One of the more perennial aspects of our democracy is that both the populace and the ruling government love kneejerk reactions to problems. Whenever an incident occurs which garners enough reaction, a plethora of social justice warriors – which these days include major film stars trying to gain some credibility by being ‘woke’.
It’s our national characteristic – to demand instant gratification when something grabs our eyeballs – rather than demanding a systemic change.
The reaction of most of our leaders makes it clear that grabbing eyeballs is more important than anything that resembles actual debate.
While Akshay Kumar demanded ‘strict laws’, Kabir Singh director Sandeep Reddy Vanga demanded more ‘fear’. Meanwhile one news channel, owned by a media conglomerate known for its anchors’ dulcet tones, ran a Twitter poll wondering if the people actually backed lynch mobs.
The temple of democracy was no matter, with politicians baying for bloody.
On the other hand, activists, lawyers and others said the death penalty was definitely ‘not the solution’.
Cutting across party lines, MPs condemned the recent spurt in crime against women and demanded strict laws that punish the guilty within a fixed time-frame. Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu even suggested a rethink on allowing convicts in heinous crimes to go in for mercy appeals.
Speaking in the Upper House, Samajwadi Party's Jaya Bachchan said the rapists should be "brought out in public and lynched."
DMK's P Wilson said courts should be empowered to surgically and chemically castrate convicted rapists before they are released from jails so as to check repeat offenders.
The cost of such procedure should be recovered from the accused by selling his assets, he said, adding list of sexual offenders should also be made public.
Terming the rape of the young veterinarian in Hyderabad as "painful" and an "inhuman" incident, Congress MP Uttam Kumar Reddy blamed the sale of liquor in Telangana for the unfortunate incident and demanded that fast track court should pronounce quick verdict and hang the convicts.
T R Baalu (DMK) raised the issue of sexual assault on a school girl in Coimbatore.
Those involved in the crime should be punished, Baalu said, adding the government should come forward and ensure time-bound action.
Saugata Roy (TMC) as of the view that the House should take cognisance of this serious incident and urged the Centre to immediately frame laws to make rape punishable by death sentence.
Observing that such brutal incidents create a bad atmosphere across the country, Bandi Sanjay Kumar (BJP) said that "we need to implement punishment on the spot." "How we need to respond is the debate of the day. How can we see that such incidents are checked," he said.
Pinaki Misra (BJD) questioned the delay in executing the death sentence awarded to convicts in the Nirbhaya gang-rape case.
He said laws and establishment of fast track courts will not make a differences till the time the death sentence is not executed.
"At this hour we should speak in one voice," he said.
NCP's Supriya Sule (NCP) said that there should be "zero tolerance" towards such incidents.
Vinayak Raut (Shiv Sena) also condemned the incident and said there was a need to bring a law in the ongoing session.
Danish Ali (BSP) said the Telangana incident has brought shame to the country.
Nama Nageswar Rao of the TRS, which is in power in Telangana, said the state government had given highest priority to cases of crime against women and noted that accused in this case were arrested within six hours.
Time has come for amending the IPC and CrPC provision suitably so that a judgement can be delivered in 30 days in such cases, he said.
Earlier, Rajya Sabha Chairman Naidu rejected adjournment on the Hyderabad incident but allowed members to make brief mentions on the same and other such incidents elsewhere in the country.
As several MPs made a case for setting up more fast track courts to deal with cases of sexual assault, Naidu lamented the process of "appeal, next appeal, and next appeal".
"What happens even after punishment is given (to convicts). We all are witness...appeal, mercy (petition)...can anybody think of having mercy on such people," he said, observing this process has been followed for years.
"We should really think about change in legal system, in our judicial system," he said.
"This kind of violation of dignity of women cannot go on unchallenged. It should be nipped in the bud," he said, and added that it was already too late.
‘Definitely not the solution’
As members of parliament demanded stringent punishment for rape convicts including death penalty, lynching, and castration, women rights activists and lawyers argued on Monday it was "definitely not the solution".
Delhi-based social activist and human rights campaigner Shabnam Hashmi said mandating death penalty will only "adversely affect" the cause of women.
"Death penalty is definitely not the solution. In fact, it only adversely affects the cause of women. It often leads the accused to finish off any kind of evidence so that there is no proof," she told PTI.
She added that in case of rapes within the family, provision of death penalty leads to "pressure on women not to report".
The debate on punishment for rapists have reopened after a 25-year-old veterinarian was gangraped and murdered in Hyderabad last week. Several other such incidents were reported from elsewhere in the country in recent times.
Members cutting across party lines condemned the recent spurt in crime against women and demanded stringent laws that punishes the guilty within a fixed time-frame.
Death penalty for rapists, lynching of convicts in public and castration of those convicted were among the demands made in Rajya Sabha on Monday.
Kavita Krishnan, the Secretary of the All India Progressive Women's Association (AIPWA), said on Twitter that the solution did not lie in capital punishment but, in "respect for consent".
"There can't be a 'debate' anymore on capital punishment being the solution. It is NOT. Feminists who are on the frontline fighting rape culture daily, areED of having to rehash the same arguments over and over.
"Feminists don't oppose death penalty because they are soft-hearted but because it goes AGAINST women's interests and serves patriarchy (sic)," she wrote in a series of tweets.
In 2013, the government had announced that death penalty would be applicable to those convicted of rape resulting in death.
According to Supreme Court lawyer Karuna Nundy, demanding death penalty was a "reflex for those who are frustrated" and did not know how to protect women's freedom.
She said sentencing came at the last stage of a criminal case, and "true justice" would happen "before the woman is raped".
"Even after the assault, if you don't have an FIR registered, if there is no speedy trial nor conviction of the guilty - then deterrence is low. Governments haven't enabled enough judges to examine these issues, and we are not recruiting police and judiciary on the basis of their constitutional values and competence to protect the freedoms of the disadvantaged groups. The sentencing is only something that comes in the end.
"So, even if it was five years in jail, if we had swift certain sentencing, it would be a major major deterrent," Nundy said.
She added that the demands for death penalty, lynching or castration of the convict, "will make no difference" if the accused isn't even scared of being caught.
"The Verma Committee kept the death penalty out of sentencing for rape because they cited hard data they had examined, showing that a decrease in murders accompanied a decrease in death penalties. In our own country it has been demonstrated that death penalty does not reduce violent crimes," she said.
Supreme Court lawyer Shilpy Jain said death penalty was a big no, especially for a country like India where the implementation of the law is poor.
She said the ground investigation for crimes is done by the lowest rung officials who are often barely school passouts, and therefore "not academically equipped to deal with law". She added they were "overworked and underpaid", leading to corruption.
"That is why many investigations lead to acquittals. We do not rely on forensic evidence," she said.
Hashmi said while fast-track courts for speedy conviction are a necessity, there was also a need for gender sensitisation, both at schools and in homes.
"We need to understand why we, as a society, are producing rapists, because nobody is a born rapist.
"Rape is a product of a patriarchal and feudal society...our society perpetuates hatred, especially towards women, through their portrayal and objectification, like in films," Hashmi said. PTI TRS
With inputs from agencies