Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Rape and Death Penalty

 Yet another Jasmine Revolution came up in New Delhi and then quietly died down.  It is like there are people who are determined to ensure at least one revolution a month, in India. This time the uprising was on an issue that no one could dare to question in public. The anger was against a dastardly crime in which a budding life was destroyed by a group of people, right in the middle of the capital city. But then, such incidences are not new to India or to Delhi. Such incidences are not carried out by aliens visiting from distant planets but by those who are an integral part of this country.  The anger should have been against ourselves as the victim and the criminals were both our own people, though, as usual, the same was projected out against the state, police and all others except ourselves.

The anger and revolution died down, but the crimes against women did not. The newspapers continue to be filled with news of crimes against women. However, we don’t see the same revolutions happenings against these incidences as well. That makes one suspicious of the origin of such protests. Are they merely a manifestation of pent up anger? Or, are they the result of some clever and selective manipulations by interested parties or even media?

Be that as it may, let us come back to the subject of death penalty for rape. The very concept of death penalty is not acceptable to many people.  If people and societies are seeking abolition of death penalty even for murders, the logic behind seeking the same for rape is difficult to fathom.

What causes these demands for death penalty for rapes? The most common answer one gets is that rape is even worse than murder! I fail to understand this logic. Who in the right mind would prefer one’s sister or daughter or wife or mother losing their life?  Only those people who have false notions about the virtue of women being associated with their body would want a dead relative to a raped relative.

If we analyze this further, it is this very attitude that causes rapes in our society. The rapists know that for a woman (and her family) being raped is worse than being killed.  So, one who is raped is likely to remain silent than come out and fight, for fear of social ostracism.  The day we treat rape as any other crime against the body and not against the soul, the victim will be in a position to fight back with her dignity intact. That will ensure the shame of rape is on the rapist and not the victim.  That will be the day when unscrupulous men will be scared to harass a woman, let alone rape her.

Look at the demand from another angle. Death penalty is awarded even for murder, in the rarest of rare cases. Do we want rapes to be classified as normal, rare and rarest of rare? Also, consider the mindset of the criminals. If rape and murder results in same maximum punishment of death, what would be safer for the criminal- a live victim who might provide evidence in court about the rape or a dead victim who cannot give any testimony about the murder? In other words, death penalty for rape will only lead to rape cum murder.

If we value a woman as a human being and not as a mere property of the men, then we have to ensure, first and foremost, safety of her life. The safety of her body, which includes prevention of rape or any other kind of attacks, comes only second to safety of life.

Finally, look at the efficacy of death penalty itself. It has been a part of the statutory books as a punishment for murder, for a long time. However, the presence of death penalty has not ensured prevention of murder for crimes are not committed by rational minds that analyses the law and punishments before doing the same.  What it might do is to make the standard of proof in the trials even stricter since the death penalty cannot be awarded that casually.

Crimes are carried out by irrational minds. This irrationality may be a result of various factors.  These factors are what the society needs to remove so that crimes are prevented. Any penalty for a crime does not undo a crime, it only provides a sense of revenge and, thereby, false justice.  Crimes can be prevented through inculcation of right values into the minds of people. It is the values that prevent a crime. None of us refrain from doing any acts because they are defined as crimes or they carry such and such punishment, but because those acts go against our value system.

Crimes have to be prevented to ensure there are no victims. That is indeed a tough task for any society. But shortcuts like death penalty are no solution either. Rather, it would only cause even more prejudice to the victims.

PS: This post is not to suggest what is right or what is wrong. It only reflects my thoughts on the issue. If any of the points raised here hurts anyone’s feelings, my apologies. If you have any views beyond hurt on any of the issues raised, you are most welcome to share them here, so that the readers get a wider perspective on the issue.


  1. Yeah, death penalty does not help. It goes way beyond "an eye for an eye", and does not fit into the largely "tolerant" Indian milieu.

    Far more effective deterrance would be to include caning, as is done in Singapore, Indonesia, Arab countries etc. Let rapists and molestors get sound thrashing in the behind (with whip, cane or baton) when found guilty. Ofcourse, just before the jail term begins. It will do wonders, and make the cities safer for women to study and work.

  2. Laws do not prevent crimes, but law enforcement does. What we require is reform of the political system, police and Judiciary.