10 Oct 2013 | by Shai Venkatraman | #DeathPenalty ì | Democracy - Original Feature
The four convicted rapists will be hanged. Outside the courtroom, the order is celebrated by crowds gathered to hear the verdict.
The victim was a 23-year-old student who was brutally raped and beaten in a bus in Delhi in December 2012. She died after nearly a fortnight in hospital.
Rape is common to India. Statistics show that every 20 minutes a woman is raped in the country. But this particular case has generated tremendous public outrage.
“All rapists should be punished with death so that people fear the punishment. Now people think that can commit rapes and get away because the punishment is a small one. Only such a severe punishment will make people scared about committing such acts”.
Capital punishment in India however is restricted to crimes considered “rarest of the rare”. In the last decade, only three people have been executed. Over 450 remain on death row.
“The widespread anger to the point of supporting the death penalty for perpetrators reflects a deep frustration”, says A. L. Sharada, a women’s rights activist.
“If you look at the conviction rate for rape in India, it is around 24 percent. Everywhere we see, we find the system is failing and there is poor response to any kind of crisis or need related to security of women”.
A poor legal record and social stigma often prevent Indian women from reporting sexual assaults. However, things are changing. Intense public focus over the last 6-7 months has motivated many in coming forth. But will capital punishment address the underlying reasons for the astonishingly high incidence of rape in India?
Kalpana Sharma, a senior journalist who has been reporting on women’s issues for several decades, is among those who believe that handing out more death sentences will distract people from the more difficult question of why Indian girls and women continue to be targets of sexual violence.
“If a woman out in the public space is yours, if she’s your wife, your daughter or mother then the man will protect her. If not, she is a prey. That is the mindset, and it cannot change overnight. It has to be a combination of legal changes, and changes in education”.
Since the Delhi assault, police figures show that reports of rape have skyrocketed in the country’s capital. The Indian government has also introduced fast-track courts to expedite rape cases and new laws which criminalize acts like voyeurism and stalking.
Flavia Agnes, a women’s rights lawyer, says these will have an impact only if there is a change in attitude among the police in the lower ranks who register such offences.
“Attitudes will not change if the police don’t know the change in law has happened. Every investigating officer, every police constable, must be aware that there is a change and must adopt this new attitude for things to work”.
Better policing methods and a swifter justice system will help. But the reasons underlying rape go much deeper. It lies in the gender bias that women in India are up against even today. Until these change a few hangings will do little to stem violence against women.
IPSTV contributor Shai Venkatraman reports from India.