8 Yrs After Nirbhaya Rape, Focus Still Punishment Not Prevention

The 2019 NCRB data shows that India reports 87 cases of rape every single day.

3 min read

Video Editor: Ashutosh Bharadwaj, Abhishek Sharma
Cameraperson: Shiv Kumar Maurya

After a seven-year-long battle for justice, Nirbhaya gang-rape convicts were hanged to death on 20 March 2020. While it might seem like it happened years ago – the hanging happened right this year, in 2020.

Let me jog your memory.

The news of the hanging dominated headlines.

From Prime Minister Narendra Modi to film stars, prominent personalities tweeted 'JUSTICE HAS PREVAILED.' For many, the hanging offered a closure of sorts.

But in less than six months, a 19-year-old Dalit girl succumbed to her injuries after she was allegedly gang-raped in Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras. The brutality of the crime shook the nation. Her family demanded justice, while politicians promised “strictest punishment.”

Another gang rape. Another woman’s life snuffed out heinously. Another slew of promises.

This has now become an almost predictable trope with almost zero real-time change.

Crimes against women have risen by 7.3 percent in the last one year alone. The 2019 National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data shows that India reports 87 cases of rape every single day.


This makes us question, yet again, why India’s focus on punishment rather than prevention, in addressing crimes against women, is doing more harm than good.

Let’s look at the most recent example. The Maharashtra government has tabled two inter-connected bills, as a part of the Shakti Act – modelled on Andhra Pradesh’s Disha Act – following a Telangana vet’s rape in 2019.
  • The bill proposes death penalty in cases of rape, gang rape, aggravated sexual assault of minors and cases of acid attack where grievous injury is caused.
  • The bill also proposes to add a heavy fine amount of up to Rs 10 lakh on those found guilty.

The perpetrators will be punished with life imprisonment for not less than ten years but may extend to the remainder of natural life or with death in cases characterised as ‘heinous’.


You may think that this bill is a perfect answer to crimes against women in the state. But in an open letter to the Maharashtra government, 92 activists and lawyers write against the tabling and passing of such a bill, focusing on capital punishment.

Feminist scholars have been arguing against death penalty for rape, a long – and the recent developments have put the reasons back in focus.

  • Point number one: Data shows that, in a country like India, increasing the punishment is hardly going to stop people from committing the crime – given, especially the long legal battle that consumes the survivor or the victim’s family.
  • Two: Stricter punishment may ensure that perpetrators don't just rape but kill their victims as well – to avoid being identified.
  • Three: In 95 percent of rape cases, the perpetrator is known to the victim. For example, if the perpetrator is a family member, then stringent punishment would deter the survivor from even reporting the crime.
  • Four: In the 16 years between 2000 and 2015, 30 percent of death penalties awarded by trial courts ended in acquittals (and not just reduced sentences) when appealed in higher courts. (Source: The Wire)
  • Fifth and most important: Woman’s ‘honour’ and rape are not inter-linked. In a statement in 2018, a women’s collective said:
“The logic of awarding death penalty to rapists is based on the belief that rape is a fate worse than death. Patriarchal notions of ‘honour’ lead us to believe that rape is the worst thing that can happen to a woman. There is a need to strongly challenge this stereotype of the ‘destroyed’ woman who loses her honour.”

India’s policies don’t talk about overhauling mindsets to prevent crimes against women. We only talk about 'what now' once the crime is already committed.

Indians do not want to understand why rape happens in order to prevent it, but jump at slut-shaming the survivor or the victim.

We do not want to implement existing laws better but ask for draconian laws that will be implemented even less.

The Nirbhaya gang rape may have seen a closure with the hanging of four convicts, but for justice to really prevail – prevention of crimes against women not punishment will make the real difference.

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