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Death sentence is not a panacea

india Updated: Sep 14, 2013 00:44 IST
Delhi gangrape verdict

A few minutes after a court sentenced four men to death for the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old student in Delhi on December 16, TV reporters posted in different parts of India interviewed people for their reactions.

It would not be wrong to say that most felt that the four got what they deserved. Such a reaction was expected: the desire for quick justice, as a columnist wrote recently, "is born out of frustration at the longstanding failure to address rape and other forms of violence against women."

The judgment too captured the public mood. Saying that the crime falls within the rarest of rare category, the judge said: "In these times when crime against women is on the rise courts cannot turn a blind eye towards such barbaric and gruesome crime…There cannot be any tolerance.."

The December 16 case, however, will also be remembered for bringing certain other related issues to the forefront: first, the need to fast-track all rape cases and re-evaluate the juvenile justice law.

Indian law gives deferential treatment to people below 18 years and the maximum sentence is three years. There was outrage after a juvenile court sentenced the youngest accused in the same gang rape case to three years in a reform centre; second, the need to improve evidence gathering, police-public relations and the slow legal system; third, there is a growing demand for a 24X7 helpline for victims and women's cells to help them in legal proceedings.

However, the verdict is not an occasion to rejoice because it will not act as a deterrent. To make India safe for women - and for men - we must tackle deep-rooted social problems.

The men who targeted the woman and her friend that night had more or less the same profile: uneducated, unskilled, lived in sub-human conditions, and with no hope whatsoever of a secure future. And there are thousands of young and restless men like them in our cities and towns.

Look at the latest Census figures: the population below 35 years is 51.8%. Of this 48.2% are women and 51.8% are men; 30.1% reside in urban areas and 69.9% are in rural India.

Unfortunately, this 'demographic dividend' will be of no use because a large proportion of young people have no access to quality education, jobs and skill development programmes, but have a burning desire to escape their difficult conditions.

This is not a happy situation and unless these critical issues are tackled decisively, violence, not just sexual, will only grow in the coming years.