An article by Aathira Maria Jose (2017 Civil batch)
In the backdrop of the brutal murder of the eight-year-old girl, Asifa in Kathua, I have seen numerous posts and comments saying “kill them” or “kill those bastards” and I can’t help wondering if we know what exactly we are dealing with. Recently, Madhya Pradesh passed a bill providing for death penalty for rape of girls up to age 12 and Rajasthan followed suit. The Indian Union Cabinet Minister for Women & Child Development, Maneka Gandhi, has said that she intends to propose death penalty for those who rape children aged below 12 years. Well, our politicians seem to think that advocating death penalty will solve the issue of child rape. Let me tell you why it won’t.
- We don’t know if death penalty acts as an effective deterrent to rape: In 2012, the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences in the U.S. published a comprehensive analysis of deterrence studies and came to the conclusion that it is impossible to determine whether death penalty is a deterrent or not. Or think about this, which rapist is going to think “Oh my god, I’ll get death penalty for this!” before raping a child? Even if they do, will the offender not rape the child or rather murder her after to remove the evidence.
- According to the “Crime in India 2016” report published by National Crime Records Bureau, the offenders were known to the victims in 94.6% of the total cases of rape reported. Urvashi Butalia asks “When we demand the death penalty, do we mean therefore that we should kill large numbers of uncles, fathers, brothers, husbands, neighbours? How many of us would even report cases of rape then? What we’re seeing now — the slow, painful increase in even reports being filed — will all disappear.” Under-reporting is a serious issue when it comes to filing of rape cases in India.
- Death penalty is just another populist policy. It gives the impression that the Government is doing something when it actually isn’t doing anything to save our children and women. Anup Surendranath, Director of the Centre on the Death Penalty at National Law University writes: “Child rights groups have often expressed grave concerns over the manner in which investigations and criminal prosecutions take place under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, and low conviction rates. The lack of specialised investigators, prosecutors, judges, mental health professionals, doctors, forensic experts and social workers working on cases of child rape specifically has been repeatedly cited as the need of the hour.”
- Death penalty targets the poor. Anup Surendranath writes “According to the Death Penalty India Report of 2016, a very large proportion of death row prisoners (over 75%) are extremely poor and belong to marginalized groups with barely any meaningful access to legal representation. Thus by choosing the death penalty as a response we are focusing on a punishment that structurally targets the poor.”
- Death penalty takes away the responsibility from us as a society. It becomes a “we against the monsters” fight when we created the monsters in the first place through the patriarchy rampant in our society. As Urvashi says “It is important to raise our collective voice against rape. But rape is not something that occurs by itself. It is part of the continuing and embedded violence in society that targets women on a daily basis. Let’s raise our voices against such violence and let’s ask ourselves how we, in our daily actions, in our thoughts, contribute to this, rather than assume that the solution lies with someone else. Let’s ask ourselves how we, our society, we as people, create and sustain the mindset that leads to rape, how we make our men so violent, how we insult our women so regularly, let’s ask ourselves how privilege creates violence.”
The point I am trying to get across is that death penalty isn’t the solution we need. At the same time, I cannot tell you what needs to be done either. The silver lining, though, is that we can find it together. For once, let’s stop the online cries to draw blood and sit back and talk about what more we can do so that another Jyoti Singh can go on to become a doctor and another Asifa can come home safe.