‘We shouldn’t suffer from the delusion that the death sentence will deter rape’

Kavita Krishnan
Kavita Krishnan

Do you think that justice has been delivered, with the announcement of the death penalty for the four accused in the Delhi gangrape case?

Let’s not forget that as the law stands, this death penalty is not for rape but for murder – as even the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) statistic has counted it as that, not rape. Also, this has not been tried under the new law, under which as well, death penalty is only when the rape leaves the victim dead or vegetative.

I understand the sense of anger and the need for retribution and closure that we need. I want to make that very clear. Our rage is completely justified. But there are some things to be considered: Firstly, we shouldn’t suffer from the delusion that this death sentence will deter rape, even a single one, because there is absolutely no evidence of this.

And then, we need to think about all the cases still fighting for justice – what kind of system makes it so difficult to even get a perpetrator to trial? Manorama Devi is picked up, gangraped, shot with bullets through her vagina. Was this not heinous?

Let’s consider this category of the ‘rarest of the rare’ – what about the Khairlanji case? Where the victim’s entire family is picked up, raped and killed. That didn’t qualify as the rarest of the rare either.

And Soni Sori..

Yes, Soni Sori. A case where the stones shoved inside a woman’s anus have been placed in front of a judge, and still, a case of rape has not even been booked. We need to reflect about each of these crimes as well – what justice are we delivering to them, when their rapists receive gallantry awards and are protected by the state?

How do you see this sentence affecting conviction rates?

In this particular case, the police has spoken of how there was a high degree of investigation, involving forensic examinations – which is welcome. But as we know now, 20 of the 23 cases tried in that same court have ended in acquittals this year. So then will rape only be considered rape if there is forensic evidence? The value of the survivors’ testimony is not something we respect. In a vast majority of cases, this forensic evidence is very hard to come by. One of the reasons conviction rates are low because our laws place very high value on the survivor’s testimony, but in actual practice, this testimony is treated like the least important part of a trial. The survivor is the most devalued person in that courtroom. Her evidence is pilloried, ridiculed.

After the Mumbai rape, former police commissioner of Mumbai YP Singh said 90 percent rape cases are false. How do we know this? Because he says, they do not end up severely injured in hospitals. So until our intestines are ripped out, we won’t be considered raped, the police will think we’re lying. This is the second reason convictions will now be even lower.

Only cases which result in mass outrage in Delhi will receive conviction. Mass outrage in Khairlanji, Nagpur or mothers naked on the streets in Manipur don’t count. Only the small niche where we have brutal injury combined with mass outrage in the national capital, will we have punishment. In the others, it’s hard to get any penalty at all. Justice is a lottery.

How does this verdict affect the fact that a majority of rapes are committed by perpetrators known to the survivor? Will we be even less likely to send fathers, uncles and gurus to jail?

The largest number of custodial rapes occur when someone abuses a position of trust – whether it is a guru in an ashram, or a father or an uncle, a close neighbour, a warden in a juvenile home, a schoolteacher. These are extremely heinous crimes that often occur over a protracted period of time, akin to torture – but what we need to ask ourselves is, do they appear less heinous because the degree of physical injury is less? Why is it that we have asked for death penalty in this case but for Asaram Bapu we ask not just for due process, but also special privilege? This particular verdict doesn’t offer reassurance or celebration. It is a moment for reflection. The struggle for justice is much more complicated than this.


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