Opposing the death penalty as punishment for those found guilty of rape, several women’s groups have sought changes in the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2012. The women’s groups said the Bill must not be passed in its current form because of loopholes and lacunae which included no amendment to the flawed definition of consent under Section 175 of the IPC which has worked against the interest of justice for women.

The joint statement by women’s groups and individuals also pointed out that in its current form, the Bill does not recognise the structural and graded nature of sexual assault, based on concepts of hurt, harm, injury, humiliation and degradation. The Bill also does not use well-established categories of sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault and sexual offences.

The formulation of the crime of sexual assault as gender neutral makes the identity of the perpetrator/accused also gender neutral. The definition of the accused should be gender-specific and limited to men, it demanded.

Opposing the death penalty for those found guilty of sexually assaulting women, Vrinda Grover, lawyer and women’s activist, said the death penalty was often used to distract attention from the real issue. “It [death penalty] changes nothing but becomes a tool in the hands of the State to further exert its power over its citizens. There is no evidence to suggest that the death penalty acts as a deterrent to rape. Available data shows that there is a low rate of conviction in rape cases and a strong possibility that the death penalty would further lower this conviction rate as it is awarded only under rarest of the rare cases,” Ms. Grover told reporters here. She added that certainty of punishment rather than the severity of its form could act as a deterrent.

Quoting data from countries such as the U.S., Ms. Grover said men from minority communities make up a disproportionate number of death row inmates. In the Indian context, a review of crime that warrants capital punishment reveals the discriminatory way in which such laws are selectively and arbitrarily applied to disadvantaged communities, religious and ethnic minorities, she said.

The State often reserves for itself the ‘right to kill’ — through the armed forces, the paramilitary and the police. “We cannot forget the torture, rape and murder of T. Manorama by the Assam Rifles in Manipur in 2004 or the abduction, gang rape and murder of Neelofar and Aasiya of Shopian (Kashmir) in 2009. Giving more powers to the State, whether arming the police and giving them the right to shoot at sight, of awarding capital punishment, is not a viable solution to lessen the incidence of crime. Further, in cases of sexual assault where the perpetrator is in a position of power (such as in cases of custodial rape or caste and religious violence), conviction is notoriously difficult,” she added.

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