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Is Capital Punishment The Right Punishment For Rape?

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By Madhushree:

The recent incident of the rape of a 23 year-old medical student has raised a lot of public furore. The victim died in critical condition. The entire nation has shown their outrage by marching on the road, shouting slogans and writing articles in the print media to appeal to the law makers to punish the six offenders. They had not only gang-raped her in a moving bus but also tortured her with an iron rod and then dumped her onto the road.

Capital punishment

The majority of the citizens of India are of the opinion that the culprits should be given capital punishment for such a heinous act. Many people are also appealing to the government to make amendments in the rape laws and give rigorous and exemplary punishment for rape like castration, mutilation etc. The punishments should be such that they should stop others to make such a move in the future.

Now the question is whether capital punishment should be kept as the punishment for rape or not. Well, anyone would agree that it is absolutely brutal for any person to force himself on another for his own sexual pleasure. And the girl, who goes through the physical torture, leads a very disturbed life because after the rape, she also becomes socially unacceptable, especially in India. The defamation, loss of dignity and the mental trauma cling to her throughout her life. Therefore, it is argued that capital punishment is the right punishment for a rapist and it will also restrain other potential perpetrators from committing such a crime.

To counter this, I would like to throw some light on two rape cases in the past. The first case is of Aruna Shanbaug. Aruna was a junior nurse working in K.E.M. Hospital, Mumbai. On the night of 24th November 1973, Aruna was sexually assaulted by the contract sweeper of the hospital, Sohanlal Walmiki Bhartha. He choked her with a dog chain and then sodomized her. The suffocation stopped oxygen supply to her brain causing brain injury, injury in the cervical cord and left her cortically blind. Sohanlal was arrested and was sentenced to 14 year of imprisonment. Aruna who was admitted in the K.E.M. hospital in 1973, is living ever since in a vegetative state. Supreme Court has also rejected the plea for euthanasia, made on her behalf by Pinki Virani, a lawyer.

The second case is the rape and murder of the 14 year old girl, Hetal Parekh on 15th March 1990, in Bhowanipur, Kolkata. Hetal came back from her school in the evening to her flat when none of her parents were around. The lift operator of the building, Dhananjoy Chatterjee, took the advantage of this situation, raped her and strangulated her. Dhananjoy’s case was under trial for many years from Sessions Court to the Supreme Court to decide on whether the death penalty should be given to him or not. Finally, he was hanged on 14th August 2004 after the then President of India, APJ Abdul Kalam rejected his mercy plea. Until his last breath, he maintained that he did not commit the crime.

In both the above cases, if we notice both the offenders got very severe punishments but did it bring back the victim’s dignity or did it ever stop other men from repeating the same crime? Did the rapists ever realise what their victims went through? Besides, even if we give severe punishments, what is the use if the offender does not realise the severity of his crime? Dr. Gordon Nagayama Hall, associate professor of Psychology, at Kent State coordinated a national forum on rape. His findings are quite startling. He says that there are varying percentages of men who can be potential rapists; researchers have shown that almost 25% of male college students have been involved in some aggressive sexual behaviour. Hall has identified few types under which rapists can be grouped.

Type 1 is influenced by deviant sexual arousal, which occurs when he has thoughts of violence against women. This type is likely to be extremely impulsive.

Type 2 mistakenly interprets events or information differently than other men would. He believes that some women enjoy being raped, or want to be raped. For this type, rape is part of a conquest, a way of demonstrating masculinity. Most date rapists are Type 2s.

Type 3 is motivated by anger. These men are so angry, especially at women, that the only way for them to deal with their anger is by becoming sexually forceful toward women. Not surprisingly, this type is the most violent and most dangerous.

Type 4 is the repeat offender. He is most likely to have been physically or sexually abused as a child. He has difficulty establishing enduring relationships, and a history of chronic problems in schools or in his family. Type 4 men break a variety of rules, both sexual and nonsexual.

There are other types also like Ted Bundy. Ted Bundy was accused of raping and killing 28 women. In his own words, “I grew up in a wonderful home with two dedicated and loving parents, and was one of five brothers and sisters. A home where we, as children, were the focus of my parents’ lives, where we regularly attended church; two Christian parents who did not drink, did not smoke, there was no gambling, there was no physical abuse, or fighting in the home.” So, he had a very normal upbringing but he started watching all kinds of pornography including the violent ones from a very early childhood. He eventually got fascinated with the idea of sexually overpowering women. He was executed on 24th January 1989, in Starke Prison, Florida, U.S.A.

Also, some rapists simply say, “We were hungry and we needed food”. They feel so much starved sexually at some point of time that at that moment satiating their hunger becomes their only motive.

So, after looking at all the reasons which help in the making of rapists, should we still go ahead and make capital punishment the only solution to this offence? Now the decision is in our hands whether we should react harshly or we should give it a deep thought before taking a hasty decision.

First of all we should stop socially out casting a rape victim. Why do we have to either pity them or defame them? Why do females have to feel about themselves as being “used” throughout their lives? Why can’t a man from a good family background marry a rape victim? I have never heard this happen with a man. Many men get raped but our society doesn’t behave indifferently with them. So, isn’t it the outlook that should be changed first? Firstly, we must help the victim to lead a normal life. Girls must stand up bravely and continue their lives with dignity after the assault. This will definitely discourage the potential attackers who think that by raping they can sabotage a woman’s life. They will realise that by raping they cannot render a woman powerless.

Secondly, we must teach our sons to respect women. India being a male dominated country, we tend to oversee many wrongdoings of our adolescent sons like eve-teasing, stalking, misbehaving etc. We are so engrossed in making our daughters cultured that at the same time we fail to see that our sons are becoming uncivilised. Not paying attention to these small things may prove very fatal to us.

Now, we come back to our same old question of capital punishment. If a disease breaks out in an area, do we kill the sufferer or the virus causing it? The thought of rape is a disease. In order to combat it, we just cannot hang or shoot every offender. If that were the case, then every husband who exerts power over his wife on bed, every customer who forcefully attacks a sex worker and every juvenile rapist have to be shot at sight. Moreover, killing every rapist will never remove rape from the system. We need to kill the very thought of rape. “Rape is not the way to harm anyone”, is the message we need to showcase.

I believe the solution lies in eradicating the root cause. To start with, the school textbooks should contain chapters on it. The young generation should be well aware of the crime, the social stigma attached to it and the repercussions of committing the crime.

While giving punishments to the rapists, we must make sure that the punishments are constructive ones. Hanging them to death will only eliminate the rapists and not their thoughts about the act. As a punishment, it can be made mandatory for them to provide majority of their income to the victim’s family or making them compulsorily do extra manual work for the rehabilitation centres for rape victims like stitching bedcovers, making furniture, cleaning toilets, etc. Let them also see the pain of the family of the victim after the incident and understand their grief. These kinds of punishments will instil in them the right sensitivity about the magnitude of their crime.

The offender should also be given proper counselling. Every jail should have a psychiatrist or a psychologist to counsel them properly. The rapists must be made to realise that whatever they did to satisfy their ego or urge was brutal. The negativity or the anger in the rapist must be removed first. For that purpose, short term solitary confinement after counselling might work. This will give the offender some time to realise the crudeness of his act and he might want to reform himself. Once he admits his crime and is willing to be reformed, special and practical trainings can be organised for these offenders. These trainings should raise the awareness about why rape is gruesome, what a victim goes through during the forced action and the mental trauma of the victim post crime. The Vipassana mediation courses offered by S.N. Goenka in Tihar jail have been quite revolutionary in the same field. Many inmates of the jail willingly took this programme for 10 days and after undertaking this course many have confessed to their crimes and decided to transform themselves forever. This should be the power of reform! When these prisoners after completing their sentence will come out of jails, they will be better persons and will act in the right manner in future. They might willingly serve the family of their victims as they have become better individuals.

Law-makers can play a very pivotal role in removing the social stigma of rape. They should encourage more and more women to report rape cases and help them to get due justice by making them voice their complaints fearlessly. At the same time, offenders should be given exemplary punishments which are constructive in nature and help in the prevention of rape in future.

The power of awareness and reform are much stronger than any rigorous punishment. Capital punishments have never served any purpose in eliminating any crime and it never will. Another crime to stop one crime is not a solution. This will require a big change and the entire nation should unite to remove this crime from the very root of the system. We should work hand in hand to help the rape victim to stand up for her rights and also give the rapist a chance to repent and reform himself. We must learn to forgive and help the offenders from all the sections of the society to rise above crime, lead a normal life and serve the victim’s family forever as a form of repentance.

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