Ayush Shukla, B.Com, Indira Gandhi National Open University
Subjecting rapists to death penalty has been one of the most hotly debated and controversial issues in our society. Everybody including the politicians, religious heads, media commentators, women’s rights activists, have an opinion it. After all, rape is the most heinous of crimes and what could deter potential rapists more than the fear of death. Moreover, it appears plausible on the ground of retributive justice; brutal Rapists deserve nothing less.
“Death is the only punishment a criminal is afraid of.” Several reports suggest that, 80% of the crimes are committed with an intention to get away with them. No criminal accepts the fact that he will be punished before he commits the crime. There are several cases of rape in which the accused after being released from jail, has committed the same crime with the same victim again. Such cases can only be prevented by developing a legislation implementing a capital punishment for the rapist. National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) has also stated that the fear of death is largely effective in reducing crimes.
On the other hand, there are also many drawbacks of capital punishment.
There will be a reduction in reporting of rapes because according to NCRB, in 94% of rapes, the accused is known to the victim, which prevents him from reporting the case to the authorities. Also, in cases in which the accused is from one's own family, there is often pressure from the relatives against reporting it. Due to the misplaced social stigmas and pressure from relatives, many victims choose to live with the trauma rather than bring an action against the wrongdoer. Death penalty will further aggravate under-reporting of such crimes.
We should also keep in mind that murder in sexual violence cases might increase due to capital punishment because killing the victim to avoid the reporting of crime is the most common measure taken up by the criminal.
For rape crimes, the victim’s statement is very crucial for identifying the culprits. In many cases, it is the only source of Information. But the testimony of victims, more often than not is found insufficient to convict rapists. However, from the perspective of criminals, death penalty for rape would mean the same punishment for the crime of rape as well as the crime of rape followed by murder of the victim (two crimes). So, death penalty may induce some brutal rapists to kill the victim so as to eliminate the evidence of the offence. In such cases, the consequent outcome would be disastrous on all the counts. The victim would have lost her life, and society would have missed crucial proof of crime.
In India, in most cases, either victims do not report the crime, or the police does not file FIRs. Moreover, the judicial process is procrastinated. Therefore, punishment for the guilty is anything but certain. As a result, law has lost its deterrence power.
If we consider the Verma committee report 2013, it did not advocate for the death penalty but rather chose to make recommendations that improve conviction rates such as mandatory filing of FIR, broadening of the definition of sexual assault. Furthermore, it recommended establishing fast track courts for speeding up the conviction procedure.
It can be stated at the onset that the death penalty will have minimal or no impact in the long-term without a simultaneous change in societal values. It may have a short-term impact due to shock value. Studies have shown that the death penalty has failed to have a significant impact on crime rates in countries that still enforce them.