Statements of Radical Socialist

Death Penalty is not the Solution: Fight all Rape Cases

Death Penalty is not the Solution: Fight all Rape Cases

Radical Socialist

For the last few days, politicians, both governmental and official opposition, and large sections of the media, have been whipping up anger and calling for the application of the death penalty against all the accused in the Delhi gang rape case.

We agree that the Delhi gang rape was a heinous crime, and we do not believe, and have at no stage argued, that it should be treated in any other way. However, we have consistently argued that specific rape cases should not be detached from the general trend of increasing brutality and sexual violence on women, should not be turned into particular “iconic” cases. When that is done, the politicians and the police are all too happy. We are asked to believe that by increasing the penalty for rape, the problem of rape will be solved. We are told that under the new law, even when the rape victim has not been murdered, there can be the death penalty. Sushil Kumar Shinde and Sushma Swaraj snarl in tandem that all the accused in the 16th December gangrape case should be hanged, or else the collective conscience of society will not be assuaged.

This kind of campaign raises important considerations. Was the 16th December gang rape the only case of rape, or gang rape?  What happens to cases like Khairlanji, Kamduni, the hundreds and thousands of cases when dalit women are gang raped? Where is the conscience of Shinde when Sikh women raped in 1984 are not yet given even the cold comfort of a few years’ of imprisonment for their torturers? Where was the conscience of Ms. Swaraj when numerous Muslim women were brutally raped and murdered in 2002 by the foot soldiers of Indian fascism? Are we to selectively pick and choose rape cases, over which it is legitimate to be aggrieved? Or are we to fight for genuinely overcoming the culture of rape?

Secondly, it is argued that hanging rapists will drastically bring down rape cases. Hanging murderers has failed to end murders. And it is well-known, that the overwhelming majority of rape cases occur because close relatives or friends are involved. It is difficult enough to even get any of those cases brought to the police station, to get the police to record FIRs, and to move them through courts. Should hanging become the standard punishment for rape, such cases will be even more completely hushed up.

In the third place, the existing evidence does not show that hanging deters rapes and murders. The last man hanged for rape and murder was Dhananjoy Chatterjee in Kolkata. West Bengal is one of the leaders in sexual violence on women.

If Indian politicians were serious about tackling rape, they should pass a law that politicians accused of rape and/or sexual violence should not be allowed to contest elections unless they are cleared of all charges, and if convicted, even in a lower court, they must quit all public office within 24 hours.

If the police were serious about tackling rape they should begin by ensuring that all existing laws and regulations about how to handle rape accusations are taught to all police personnel, and if they violate those rules, they must be punished. Thus, all such cases have to be recorded, FIRs taken, and adequate assistance given to the victim, regardless of her economic, religious, caste, ethnic, or cultural background, regardless of whether she was wearing saree or jeans, regardless of whether it was her home in mid-day or the roads at ten in the evening.

The collective conscience, i.e., the conscience of urban, middle class Delhi, was awakened because a rape had occurred in South Delhi, after the young woman and her friend had come out from a “posh” area. This is not to belittle the tremendous movement that was generated. The iconisation of the case was not done by the people who came out on the streets but by certain political parties seeking mileage, and by the media. The real protestors were attacked by the police. The government shut down the heart of Delhi so that mass protests were silenced.

By demanding death penalty for the people now being routinely identified as “gym instructor”, “bus cleaner”, “fruit seller” and “unemployed”, the media and the middle class internet campaigners, who are urging all manner of violence including public hanging, public flogging, castration, etc, are seeking to cleanse their conscience, while ignoring the reality that most rapes are by people close to victims. That is true whether the victim comes from a working class background or an upper class one. Then there are the large numbers of caste and communal rapes, where vicious right wing politics dictated the action. Moreover, when we focus on single cases, we obscure the patriarchal social order where rape is one aspect of “masculinity”.

Stop protecting rapists in uniform, including through repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.

Ensure that police take action in ALL cases of rape and sexual assault, not on selected ones where media takes particular interest.

Take action against elected representatives involved in rape cases

Ensure punishment of police and administrative personnel if they ignore rape cases or flout laws in rape cases

Change the electoral machinery and law so that EVMs all carry a "do not want any of the candidates" button and declare none found suitable if that gets the highest votes.

Not death penalty in selected cases but real fight to reduce and abolish sexual violence

12 September 2013