Is an Abnormally Fast Trial and Death Penalty Enough to Curb India’s Rape Problem?

As per the statistics released from National Crime Records Bureau, in 2019, around 32033 rape cases were registered in India, making the average at around 88 cases daily. The same NCRB data shows that the conviction rate of rape cases in India stands at 27.8%, which if calculated, would mean ,that out of 100 only 28 rape accused will be convicted (2019). In 2013, the honourable Supreme Court of India had pointed out that about 90% of filed rape cases ends in acquittal. Project 39A showed that in 65% of rape accused cases, the death sentence has been commuted.
There is no semblance of doubt that persistently, the law enforcement bodies, have taken forever, to conclude their investigation and bring the rape perpetrator to justice. In case of the gruesome Nirbhaya Rape Incident, it literally took the judiciary 7 years, to deliver its verdict. There have also been instances of extra judicial killing of rape accused by the police force, without proper judicial trial. (2019 Hyderabad Gang Rape Case). No matter how “just” it may seem to the common eye, such extra judicial killings are contradictory to the ethos of a liberal system.

In February 2018, the Madhya Pradesh State Government passed a law which allowed for the death penalty for child rape cases and the time allotted was fixed at two months .Under this act, in one rape case, the verdict was delivered within five days after the filing of complaint. Naturally this incident raised the issue, if at all the trial had been transparent or yet another eye wash. Following suit, Rajasthan and Jharkhand, also legislated to award death sentence under the POSCO Act, to convicts accused of raping minors. The Andhra Pradesh Government, in the wake of Hyderabad Gang Rape Case, legislated the Disha Act in 2019, providing death sentence and an investigation period of 2 months, for heinous rape cases. The Maharashtra State Government followed Andhra’s foot step, and came up with the Shakti Act, 2020. It went one step ahead and stipulated a time period of 15 days to complete investigation and trial within 30days. This extremely short investigation time stipulated will surely compromise with the quality of the investigation and evidence. Moreover, as the rape accused mostly comes from a financially poor background, they have to seek the State Free Legal Service Aid. Because of such a short trial period their lawyers have often even failed to talk to them, to furnish their side of the case. No matter how disgusting it might sound, in a liberal system both the parties should have the right to present their respective case.

All these aforementioned acts have kept the option of death penalty open. While the idea of a death penalty sounds very fair, it runs some great risks. Record shows, that there are a huge number of rape accused who are related to the victims. Naturally, whatever little chance there was previously of the crime being reported, the fear of a death penalty would reduce that very considerably. Moreover, these also meddle with the chance of a rape victim surviving post the incidence. In order to do away with all sorts of evidences, the rapist will have the tendency to murder the victim, post rape. Having that intention in mind, the torture inflicted on the victims, turns more barbarous. In 2014, in a village named Sadatganj in the Baduan district of Uttar Pradesh, two Dalit teenager rape victims, were unspeakably tortured and then hanged alive.

The idea, that death penalty would ultimately lead to a decrease in rape cases is flawed. In 2019, when the whole country was vehemently protesting for a death penalty, against the convicts of the Hyderabad Gang Rape Case, within that particular time frame only; a girl was raped in Karnataka and later strangled to death; another victim was raped, shot dead and then burnt in Bihar. The fate of the four rapists of the Hyderabad however did not deter them.
The most fundamental thing is an efficient and rationally fast investigation process. It is no myth, that many police personnel have been biased, to the extent that they have refused to file a rape case. There are reported incidences, where the police have tried to negotiate a deal between the rapist and rape victim, to withdraw their complaints, sometimes under threat or coercion. Laws need to be amended to hold such rowdy elements in the law enforcing bodies accountable and try them as perpetrators in the offence. When a death penalty is delivered, efforts should be, made to not commute or acquit such sentences; because in a way, it does put the judgment’s credibility in question. A NLU Delhi Study of 2018 found that out of the 162 death sentences delivered across the country, only 23 were stayed by the High Courts. Thus, ideally, it is best to reserve death sentence for the cruelest of cases, and on the other hand the trial of all rape cases in general should be sped up. The accused should be sentenced as soon as possible, without compromising with the quality of investigation and trial. A research (“India Has a Sexual Assault Problem That Only Women Can Fix” by Dr. Nisha Bellinger ) has shown that lack of women representation in law making and judicial bodies, have had a direct impact on how effectively crimes against women are addressed; something which is again in a very dismal state in India. Emphasis should be laid on all these factors, to arrest the upward rising graph of rape cases in India.

-Anondeeta Chakraborty (Freelancer)

Picture: Public praise police by throwing flower petals after the police killed the four rapists when they were supposedly trying to escape (Hyderabad Gang Rape Case 2019). Credits –

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