Death penalty for rapists: Justice must be swift and severe, else govt indulging in mere window dressing

Against the backdrop of the verdict on the Asaram rape case on Wednesday, the ordinance promulgated by President Ram Nath Kovind paving the way for the death penalty in cases where the victim is below 12 years of age gained more traction.

 Death penalty for rapists: Justice must be swift and severe, else govt indulging in mere window dressing

Representational image. Firstpost/Hassan M Kamal

Even though the victim Asaram allegedly molested was 16, the proximity of the verdict to the upping of ante indicates that even where minors over the age of 12 are victimised, the courts will be more likely to throw the book at the guilty.

The debate over the value or effect of the death penalty for rapists of minors can go on forever. The school which uses statistics to back to back its claim that the legal threat of death has no impact and is therefore not a deterrent forgets to add the riders in this rain.

The biggest flaw is that death is so far away as the conclusion that it loses its power of intimidation. The accused will perhaps reach the gallows 20 odd years from now if he or she is found guilty, all the appeals fail and the witnesses are relevant. With that sort of a time lag in dispensing justice, it just isn’t scary enough.

Besides, in the first instance one has to get caught and the power base enjoyed by the culprit and its seven tiles of influence, nepotism, intimidation, benefit of doubt, corruption, nexus with police and empathy from a hugely male-dominated, chauvinistic and repressed society that largely accepts the girl was ‘asking for it’ makes the death penalty even more obscure in the mind of the predator. It is, after all, just a girl.

On this basis, the penalty has to be given teeth and those teeth lie in the optics. At the low end of the scale — as is done in the UK — the naming and shaming of pedophiles and convicted rapists has to be a clause attached to any such heinous act, regardless of age.

On the top end, cases of a sexual nature have to be fast-tracked through specially designated courts so that the word gets out that there is no sanctuary in the legal time lag. These courts must also be responsible under decree to keep the case alive. That is a major flaw in our country because the heat goes into chill in hours. This painfully short window of attention is wide open for accused to slip through. No one really cares.

Case in point: The woman teacher who was allegedly ‘pimping’ college girls for VIPs in Tamil Nadu. By the most tenuous linking and frightfully weak innuendo, Governor Banwarilal Purohit had his name dragged through the mud and he and his family must have suffered severe embarrassment. Now, it is over and no one knows or cares to know whether the woman has been charged with defamation or if the charges have any merit. Is she back to teaching?

But at the top of the pole are the optics of the death sentence. The secrecy and the mysterious opaqueness under which the hangings occur are too remote and unreal to inspire fear. In the UAE, two rape cases involving minors were dealt with expeditiously. Within a year, both guilty individuals were shot by firing squad and it is because there is transparency and a sense of finality in that the deed and the penalty are inexorably linked by proximity which reduces crimes of such nature. Everyone knows there is no getting away.

Three riders should be added to a Parliament bill (when it is introduced): Once a case is filed it will be settled within one year. Updates on the progress of the case will be issued each month. Death will be by firing squad and so publicised.

All convicted rapists will be on mandatory probation and on a watch list for three years after their release. Till the resolve to do right by little children is purposeful, the ordinance is mere window dressing.

Updated Date: Apr 24, 2018 17:46:55 IST