Amid clamour for death penalty for rapists, Law Minister Ashwani Kumar on Monday said the society as well as jurists were divided on the issue and government was open to persuasion by either side.

He also said that in an effort to fast-track the hearing of rape related cases, there was a need to strengthen the number of judges in the lower judiciary for which the government was making efforts.

Mr. Kumar rejected suggestions that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi were ‘insensitive’ towards the problems faced by the common man.

“…rape is punishable by life imprisonment, which, by all accounts, is a very harsh punishment. Some people say it is even more difficult than death penalty because you suffer a feeling of death every day inside prison,” Mr. Kumar told NDTV.

When asked whether he supported death for rape, the Law Minister said though his personal views were irrelevant, “there are two words on it in the society, there are two views amongst jurists, there are two views amongst political class.”

“Some say death penalty might prompt the culprit to murder the victims of rape. I don’t say I have the last word on it...it would be left to the wisdom of this (Justice J S Verma) committee to recommend in its wisdom what they think whether capital punishment would be enough of a deterrent or not is something that is to be gone into,” he said.

The purpose of setting up the three-member panel is to “dispassionately” consider how to turn the promise of safety of women a reality.

“It is absolutely true that there had been gaps in the enforcement of the law or there had been gaps in the prosecutorial process which need to be addressed,” he said.

Replying to a question on the alleged “insensitivity” of the government in not meeting the protesters, he said it was on the directions of Singh and Gandhi that the government has fast-tracked the issue by appointing the commission to recommend changes in rape laws and set up another panel to get into the lapses relating to the gang rape case.

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