Angry protests following the brutal rape and murder of the Delhi paramedic saw citizens and activists clamour for the death penalty. On Friday, when the court awarded death sentence to the four convicted in the case, large sections celebrated, as if vindicated.

But is a death sentence really cause for celebration? The Hindu spoke to feminists, activists and academics who articulated their opposition to the death penalty, while pointing out that handing out death sentences can hardly help change mindsets that lie at the root of such crimes.

Subhashini Ali, founder of the All India Democratic Womens’ Association (AIDWA), says that she feels there is no reason to celebrate. She points out that since the Delhi rape, there have been 23 incidents of rape in January in UP alone and 3 victims were killed. “Our priority should not be bloodlust, but finding ways to keep Indian women and girls safe from the brutality and horror of rape. Governments should focus on ensuring speedy trials. A policy of compensation, rehabilitation and legal aid must be implemented uniformly in the country.”

Potential misuse

Ms. Ali argues that worldwide, the efficacy of capital punishment as a deterrent has been rejected both by criminologists and law enforcement agencies.

Raising the issue of potential misuse, she provides the example of a Kanpur case, where a small child was sexually assaulted, resulting in her death.

“The police responded to public outrage by arresting her neighbour, a very poor man. In police custody, he reportedly confessed to the crime. Some weeks later, he was released because the real culprit, who was the son of the owner of the school in which the assault took place, was arrested. Subsequently DNA tests confirmed his guilt. Imagine if the guilty boy had faced the possibility of being hanged?”

Du. Saraswathi, Kannada poet and activist, also cautions against such misuse given the deep inequalities that exist. “No social ill can be tackled that simply by capital punishments. Rape and violence against women has its root in historical socialisation of men in our society. Until we correct the way women are treated, inside and outside the homes, and the patriarchal fabric of our society, little will change,” she says. Feminists of the 1980s, she adds, have opposed capital punishment. “The changed discourse and the euphoria around the gallows, chemical castration and such barbaric punishments, pain me.”

Tara Rao, director of Amnesty International, points out that sending the four to the gallows accomplishes nothing but “short-term revenge”. “The widespread anger is understandable, but authorities must avoid using the death sentence as a quick fix.”

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