The reports “Few takers for death penalty, many States want 16 as juvenile age bar” and “Tirath favours death sentence for rapists” (Jan.5) bring to mind what Sarkaria J. on behalf of himself Chandrachud CJ, AC Gupta J and Untwalia J, stated (para 74) in the majority judgment in Bachan Singh vs State of Punjab (1980 (2) SCC Page 684).
“Death penalty has been the subject of an age-old debate between abolitionists and retentionists although recently the controversy has come into sharp focus.” Both groups are: “deeply anchored in their antagonistic views; firmly and sincerely believe in the righteousness of their respective stands, with overtones of sentiment and emotion, and can claim among them eminent thinkers, penologists, sociologists, jurists, judges, legislators, administrators and law enforcement officials.”
After a short survey of the legislative history of the provisions of the Penal Code which permit the imposition of the death penalty, the judgment contains an elaborate dissertation of differing views, before rejecting the challenge of the constitutionality of the impugned provisions contained in Section 302 of Indian Penal Code and Section 354 (3) of the Criminal Procedure Code. Bhagwati J (as he then was) in a most forceful dissenting opinion of over 100 pages (1982 (3) SCC 24) struck down the provisions of Section 302 of the IPC as unconstitutional and void as far as it provides for imposition of the death penalty as an alternative to life imprisonment.
The issue which was in focus in 1980 is very much in the picture again. The judgment of the Supreme Court could be a starting point for further consideration and examination of developments in judicial, legal and social thinking subsequent thereto.
Often, rape occurs along with other offences, each of which carries varying sentences, which in the case of aggravation may permit being imposed to run consecutively and not concurrently, thus proving a deterrent.
The unprecedented public response to the Delhi crime has been inspiring. But the spate of current correctional measures some leaders suggest threaten to misfire. Engendering from passions, they purport to impart a religious and sectarian tenor and tone to the issue. This is reprehensible and retrograde and is bound to fetch a remedy worse than the malady. Rape has a criminal dimension involving cruelty and violence. The intended reforms should take this aspect into count. Street justice like instant shooting down or castration is antithetical to the progression of a civilised society. Fast-tracking court procedures is, of course, a must.
N. Sadasivan Pillai,
Two of the accused in the Delhi case are reported to have told the court that they are ready to turn prosecution witnesses (“Two rape accused eye approver route for escape,” Jan.7).
It should not be forgotten that the heinous crime they indulged in — gang rape, grievously injuring the helpless victim and her friend and then throwing them out of the moving bus — is what created the massive disgust and anger. The beasts responsible for the tragic death of a promising young student must be awarded exemplary punishment.
In view of the rising trend of vicious crimes particularly against women and children that are committed mostly by sexual deviants, we need to evaluate how well the law should act as a deterrent.
What’s the purpose of any law that can only bark but not bite? It beggars belief how crimes could have got this bad that no civilised country could ever take it lying down.
K.G. Koru Kuttan Nair,