Sentencing rapists to death will make little difference to the lives of women in India.

Im an Indian woman worried about my safety but I dont want death penalty for rapistsCourtesy: PTI
Voices Opinion Friday, May 05, 2017 - 18:12

Friday, the fifth of May 2017, will be remembered as the day the Supreme Court upheld the verdict that the men who raped and murdered a paramedical student on a cold Delhi night in December 2012, were guilty of a heinous crime.

It will also be remembered as the day that the highest court in India, once again, upheld the capital punishment.

The four adult men, out of the six people who raped Jyoti Singh, assaulted her friend, and left her to die on the road on December 16, 2012, will be hanged to death. The fifth accused was a juvenile at the time of the crime and was tried separately. The sixth died in jail, allegedly by hanging himself.

Like every other citizen of the country, I was shocked and distraught when the case first came to light. Back then – sitting in a newsroom that had finally decided to give as much importance to a case of rape as the election of Narendra Modi as the Chief Minister of Gujarat – I was as angry as every other person who followed the case.

Jyoti Singh was not the first woman to be raped and murdered in India, nor was she the last. But in a country where the violence faced by women everyday was still too taboo to talk about, Jyoti became a symbol. A symbol of the fact that we’re not safe, and that we have a long way to go before we can start feeling safe. The brutal rape and murder of Jyoti Singh started a conversation that we should have been having a long time ago.

Unfortunately, though, killing the men who raped and murdered her will do little to take that conversation forward.

Those who stand for capital punishment say that killing rapists – and murderers – will stop others from repeating their crimes. Just a look at the number of cases of rape and murder in this country, where the death penalty is still legal, is enough to discredit this argument.

In 2015 alone, there were 34,651 cases of rape that were reported in India. And of the reported cases, 95.5% of the rape accused are known to the victims.

They are grandfathers, fathers, brothers, sons, uncles, neighbours, friends… Unlike the cases of rape that make it to our TV screens, most victims have to deal with the fact that a person they trust – in many cases, a person they love – has unleashed such violence on them.

If the death penalty was a deterrent to men who rape, you would think the numbers would have come down.

Unfortunately, though, rapists rely on the society’s and even families’ complicity and believe that their crime will go unreported – which is true in many cases.

Women are still told by society that being a victim of rape is shameful, that seeking justice will only ruin their lives, that raising their voice against a family member will bring dishonour to the family… 

And unless that thinking changes, capital punishment will make no difference to the reality on the ground.

Considering that already not enough women come forward to file cases of rape against the perpetrators because they're family members, death penalty as punishment will only bring that number down further.

The other justification for the death penalty is that criminals should get what they deserve.

In other words, an eye for an eye, blood in return for blood.

Jyoti Singh’s parents have maintained that only a death sentence for their daughter’s killers will satisfy them – and their grief and need for retribution is completely understandable.

But that is the reason we have laws and systems of justice – affected families will, of course, seek retribution. But that doesn’t mean that as a state, we should stand for killing as a solution.

The problem with revenge as a substitute for justice is that it changes nothing. It doesn’t force us to look at the root cause of the issue and address it. It doesn’t force us to think about rehabilitation. It doesn’t allow us, as a country, to question what justice actually means. And it makes us settle down, once our bloodthirst is quenched, until the next brutal case arises.

When women get out of their workplaces today and navigate their way back home by public transport, celebrating a death sentence for four men who raped a woman in Delhi will do nothing to change the fact that they’re afraid of the eyes that follow them on the road.

When women facing domestic violence wake up tomorrow to another day spent in fear of what abuse their husbands or in-laws will unleash on them, the impending state killing of Jyoti Singh’s rapists will neither stop the blows, nor pause the emotional pain.

When women who have faced marital rape try to deal with their pain, the hanging of four strangers will not change the fact that their country deliberately refuses to even recognise that their suffering is the result of a crime.

The death penalty for Pawan, Mukesh, Vinay and Akshay might satisfy some primal urge that we have for blood and gore, but killing them does not make me safer – at home, in public, or at the workplace.

Note: Views expressed are the author's own.

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