Death no deterrent

The gory episode of blood-curdling rape and murder of a 23-year-old physiotherapist in Delhi last December has seen swift judgment being delivered with the four adult accused being given the maximum punishment of death sentence by a special court. 

A fifth adult accused in the case could not be tried as he was found hanging in his jail cell before the trial began. The sixth accused, a minor, who was tried under the Juvenile Justice laws was sentenced to three years in a reform centre. With the fast-track court delivering justice within nine months of the crime, India’s criminal justice system has signalled that timely delivery of justice is possible in this country. The victim’s family and her friend, who was battered but survived, put aside their personal pain and trauma to pursue the case. Importantly, the public kept up pressure on the police and the courts.
Sure enough the crime fell in “every way within the rarest of rare category,” as the judge observed. Indeed, this was a “brutal and gruesome” assault. Yet, as many countries have already discovered, death sentences are unbecoming of a civilised society.

Has India become so inhuman that revenge and an eye-for-an-eye approach define our sense of justice? Besides, does the state have the right to take life? Many have argued that death sentence to rapists will deter others from committing this heinous crime. This argument is far from true. It is not the quantum of punishment that deters criminals but its certainty. There is no evidence that death sentence can bring down the level of crime. But more importantly, this verdict will prevent future rapes only if courts acting in other cases of sexual violence act as the fast-track court did and put the accused under trial and deliver justice quickly. They must send a strong message that rapists cannot expect to walk free.

 Mass protests and public pressure played an influential role in prodding India’s lethargic criminal justice system to deliver justice in this case. But the system needs to act without public prodding. Female and male victims of sexual violence should be able to count on the courts even in situations where their suffering doesn’t capture media and public attention. The Delhi girl’s  case stirred India’s conscience. Now we must act to ensure that others do not suffer her fate.

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