Ram Singh, affectionately called “Mental” by friends who joined him in the brutal gang-rape of a 23-year-old girl in Delhi on Sunday, deserves to die.
I say this not just out of the sense of outrage and revenge that’s triggering the “death for rape” petitions, but out of my considered view that this particular crime falls into the rarest of rare cases that deserve the death penalty.
But this is not a legally-tenable view. For IPC sections 376 (rape) and 307 (attempt to murder) do not allow for capital punishment. Ram Singh will almost certainly get life in prison, with his friends getting 10 years to life.
If the severely-brutalized victim does not survive, the charge moves on to IPC 302 (murder), and a death sentence for Ram Singh becomes almost certain.
This ghastly crime has triggered off a perhaps-unprecedented wave of outrage, with petitions demanding the death penalty for rape.
Here’s why I am not signing them, despite my firm believe that Ram Kumar should not be allowed to live.
1. “Death for rape” seriously endangers the life of victims. By removing the difference in punishment between rape and murder to zero, it encourages the rapist to kill – and thereby also eliminate evidence.
2. “Death for rape” does not reduce the incidence of rape – as empirical evidence shows, for instance from the US states that allowed “death for rape” till the late twentieth century. And it’s because of the above point that death for rape was revoked from all those US states, even as capital punishment continues for murder.
3. The death sentence is allowed in India for murder (IPC 302) – and it makes little difference. Murders and killings happen every day in India. The reason, of course, is the firm believe that “I won’t get caught”.
4. The central issue – which encourages rapists to rape with impunity – is not the quantum of punishment. It’s the low conviction rate – as low as 10% if you count rapes that are not reported. It’s Ram Singh’s firm knowledge: “I won’t get caught”. He was – in a minority situation – wrong.
5. There is adequate punishment in the IPC. Rape is punishable with 7 years jail, or 10 years to life for gang-rape. But enforcement sucks. Think: if Ram Singh (even with his psychotic beliefs) knew that he would probably get arrested and jailed for 7 or 10 years, would he have done what he did?
The key here that law and punishment should not be based on a foundation of revenge, but primarily based on ensuring the safety of the victim and of society.
Bringing in “death for rape” makes no difference to the propensity of people to rape – as long as the reporting, arrest and conviction remains abysmally low. Instead, it encourages the rapist to kill. The quantum of punishment remains irrelevant.
Outrage is a good thing, but let’s not forget the many rapes that go by virtually unreported. Or, worse, those gang-rapes that are reported, yet don’t trigger any outrage in our deeply racist society.
Anyone remember the gang-rape of a 24-year-old Rwandan near Delhi University earlier this month? She went to the police station, and was told: we are busy, come back two days later.
The real need, then, is to focus on increasing the conviction rate under 20 percent to 80-odd percent. Speed up justice in rape cases, with fast-track courts. Train the police to handle rape cases with speed and sensitivity. Tell the rapist: Make no mistake: you will be caught, arrested, and jailed.
This is a big task, but not impossible, with police training and fast-track courts. A great place to start is in the gang-rape capital of India, New Delhi.
Prasanto K Roy (@prasanto on Twitter) is a technology writer and analyst