PUCL says death penalty ignores the wider socio-economic and cultural factors in play.

Punishing the December 16 gang-rape case convicts with death sentences will not deter the increasing crimes against women, rights activists said on Thursday.

The Delhi High Court on Thursday confirmed the death sentence and upheld the conviction given by the fast-track court in the case that has captured public attention due to its gruesome nature.

According to the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, the death penalty ignores the wider socio-economic and cultural factors in play.

“This was an extremely gruesome and unacceptable crime on a defenceless girl,” said PUCL national general secretary Dr. V. Suresh.

But, he added: “The PUCL is against the death penalty in principle. There is no proof that it acts as a deterrent.”

Crimes are committed due to circumstantial and socio-cultural factors, Dr. Suresh said, adding that widespread unemployment was leading to misplaced frustration and anger among young men.

Activists

Women’s rights activists, however, were divided on the death penalty acting as a deterrent in sexual assault cases.

The secretary of the All-India Progressive Women’s Association, Kavita Krishnan, said: “Death penalty is not synonymous with justice”.

On whether the death sentence in this case could deter such crimes in the future, Ms. Krishnan said: “Let us not kid ourselves”.

Centre for Social Research director Ranjana Kumari, however, welcomed the High Court’s decision. “It is a good message to criminals and sexual assaulters in the country that they can’t get away,” she said.

Though she added this was “not enough”, Dr. Kumari said if all rape cases are tried by fast-track courts then it could have a deeper impact.

Giving examples of the Khairlanji and the Manorama Devi cases, Ms. Krishnan said: “If justice has to be even-handed, you can’t have one law for cases in Delhi that get more attention and another for those in other parts of the country.”

“We need to fight for a uniform standard for justice,” Ms. Krishnan said.

Instant justice

With the December 16 case bringing protesters out on the streets across the country, Dr. Suresh said people today want instant justice. “There is no instant solution for systemic failures that are leading to crimes. We need to go back to our schools and tell boys that girls have equal rights,” he said.

While activists agreed that the crime was indeed brutal, as the Court found, they couldn’t agree on whether the order would have an impact on the instances of sexual assault.

“This is not the first crime of this kind and will not be last,” Dr. Suresh said.

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