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Delhi gangrape: Why hanging the juvenile won't stop rape

The outrage is justified. The severity of a crime should determine if an underage accused be tried in an adult or a juvenile court.

I am not sure how many delinquents were informed enough to have factored in their legal impunity, but now that the media has made it common knowledge, we should push for a law that brands rape an adult crime. It is even possible to cause death without meaning to. But rape does not happen accidentally. Whatever his age, a rapist knows what he is doing.

Asaram Bapu after he was brought to Jaipur for questioning yesterday: PTI

Asaram Bapu after he was brought to Jaipur for questioning yesterday: PTI

Now if all that happens with retrospective effect and happens fast enough, we may yet get the juvenile accused in the 16 December gangrape hanged or shifted from the reformatory to a prison proper for a suitably longer term. In Jodhpur, if an uninhibited probe finds Asaram guilty as charged, he should be convicted irrespective of the violence unleashed on the streets by his followers.

That, we believe, will serve two purposes: one of justice and the other of deterrence. The first -- justice -- is a construct in philosophy and there can never be a consensus on what really constitutes it. Deterrence, on the other hand, rests on the rationale of negative motivation, of facing the consequence of ones action.

While I agree that acceptable standards of justice demand stricter punishment -- a life term or even death -- for the exceptional cruelty perpetrated by the accused in the Delhi gangrape case, I doubt if even such punishment will have the expected deterrent effect on potential rapists of that age group and socio-economic bearing.

For negative motivation to work, one must have one’s faculties at hand to consider the possible consequence of ones action. One may fear loss of reputation more than one fears death. Scores of rape victims, and some rapists when caught, commit suicide. The idea of being snatched away from the good things of life and ones loved ones make most fear long imprisonment. Capital punishment, of course, hits the most primary of our instincts. But what happens when one has no sense of good and evil? No reputation, no family, and no life worth caring for?

If you believe this is an irrelevant argument, I don’t blame you. Nor do I expect you to explore the underbellies of our big cities and check for yourself the unsettling process of dehumanisation that goes on there. Children, as young as five, addicted to drugs. Boys, some born in city ghettos and others sent out from villages, fending for themselves even before turning eight. No home or family, at least not functional ones. So routinely abused that many learn to enjoy, or at least make peace with, sodomy.

We may still reason that not all such boys turn out to be rapists but we will only delude ourselves. Just scan the media and see how frequently such kids are finding victims. Remember, only a fraction of rapes get reported and most victims belong to socio-economic classes that are rarely entertained at police stations or considered headline material anyway. Try talking to domestic helps and many will tell you why they stop sending daughters to school after a certain age and “keep them locked up at home till they are marriageable”.

A media mob surrounds the juvenile offender in the Delhi gangrape

A media mob surrounds the juvenile offender in the Delhi gangrape

And it's not only women, everyone is a potential victim here. How many headlines bemoaned the fate of young executives from small towns who were victims of Gurgaon’s infamous share-cab killers who murdered dozens of unsuspecting passengers for as little as fifty rupees in their pocket? How many corpses lying in the roadside ditches of Ghaziabad -- robbed, slashed and thrown away by three-wheeler gangs -- make news?

Unfortunately, there is nothing that deters this wasted lot. What possibly do these ‘delinquents’ have to lose or care for? If you meet these hollowed addicts, you can tell that many of them will not go on to live very long in any case. When they are not trying to make an illegal living, they loiter around in bunches, drinking, smoking, snorting and looking for easy targets. Do they even discriminate between snatching and rape?

I am not even remotely suggesting that the plight of these youngsters justifies any leniency. Every single crime needs to be punished. But what do we do when punishment loses its deterrent effect on its most notorious target group? Do we propose a social ‘cleansing’?

Since last week, I have met dozens of devotees of Asaram in Gujarat and elsewhere.

The top sevaks who run his many ashrams may have vested interests in assisting the godman in his shady operations. But what about those crores of devotees who swear by his controversial teachings and seemingly murky dealings? If he is found guilty, do we expect the tens of millions of his followers to denounce him and, more importantly, not fall for another Godman in the future? Will an exemplary expose of one guru act as a deterrent for such blind cult following that emboldens individuals to consider themselves above the law?

The problem is far too big than we are perhaps ready to accept. Given the magnitude of this social rot, amputation cannot be the only remedy. It demands an internal cure. The government must be made accountable for the thousands of kids who slip through its social safety net, leaving it in tatters. The society needs to deal with the insecurity that makes millions gravitate to false hope.

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