Widely varying views on capital punishment for Delhi gang rape convicts

The awarding of capital punishment to the four convicts in the Delhi rape case, on Friday, was welcomed with cheer across the nation.

In the city, reactions from activists, academicians and professionals traced both ends of the ideological spectrum.

While 23-year old Shaswathi Kumar, an IT employee, supported the death penalty, lawyer Sudha Ramalingam said capital punishment did nothing to reform individuals.

“A life term would have been more appropriate and fitting for a civilised country. Studies show crime rates have not gone down in countries that continue to implement death penalty,” said Ms. Ramalingam.

Women were subjected to all kinds of harassment -- on buses, in homes and on the streets, said Shaswathi. “It is about punishing offenders and thereby, sending out a warning to others so they think hundred times before attempting a crime like this,” she said.

R. Sathianathen, professor of psychiatry, Sri Ramachandra University, had a similar view. “People have a tendency to forget. Death penalty, for a crime like gang rape which led to the death of a girl, will have a huge impact on the minds of people. It will make them think of consequences,” he said.

K. Elango, head of humanities department, Anna University, said the judgment would help drive home a strong message -- crimes against women should not be taken for granted. Low conviction rate and a slow judicial process could also be among the reasons for rising crimes against women in the country, he said.

However, Uma Ravikumar, development consultant and mother to a teenaged daughter, said capital punishment was in itself social perversion.

Death penalty was not a solution to crimes like rape, she said. “Will capital punishment prevent the incidence of such crimes?” she said.

D. Nagasaila, lawyer and member of People’s Union for Civil Liberties, called it a wasted opportunity and said the space for rational debate was shrinking.

“The rape of the young girl was a horrible incident, and a very troubling crime. But, this baying for blood and hysteria is frightening. This incident, which drew the entire nation’s conscience, should have taken the debate to a higher level and looked at lasting solutions,” she said.

More horrifying the crime, more the need for a saner approach, she said. “We cannot be blind to the structural violence that unleashes itself on vulnerable sections of society, including women,” she said.

Since it was a death sentence, it would automatically be referred to the High Court. Fortunately, that process was still in place, said Nagasaila.

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