“Where can we go to find God if we cannot see Him in our own hearts and in every living being.”
– Swami Vivekananda
Singing superstar, actor and filmmaker Zubeen Garg, Lok Sabha member from Tezpur RP Sarma while expressing their anger over the recent spurt in rape cases in Assam, have publicly called for a stringent law (capital punishment) to punish the guilty. The clamour for death penalty to rapists of children has been growing in the wake of the brutal rape of an eight-year old in Kathua and the rape of a teenager below 18 in Unnao in Uttar Pradesh. On Sunday even an industrialist gave vent to his disgust and declared that he felt like volunteering for the job of the executioner. THE vehement calls from some sections of civil society for an amendment to the law dealing with rape in order to provide for the death penalty for those found guilty of the crime have found resonance among some members of Parliament. The minimum punishment for rape under Section 376 (1) of the IPC is imprisonment for seven years, unless the court gives adequate and special reasons in the judgment for imprisonment for a shorter term. The clamour for the death sentence for rape either assumes that it should be a mandatory punishment without the alternative of the life sentence or that it should be an optional punishment to be imposed at the discretion of the sentencing judge, the alternative being the life sentence. Saner voices have counselled caution and pointed out that though there is provision of capital punishment for murder, the crime continues to be committed.
Union Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi has said her ministry will seek an amendment to the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, to provide for death as the maximum punishment for the rape of those below 12. The anger is understandable but legislation ought to be a well-considered exercise and not a response based on a sense of outrage over particular incidents. In recent months, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana and Arunachal Pradesh have sought to amend the law to prescribe the death penalty for the rape of a minor below the age of 12. The moot question is will that be enough to check the occurrence of this heinous crime? Will that make Indian women feel safer? Has death penalty stopped murders? The answer is big ‘no’. Then what is the guarantee that it will stop rapes? It seems the call for capital punishment ignores the ground realities. So, the issue needs to be examined objectively, as any knee-jerk reaction would complicate the whole issue.
In most cases of child rape and molestation, the perpetrator is a person known to victim and, therefore, the child willingly of unwilling fails to name the offender. When the family members of a rape victim get to know about the sad incidence, all efforts are made to hide it, out of fear, shame or mistrust of police. The result is a substantial number of rape cases go unreported. Moreover, there is no evidence to suggest that the death penalty has either brought down the crime rate or deterred probable offenders. Efforts should be initiated to change the mindset of males towards women through education and concerted efforts at gender sensitization. Focus should be made to a better way to secure justice for child victims than concentrating on the death penalty.