Death Penalty is Not the Answer
On February 3, 2013, the Indian President promulgated the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance 2013, which defines and outlines the procedures to deter sexual crimes against women. The fact that the Government had to do it through an ordinance, which is rare in India, showed the urgency of the matter. It was understandable given the outbreak of unprecedented protests all over the country, particularly in New Delhi, following the rape, and later the death, of a 23-year old girl in December.
There is no doubt that rape and sexual abuse is an extremely heinous crime. However, folks asking for a death sentence for this crime must realize that such a severe penalty may endanger the lives of the victims.
I realize how people feel about a heinous crime and their feelings for the victim and her family. I also value their hatred for the criminal. However, at the same time, we should be appreciative of the practical exigencies. For example, in Pakistan, it is a crime punishable by death to parade women naked in public; this amendment was enforced after some feudal paraded landless, naked female farmers in Nawabpur, Punjab. What lawmakers failed to realize was that if the crime of parading is death, then the criminal might as well shoot his victim after the parade: there cannot be a more severe punishment than death.
A few decades ago, two youngsters carjacked a police vehicle at gun point in California and with it the two policemen in the vehicle. They were only interested in the car, so they parked it next to an onion field and asked the policemen to run away. Just then, one carjacker told his mate about a new law in California under which anyone kidnapping a policeman would face the death sentence. The other man promptly shot both the policemen dead. Eventually, both men were arrested but the incident led to a furious debate in California that eventually resulted in lawmakers repealing the mandatory death punishment provision from the law. The episode inspired the movie Onion Fields.
The incident depicts a common sense proposition that if a criminal finds out that the sentence for the lesser offense he or she is committing is also death then there is nothing stopping the criminal from killing his victim to remove all traces of evidence.
One may go into the causes of the high rates of rape in India. Addressing them is the responsibility of the government and the society. However, one primary reason rape may be so common is the lack of deterrence as far as punishment is concerned. The trials should be quick and effective. There is no excuse not to appoint more judges and establish more courts. India has a huge population and it thus requires additional courts. This ironically does not even require resources as the legal system generates its own resources in the form of court fees and is thus self-sustainable. The courts should also start awarding costs to the victorious party as is done in the West.
I am of the opinion that much can be accomplished in deterring rape by simply introducing drastic legal reforms and fast-track or speedy courts. It is a misconception that capital punishment deters crimes. It does not. The institution of death sentence has been in vogue since time immemorial and has been on the statute books in India since the introduction of the Penal Code in 1860. It has not resulted in eliminating murders. We should, in this regard, keep in mind the situation in the Scandinavian countries where there is no capital punishment and the rate of murder is one of the lowest in the world.