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Feminists oppose death verdict to rape convicts: 'Politicians capitalising on pain'

Counterview Desk
Following dismissal of the curative petitions filed by two convicts in the December 2012 case, feminists from across the country issued a statement to appeal to the President of India to stop the execution of all four persons convicted in the case. The signatories included organisations working on women and children’s rights as well as queer and trans rights, disability, environment and other people’s movements.
Among the individual signatories are leading names on women’s rights such as Uma Chakravarti, Veena Shatrughna, Indira Jaising, Nivedita Menon, Lalita Ramdas, Mary E John, Rachana Mudraboyina and others; children’s rights activists and groups; writers and artists such as Gogu Shyamala and Sheba Chhachhi, senior journalists Pamela Phillipose, filmmakers Anand Patwardhan, Nishtha Jain, and hundreds of others.

Text:

As individuals and groups who have been engaged in the struggles for women’s rights, safety and justice, it is often presumed that we would support the demand for death penalty for sexual assault.
But for decades, even as we have consistently fought to make the world safer for women through changes in policy and law, and social awareness by breaking the silence on these heinous crimes, we have consistently argued against the death penalty for sexual assault, as well as, all other crimes.
In the light of the death warrant being issued on 7 January 2020 against Akshay Kumar, Vinay Sharma, Pawan Gupta, and Mukesh Singh convicted of the brutal assault, gangrape and murder of a 23-year old medical intern in Delhi in December 2012, we reiterate our position against the death penalty.
We understand the inexorable pain of the parents and other loved ones of women and children who are raped and, in many cases, killed. However, efforts by politicians and parties, courts and other vested interests to capitalise on their pain and make the case a matter of the nation’s honour, give false hope that the harshest punishment of death will prevent all such cases in the future.
The bare truth is that even after the Indian state executed Auto (Gowri) Shankar in 1995, Ranga and Billa (Kuljeet Singh and Jasbir Singh) in 1982, and Dhananjay Chatterjee in 2004 for rape/s and murder, sexual assaults and killings continue unabated.

We are against the death penalty because:

  1. The death penalty is not a deterrent against crimes, as evidence from across the world shows. In America, where the use of the death penalty varies between states, homicide rates of states with the death penalty are 48-100% higher compared to states without it. Studies in Canada have illustrated that homicide rates remained significantly lower after abolition of the death penalty. And a 2018 multi-country study across 11 nations which have abolished capital punishment also affirms the same. 
  2. There is no short cut to justice and safety. The death penalty often becomes a short cut when, in fact, there is a need to focus on long term social change, and the State’s failure to ensure the security of women. The only way to stop such crimes is the certainty that the criminal justice system will work with honesty, integrity, competence and fairness against every accused, irrespective of their social standing, power position, class, or caste. Instead, what the State is trying to do is to distract us by creating an ‘illusion of justice’, by selectively hanging people even as it protects others responsible for similar crimes. 
  3. Tragically, brutal sexual assaults occurs with frightening regularity and impunity in our country, especially against adivasi and Dalit women, workers in the unorganised sector, women with disabilities, hijras, kothis, trans and gender queer people, and sex workers. Additionally, during incidents of sectarian violence, women of certain castes and communities become targets of sexual assault, torture and murder. There have been, and continue to be, a large number of women similarly targeted in conflict areas such as Jammu & Kashmir, Manipur, and Chhattisgarh. There is a need to understand the pervasiveness of this kind of violence on women and evolve punishments that act as true deterrents to the very large numbers of men who commit, and get away with, such crimes. 
  4. In the December 2012 case, violence was meted against the victim by strangers, which has rightly triggered a wide discourse on women’s safety in public spaces. However, the majority of sexual crimes are committed by members of their family, neighbours, friends, teachers, guardians and other acquaintances. Not surprisingly, therefore, reporting of such crimes remains abysmally low. In all these instances, the process of seeking justice is severely stacked against victim/survivors, and the conviction rate for reported sexual crimes remains as low as 26%! Consequently, most perpetrators of sexual violence enjoy a high degree of impunity, including being freed of all charges which we believe is the greatest cause for the continued prevalence of such violence. 
  5. We are not anti-punishment. Rather, we are pro-justice. Let us remember that the Justice Verma Committee, which was set up immediately after the December 2012 incident, stood against death penalty for sexual assault, and as did the Law Commission of India in its 262nd Report on The Death Penalty in 2015. 
No matter how heinous the crime, we believe that every human being has an inalienable right to life and holds the potential for reform, if only the State and society will commit themselves to it, instead of baying for blood. In this case, the blood of those convicted in the December 2012 case.
There is no quick answer to stopping sexual crimes. We need to walk together on the long and complicated path to dismantling patriarchal and caste/community-based privilege, impunity and power, and the pervasive misogyny based in customs, tradition, law, the courts, government and society.
We hope the President of India will commute the death sentence of the convicts of the December 2012 case to a lifetime in prison, and in doing so, the lead the nation towards the vision of a society based on equality and justice, not revenge and retribution.
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Click HERE for list of those who have endorsed the statement

Comments

Anonymous said…
People who are aware of such heinous crimes against women in our society, such as social activists or civilians take an effort to stop the crime and bring a change in our society. During British rule, Gandhi followers have fought for freedom through silence, but other leaders like Bose, Bhagat Singh, and others have opted for violence. Even though the paths are different the destination is the same. I feel that the same principle is followed here. Some activists are trying to solve the problem of Rape in the form of pro-justice and the others by demanding the death penalty for the Rapists. The whole concept is dealing with social awareness and the welfare of the society to bring a better India in the future on both the angles. The 300+ activists who hold a board on a protest against the death penalty or some of the civilians among the 130Cr population of India who holds a candle and makes a protest march for the death penalty own the welfare of the society as being a part of it. But we all don't own her pain. We can look at her condition, cry at her incident, pray for her welfare, and make an effort for her living. But the pain belongs only to the victim. She got raped, she lost her life and dignity. She had to bear the rod on her body and the intestines that came out were hers. She lost her blood, suffered from pain and wanted to live in spite of getting badly injured physically and mentally. How much ever we debate about the circumstances and options, we don't own her life and pain to decide what is better to do with the Rapists. You are right with the fact, whether the society would change and women would return home safely even if they are hanged. But my doubt is when men are being so horrible even after the knowledge of the death penalty that leads to them and their families' destruction, then what would happen if there is no fear of death and disaster of their lives? And regarding Nirbhaya, or Disha or any other woman, the victim is the only person who takes the pain. Not the ones who visualizes the event or their condition. If this is not justice for the society, this would definitely be justice for the victim who has faced pain in actuality. Sharing an Ideology doesn't mean sharing the pain or torture. I am always in the path of the destination leading to a better society. But I can't afford the restlessness I have to face imagining the state and screams of the victim(who suffered the pain) by going against the death penalty of these cannibals. I liked the concept of reform of somebody's life as a justice. I really hope even if the victims can get a chance to rebuild their lives and lead a prosperous life they deserve. One last thing I want to say is, a Mistake can be forgiven since it can be Rectified. But not a SIN that can never make things to normal.

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