Last week, the Madras High Court recommended castration as ‘punishment to child sex abusers’. Supposedly, the ‘fear of losing one’s testicles’ would bring ‘magical results’ and keep rapists at bay.
This line of enquiry into a complex issue isn’t new. Many a time, when reports of rape emerged, there was an instant cry for death penalty and castration. “Let us be like Saudi Arabia, a hand if you steal and a penis if you rape.”
A matured and democratic society must react to issues that shake the collective conscience of the society. But, the judicial system must take guard to not be swayed by the raging emotions of the public. Oblivious to this cardinal principle, the high court has gone ahead and proposed a knee-jerk response to a systemic issue. What ‘magical results’ can one achieve if we castrate child-sex abusers?
As many activists, lawyers and psychologists have pointed out, sexual violence is not merely about penile penetration. Any non-consensual act of sex against any gender, excluding penile penetration, also qualifies as an act of rape. Be it the Indian political class or the judiciary, both seem to gloss over this important aspect when they try to ensure gender justice.
Those who bat for castrating rapists, including Justice N Kirubankaran, argue that this would tremendously help to bring down rape cases, especially, those against the children. Taking a leaf out of the same book, several countries, including some states in US, have incorporated castration as statutory punishment.
While statistics have showed that this has deterred rapes ever so slightly, both policymakers and social psychologists are skeptical about the social and human rights impact of this retributive form of punishment.
Similarly, when protests broke out against the 2012 Delhi gangrape, tough legal measures were taken against rape. But, of late, certain ambiguities concerning these changes are bringing other problems out into the open (See cover story: Are the new laws being miss-used?). This once again proves that legal and punitive measures without adequate dialogue are pointless.
While the JS Varma Commission constituted after the Delhi rape turned down the proposition of including castration as a solution — on the grounds that it did not factor in the social foundation of rape — castration as punishment has come up again after a spate of rape cases surfaced. At a time when aggressive State policies in the realm of security is made out to be the ideal method of governance, advocating punishment such as castration is fraught with danger.