Successive govts fought shy of death for rapists | delhi | Hindustan Times
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Successive govts fought shy of death for rapists

Despite a growing clamour in the country seeking death penalty for rapists, successive governments at the Centre in last 15 years have shown consistency in not succumbing to the populist demand and maintained that such a step would be counter-productive, official documents show. Nagendar Sharma reports.

delhi Updated: Jan 23, 2013 00:20 IST
Nagendar Sharma

Despite a growing clamour in the country seeking death penalty for rapists, successive governments at the Centre in last 15 years have shown consistency in not succumbing to the populist demand and maintained that such a step would be counter-productive, official documents show.

The issue, which snowballed into a major national debate following the brutal gang rape of a 23 year-old student in the Capital last month, and is likely to find a prominent mention in Justice Verma committee's report, has actually been bothering the decision makers since more than four decades.

Justice Verma report is scheduled to be tabled on Wednesday.

Death penalty for rapists came close to becoming a reality during the BJP-led NDA regime in 1998, when the then home minister LK Advani had assured the Lok Sabha of examining the demand, and then followed it up by securing the backing of "majority of state governments" for amending the law.

"Chief ministers conference held in November 1998 saw majority of the states agreeing with the suggestion for severest punishment for the offence of rape. There was almost a consensus that introduction of death penalty as deterrent would send a strong message to the society," states an internal law ministry note.

It gained a further impetus with the National Commission for Women throwing its weight behind the demand in cases of "child rape, gang rape, custodial rapes and rape of older women."

Advani's proposal hit a roadblock when the law ministry advised against what it termed a "simplistic view" about the death sentence.

This view remained unchanged even after the change of government in 2004. The ruling UPA set in motion its efforts to amend criminal laws, particularly to widen the definition of rape in 2005.

After six years of government's internal consultations, its expert group reiterated the stand taken by the NDA regime that "taking into account chances of conviction in cases of harsh punishment, threat to victims and their families and chances of destruction of evidence, there is no reason to tamper with the existing sentence for the offence of rape."