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Death penalty for rapists unlikely to be implemented

Government is not very keen about the idea, but there is a desire for an effective deterrent against rape.

NAVTAN KUMAR  New Delhi | 22nd Dec 2012

Police fire a water cannon at protesters who were condemning the gang rape of a 23-year-old student in New Delhi on Saturday. | Photograph: Abhishek Shukla

ndia is unlikely to see capital punishment for rapists in the near future despite the current massive clamour in the wake of last Sunday's gang rape incident. While the Central government is not keen on any such measure, others are not very clear on the issue. However, there is definitely a desire for a deterrent and the fast tracking of rape cases.

Even the BJP, which strongly pitched for capital punishment, is not fully convinced about the idea.

Though senior BJP leader Sushma Swaraj demanded capital punishment for rape convicts during discussions in the Lok Sabha, the party later clarified its position.

BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman said, "We are not advocating capital punishment. What we are saying is that time has come to thrash out a 'powerful deterrent' to prevent such crime. The spirit of Sushmaji's speech was that why should not we discuss capital punishment when incidents of rape are increasing."

"We should have a detailed debate for positive, sharp deterrent on crimes such as rape or terrorism. Whether it should be capital punishment or something else can be a separate issue. It's not that capital punishment for rarest of rare crimes, does not exist at present. But experience has it that many death sentences were converted into life imprisonment under clemency provisions and humanist argument. So it is a critical question as to whether merely capital punishment alone could be the deterrent," she said. Interestingly, former deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani had also favoured capital punishment for rapists some 10 years ago. However, he could not initiate any steps in this direction, despite having charge of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs. His idea did not find much acceptance, even with several women organisations.

The People's Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL) said that capital punishment for rapists would not serve any purpose. Speaking to this correspondent, PUCL Delhi general secretary Mahi Pal Singh said, "We are strongly opposed to capital punishment for any crime. Instead, life imprisonment should be the maximum penalty for the crime, depending upon the seriousness and evidence."

"A very unpleasant implication of capital punishment would be that the accused after committing the crime will have the tendency to kill the victim, in order to wipe out the evidences completely. This will give rise to a series of problems," Singh said. According to him, the real, powerful deterrent would be "fast tracking" of the trial. "In fact, such crimes should be compulsorily fast tracked. This can be very effective as people would see justice being done quickly. Additionally, government should go for preventive measures like setting up more mahila thanas (women police stations). There are instances when police stations refuse to lodge even FIRs. Also, a great deal of sensitivity is required while dealing with such cases," he said.The government, on its part, is not very keen to pursue anything which is beyond the existing rules and punishments.

Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde did not make any new announcements to deal with such cases, though he mentioned that Criminal Law Amendment Bill being introduced in the Lok Sabha, which aims at rationalising the various sections of IPC and Indian Evidence Act dealing with sexual offences against women so that the conviction rate is improved. He also spoke about setting up of a special task force headed by the home secretary.

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