There has been opposition by some activists to the Union Government’s Ordinance providing for death to rapists of minors. The protest is based largely on the following: The Centre’s move has been motivated by a public outcry and is an easy way out of the situation; the solution lies in better implementation of the existing laws, speedy trial and quick justice; there is no evidence to suggest that the death penalty has acted as a deterrent to crimes.
There cannot be any dispute with the contention that fast trials, effective probes and a robust prosecution machinery are essential for prompt justice, and that the Government must do its bit in these areas. This would mean cutting down delays in the appointment of judges and upgrading the judicial system’s infrastructure. On its part, the judiciary should also take measures to tackle the menace of litigants deliberately dragging cases for years through adjournments on specious grounds, or their legal counsel cannily introducing extraneous factors in the course of the judicial process to complicate and delay trial proceedings.
However, it’s the other argument — that the death sentence will not arrest crimes of rapes again minors — that needs to be taken head-on. Anti-death penalty activists quote a Law Commission report which says that capital punishment takes the focus away from “restorative and rehabilitation” aspects of justice. It appears from the arguments of such activists that they are more concerned about the ‘rehabilitation’ of the perpetrator of the crime than with effective punishment. They forget that the victim deserves justice and if that victim has been subjected to crime as heinous as rape, then the punishment must be equally stringent.
The need for rehabilitation cannot override the primary need to punish effectively. Besides, time would only be wasted in trying to ‘reform’ child rapists. As to the matter of deterrence, of course it’s true that if an accused is sentence by the court years and decades after he commits the crime or that he manages to free himself through various successful bail applications, then the purpose of justice is not served. But If the death sentence is pronounced after a speedy trial, and various appeals to the higher courts and to the President are disposed off as fast, and the guilty is hanged, then the death penalty would be indeed a deterrent.
Take the Nirbhaya case: The trial court did a fabulous job in pronouncing a verdict of death to the guilty in quick time; the Delhi High Court too upheld the sentence without delay. However, the matter has languished in the Supreme Court since then. One final word: Murders haven’t stopped despite Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code which provides for death sentence, so should the law be scrapped?