The Nirbhaya gangrape convicts are scheduled to hang on 1 February. While many call it the best justice that could be served to Nirbhaya and her family, several senior lawyers and activists fear that death penalty hardly tackles the problem of rape in India.
At the Press Club in New Delhi today, senior activists like Kamla Bhasin, Kavita Krishnan, Vani Subramanian, Enakshi Ganguly and lawyers Tara Narula and Neetika Vishwananthan held a press conference to express their discomfort about the existence of the death penalty in the criminal justice system.
The lawyers and activists emphasised on the fact that death penalty was being used to distract and dissuade the public from holding the State accountable for its failure to prevent crimes against women. They also believed that death penalty was “being used as a distraction” for its failure to ensure access to justice for victims of sexual violence.
The coalition of activists and lawyers also believe that the State, despite having identified actual systemic and institutional barriers to justice in cases of sexual violence, does very little to remedy the same.
“The exceptional, highly publicised executions of rape convicts in a rare case, far from deterring rape, actually deters our society and our government from confronting and taking responsibility for rape culture. An execution falsely reassures us that rape is a ‘rarest of the rare’ act committed by strangers, beasts. In fact, rapists are usually not strangers, but men we know and admire - and rape is a product of our patriarchal society, not an isolated rare instance.”Kavita Krishnan, Activist
The activists further added that the problems within the criminal justice system need to be fixed right from the stages of reporting, investigation and forensic examination as well as in relation to the victim support mechanisms which are presently unavailable.
Numerous studies by women’s rights groups show that the biggest gaps for the victims within the criminal justice system are related to reporting a complaint at the police station, and lack of support and guidance to the victim to help navigate the pre-trial through trial stages. These studies also find inconsistent compliance by courts with the victim support procedures that are mandatory in rape trials.
Punishment comes at the far end of trial, the very last stage of a long and traumatic journey that not every survivor and her supporters have the tenacity to endure. Therefore, it is necessary to first strengthen processes of investigation, and sensitise the police and the judiciary, instead of focusing entirely and only on punishments.
Sudeeti from Pinjra Tod further added that rape is not an external problem, it is a problem which is very much a part of the society.
“Demand for death penalty for the rape convicts operates on the principle of externalising the problem of sexual violence in our everyday structures and lives, and locates it on a handful of convicts identified in the most publicised and brutal rape cases. As if, exterminating these convicts can rid us of the problem of rape altogether. Yet rape continues unabated and only becomes more brutal. Are such exemplary punishments not just a band-aid for a larger structural problem done to ease public rage over an issue or to reaffirm public faith in the State that refuses to take any effective structural measures for ensuring safety and well being of women?”Sudeeti, Pinjra Tod
The coalition unequivocally condemned death penalty and stated that execution is not the solution to the problem of sexual crimes.