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Capital punishment may not stop capital crimes

 | September 14, 2013

Weeks before the court had pronounced the four guilty, the media and the masses had conducted their own trial.


Four men guilty of raping a young woman in Delhi last December are to hang.

A Sessions Court pronounced this verdict on Friday afternoon saying that the crime committed in a moving bus was a “rarest of rare case” and deserved death penalty. The sentence has to be confirmed by the Delhi High Court.

Six people had raped the woman after beating up her male friend. The six did not stop there. They ripped apart her abdomen with an iron rod and pulled out her organs. After this, they threw the couple – bleeding and half naked — out of the bus, and left them on the road in Delhi’s biting cold.

The man lived, but the woman died after several days in a Singapore hospital, where she was taken for treatment.

Of the six, one man committed suicide in jail and another was sent to a juvenile home for three years, since he was just under 18, the age one legally majors in India.

The capital punishment for the remaining four men was a forgone conclusion. Weeks before the court had pronounced the four guilty, the media and the masses had conducted their own trial.

Hang the rapists, read placards carried by hundreds of people all over India and even outside the court which was hearing the case. The media demanded death for the rapists/murderers.

I was aghast when a very seasoned journalist and commentator like Bachi Karkaria – under whom I once worked in The Statesman of the 1970s Kolkata – said in the course of a recent television debate that the rapists must be put away for life in “solitary confinement”. I could see that she was livid.

So were some others who were part of the TV discussion that night. Many of them wanted the rapists/murderers to be sent to the gallows.

It is true that the Delhi rape and murder sickened India like nothing else. But rape and murder are nothing new in this country.

There have been high profile cases like the rape of a foreign diplomat outside Delhi’s Siri Fort (where the International Film Festival of India was on!) some years ago, and just some weeks ago, of another girl in an abandoned Mumbai mill.

Here too, her male companion was beaten and tied up, and the girl, a young photojournalist on an assignment, was raped. But she was not killed. The men have been arrested.

No parole

Now in these incidents, the victims have been from the educated and better-off sections of the society.

However, for every such high profile rape, there are hundreds of other instances where those assaulted are poor, illiterate women.

Even the Mumbai mill had seen rapes earlier and by the same men who molested the photojournalist. Only that the other women were poor and did not have the courage and clout to walk into a police station.

In such a scenario, does the Delhi rape became the “rarest of rare case”, which alone calls for death sentence under the Indian law.

What is most pertinent, it is a well-documented fact that capital punishment has never deterred capital crimes. More and more countries have done away with the noose. Or hardly use it.

Even in the US, there have been instances of the wrong men being sent to the electric chair. At other times, innocent men have been saved in the nick of time.

In a country like India with its ineffective and corrupt police force, its phenomenal caste prejudices and huge economic disparities among the population, justice may not always be just. It is quite possible that the guilty escapes and the innocent is put to death.

There is a classic quote by an American Supreme Court judge who once said that capital punishment was for those without capital.

All this, of course, is not to condone the Delhi rapists. Not at all. They have to be punished. But by hanging them if the Indian society and the legal system hope to create fear that will stop others from perpetrating heinous crimes such as rape and murder, such punishment may not work.

Innumerable studies conducted across continents have affirmed this. Time and again with definitive conclusions. The noose will not stop someone out to rape or murder.

Probably, a far better way of dealing with the Delhi rapists/murders could be to put them away in prison for life. No parole. They must die behind bars.

Gautaman Bhaskaran is India Editor of FMT, and Chennai-based author, columnist and movie critic. He may be emailed at[email protected]


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