and B R Ambedkar on this matter. Gandhi was opposed to capital punishment. Ambedkar  said , “the proper thing for this country to do is to abolish the death sentence altogether.”  

Experts say death penalty has never been a deterrent against any crime. The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act of 2013 prescribes death penalty for rape in the event of it causing the victim’s death or a persistent vegetative state. It prescribes capital punishment for repeat offenders. This has not reduced rape incidents in India .  

The Law Commission of India has recommended the abolition of capital punishment , except in the terrorism-related cases. In its report the Justice Verma Committee, constituted in the aftermath of the infamous December 2012 Delhi gang rape , recommended life sentence to rape convicts . 

There is a near consensus across the well-informed public spectrum  that there are already many effective ways to curb rape incidents in the country. Our leaderships must comply with the letter and spirit of our Constitution. The  Constitution has incorporated several provisions to ensure the equality of status to women . India has ratified the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination  Against Women (CEDAW).  This must be honoured.    

Our leaderships should focus on making our security and intelligence system genuinely professional, people-friendly and autonomous to combat rape offenses. Our  criminal justice system must be made effective and speedy. Presently, conviction rates in rape cases are very low. There are biases of class, caste, religion and gender  within our  intelligence and security system . The system has had its linkages also with influential politicians. All this adversely influences the functioning of our intelligence and  security apparatus. Often our police delay in filing complaints of sexual assaults.They file diluted charge sheets. They conduct just pretentious  investigations. This allows perpetrators of rape and other crimes time to tamper with crucial evidence and influence witnesses and, sometimes, even victims.

The consensus goes that rape victims must not face any humiliation in a police station or a hospital. Our governments must rehabilitate and empower them . The victims must live with dignity. This would go a long way in stopping our still largely male-dominated society from stigmatizing any victims.

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