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Here’s Why I Believe The Death Sentence For Delhi Rape Convicts Is A Bad Decision

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By Dhruv Arora:

“Vengeance is a monster of appetite, forever bloodthirsty and never filled” -Richelle E. Goodrich

The day was December 16th, the year 2012. I don’t recall what I was doing on that day, but I remember that the rest of the month lasted as an entire year. Nothing new happened, for the occurrences of the day had been seen countless times before, and would be seen repeated with increasing aggression as time would pass. A girl was raped, brutalized, and murdered by a gang of five, and it was all going to happen again. I knew I was heading outside to protest even before I finished reading the whole news. It hurt, it always did, but it seemed to me that there was certain imperviousness to the society, one that prevented the scars of such atrocities from digging too deep in our hearts. I did not know, however, that it was going to be very different this time.

death sentence

We all know what happened next, with people pouring out on the streets without a care in the world for personal safety, to voice their outrage. India Gate was a sight of something no less than spectacular, and the entire situation had a certain revolutionary nostalgia to it all. People were not happy; it had hit where it would hurt. Even though rapes weren’t new, this had hit too close to home and it was clear people were not going to stand for it. The next few days saw one of the largest protests the nations had ever seen, and some with malicious intent tried their best to take over the crowds with sheer hatred and violence. They did not succeed, as people would soon reclaim their voice as they fearlessly led this call for change.

Change, that’s how it began. I wish I could tell you that everything changed that day, but that would be a lie. Everything changed for a few people, and for those few there was no going back, but a majority of the crowd settled. It got better, because never before had the issues surrounding basic safety and security been highlighted this way. The general consensus was an outcry for justice and change in mentality, the violent aspects of the protests (and the few external entities that tried to inject us with it) did not endure. Change would not come in the form of brand new laws, but instead, it came in the form of a fresh determination to follow up on the aftermath of the heinous incident. Eventually, the crowd thinned, but by the end there were still more people protesting for their right to public spaces and basic security than there had ever been before. There was a massive call for swift justice, which was given fresh direction with an overwhelmingly positive set of recommendations by an obviously progressive committee of officials, led by the late Justice J.S. Verma. Things were, as difficult as it is to say, looking up.

The next few months saw an even more thinning of the crowds, till the protests completely died down and the anticipation for a conviction took centre stage. The fast-track courts would too, take their time, amidst two massive calls from the people; one for the Death Penalty to be issued to these rapists (and subsequent heinous crimes of rape) and the other to take a better look at our system and fix it where it needs to be fixed the most. The intriguing thing amidst all of this was that both parties were demanding justice, with a highly contrasting definition of the word. It seemed, people weren’t entirely sure of what justice was, but for the first time in their lives they were very sure that they wanted it. Fast forward many months, to 13th September 2013 — the date the conviction was finally going to come. Anticipating protests, all roads around the Court in question were closed, and the sentencing was done in the middle of the day to ensure people wouldn’t be able to come out in large numbers, and the sentence was announced — all four convicted would be sentenced to death.

The pace at which the call for change and justice changed to a note of celebration for blood is deafening, to say the least. There is a palpable note of joy in the public yelling while celebrating the death of monsters, it’s almost ironic. The cry is blood for blood, and death for death. The rationale being, of course, that this particular case was one of the “rarest of rare” cases that warranted capital punishment. But as we celebrate our retribution, I’m left asking myself if retribution is justice. Have we made an impact on the epidemic of increasing rapes in this country, or have we simply quenched our thirsts for revenge? Is justice looking forward to ensure we’ve made an impact on the real problem, or looking back and feeling better about the evils in our past? Have we, in our desire to see some action being taken against the perpetrators, actually made the situation worse?

The debates have been put out, the celebrations have begun. Such a barbaric act of crime warranted punishment of the highest order, and a change of laws to accommodate our anger of the incident. The debate is, that stricter punishments (capital punishments in this case) would act as a much needed deterrent to the criminal intent, and would discourage people from engaging in the unforgivable acts of rape (a-la Saudi Arabia?) and bring down the ridiculously skyrocketing rates of sexual crimes in the country. Are we really helping matters though, if the sentence for rapes is the same as the sentence for murder? Are we discouraging sexual assault, or encouraging a very dark burn-after-brutalizing culture? We call this the rarest of rare, in the plethora of even worse cases that exist in the police books around the world, and more that aren’t even reported?

The problem with this retributive approach to justice is that the problem is completely sidelined in favour of the desire for revenge. The problem is that sexual assaults are not lust-crimes at all, but are much more deeply linked to the roots of our society and have strong ties with the culture of power and domination. Yes, these things take time to change and till then we cannot do anything, but if we lose our heads in favour of personalizing justice to fit our emotionally triggered desire for “real action”, then we are failing as a society. True, it takes time, but till then we need to work on removing our ties to violence and not engrain them into our legal definitions. The least we need to ensure is that while this slow and painful process of change takes its due course, we don’t make things worse. If we let our deep frustration, anger and the helplessness of not being able to make an immediate change in the culture of sexual crimes take control of our better judgment of being able to identify positive change; we’re going to only make matters worse.

We must not let our frustration affect our better judgment and end up employing and promoting the very culture that goes into giving birth to these sexual crimes. If we let our anger and outcry take the form of that of a moral police, claiming that rape is the worst thing that can possibly happen to a woman and her spirit is destroyed after it (as a reason for why they need to be sentenced to the highest provisions in the law), we are only going to promote the very culture we are intending to fight.

Since the time of the hearing, when I first came out with my disapproval of the sentence, I have personally received aggressively motivated borderline threatening messages suggesting I should perhaps undergo the very unfortunate occurrences of 16th December with myself or a loved one to understand the pain that is involved with such a crime, to suggesting that such a spineless stance against criminals is the reason crimes happen and my stance is what allows rapes to happen in the first place. All of these and more and they are coming from a defenders’ perspective, one with good intentions but a method that is only going to make matters worse. Unless we learn to let go of the very bricks and stones that make up our culture into one that belongs to such a deeply violent intent, we cannot hope to make the very change we started off the protests asking for in the first place. Maybe instead of looking back and healing our hurt, justice needs to look forward and make tomorrow a better place instead; and perhaps we need to ask ourselves if rehabilitation of a disturbed and mentally wounded psyche is something that needs to replace our desire for absolute and quick retribution.

In this particular case, perhaps due to the brutal and murderous nature of the crime, the sentencing may have gone this way even if a fair trial was conducted. Perhaps that was a possibility. However, not only was this done hoping it would appeal to the crowds and give them some ill-fated release, I am not sure what is more alarming — the threat that we will see this as a cure, and let this settle us down and eat away from the real problem, or the sheer joy and the tone of celebration that is ringing on social media regarding blood-for-blood. In all of this, I find myself thinking, where do we draw the line, if at all?

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  1. Ritika

    There was nothing ‘absolute’ nor ‘quick’ about this judgment, for one. Secondly, it is not ‘retribution’ in the strictest of sense. They will not suffer what the girl they beat up viciously and raped suffered.
    This judgment is in response to what happened on the December 16th. The rapists were caught, the victim died, the media limelighted issue, and people took to the streets. For better or worse, the Delhi 16th rape case is a turning point. If, to assuage the public sentiment in some part, the decision to hang the four was taken, then it was the smart thing to do. The large impact of this case cannot be denied; neither can justice – call it (some measure of) revenge, if you must – for the family of the victim.
    The point to emphasize – instead of being disappointed about this verdict: we must ensure this judgment does not set a precedent. Hanging rapists is NOT the quick-fix solution to rape and abuse of women. Long-term change is indeed needed in our society – education, gender tolerance, respect. This is what people must not lose sight of. But neither must you, or other naysayers of the decision to hang, lose sight of the fact that we live in a society with a government, judicial system, economy and so on. This judgment, in some measure, is proof our law enforcement can work. Capital punishment is a provision in our constitution; it’s there to be used. If hanging sentences were being meted out regularly for any and all crimes, only then could we talk of a society sating violence by violence.

  2. Chitrayudh Ghatak

    Unfortunately, your views are way ahead of our Zeitgeist. The more you win the debate intellectually, the more you lose it politically. hmph…

    1. Guneet Narula

      Tell us more about our “zeitgeist.” What opinions are acceptable? Who or what controls this zeitgeist?

  3. Anju

    Appreciate your comments. Rapists make my blood boil, the boy on the street who leers at me makes my blood boil, men in my life who say “Cover up, you look like you’re inviting unwanted attention” make my blood boil. The outrage is the same in every case, but it doesn’t mean I want the death sentence for all of them.
    This was truly justice being served, justice in its truest sense, the reason India still has not outlawed the death penalty. There are of course those rabid people who see this sentence as some sort of justification or vindication – as you say, the revenge mentality is not healthy. These people are almost as misguided as the rapists themselves.
    There is a real lack of insight into WHY crimes like this happen. The poverty and frustration and the very real anger that lead the men in this country to want to assert their masculinity in the only way they can, on defenseless and weaker beings.
    That needs to be addressed. However, in this case, I do believe that this was the right decision, even if there was an obvious sense of pandering to the public sentiment. I read an article on why justice needs to be enforced. It may not be fair, but it needs to be done impartially, without any loopholes. That is the only way that we can hope for a safer world.
    My only concern is that it will stop here, if as you say, this judgement was served only in this case, only to appease the ravenous public – that if public response was not as strong for another case, the criminals would get off lightly. If that is so, my hope will have truly died.

    1. Kabir Aman

      “…on defenseless and weaker beings.”
      Stop calling yourself weak Anju, women aren’t weak, it’s patriarchal bullshit that has been fed (read brainwashed) into your mind. You’re as strong as any other person.

  4. Ankush Garg

    I agree with your concern if regular practice of capital punishment would bring down the the rate of sexual crimes against women. I too personally believe that its not the severity of punishment that works as a deterrent but its the efficiency of court that can bring radical changes. However, I do not out rightly disagree with today’s verdict of death punishment and I have following reasons to support my belief.
    First of all we need to realize that the jury has declared it a rape case as well as a murder case along with other charges, not a rape case alone. So any appropriate punishment under the case of murder is applicable here. Second, about the opinion on justification for death sentence, since the jury has also declared it a ‘rarest of rare’ case; if we want to question the verdict of death sentence in this case then we have to question if death sentence is justifiable at all even if in ‘rarest of rare’ case. If we agree that capital punishment is a good practice under ‘rarest of rare’ case then I don’t see any reason to disagree with today’s verdict. I am not in favor of capital punishment as a regular practice but I do not question it when its ‘rarest of rare’ case. Furthermore, I also beg to differ to look at the verdict as revenge since calling it a revenge would mean any punishment under law would qualify as revenge. It is wrong to say that death sentence is a revenge but not life imprisonment as definition of revenge does not depend on severity of act.

  5. Pritish Srivastav

    “However, not only was this done hoping it would appeal to the crowds and give them some ill-fated release, I am not sure what is more alarming – the threat that we will see this as a cure, and let this settle us down and eat away from the real problem, or the sheer joy and the tone of celebration that is ringing on social media regarding blood-for-blood.”

    As much as I agree with this statement, People who really were awakened by this case will remain awakened, it would not give us any relief at least it didn’t give me any. I am still as stirred up for this cause as before.

    Moreover, the death penalty in India, i.e., Death by hanging, I still consider it not violent. In other countries as you mentioned Saudi Arabia, we don’t want that kind of Justice because we Indians are not violent by heart. When I think of Justice I think of saving the person’s soul rather than punishing him/her but in this case we have to sacrifice some lives to set an example for other criminals to learn that Justice will prevail here, the system has changed they would not be free. Think of it from the Criminal’s point of view. If I am a criminal I’ll think twice before committing any crime because this case showed me that India’s Justice System has changed, action will be taken.

    I’m not saying our system has changed completely and action will be taken swiftly especially in Rape and Sexual Assaults cases but this judgement shows that our Govt. is capable of taking action.

    Please understand the slow process you’re thinking of needs to start here, and to start like this. This Judgement was essential to prove that this slow process has started and going in the right direction

  6. Ashashwat

    I have never been a supporter of capital punishment. But in this case, I am viewing the judgment favourably. Clarified as ‘rarest of rare’ cases, it is understandable that capital punishment, in this case, will serve as a deterrent to all the ‘budding rapists’ out there. Since rape is not only a sexual crime, but more of a show of violence, we need to treat it in the same way as we would treat violent criminal acts. In cases of murder, the victim is not left behind to know if justice is served. In cases of rape, the legal process is tedious and drawn out, leading to trivialization of the issue. The victim suffers from mental anguish knowing that somewhere in the world, the perpetrators still roam free.
    I feel that instead of being the standard for all rape cases, this will serve as a benchmark for all further judgments in similar cases.

  7. Mayur Doriel

    In situations like this…..We cannot have an ‘Emotional Response’….It requires an ‘Intellectual Response’ !

    Pray for social reforms in the mindset of men. This Herculean Machoism needs to change big time. Home to home reforms needs to take place. Laws only help after the crime has taken place. But social reforms will set the base for crimes not to take place at all.

    1. Pritish Srivastav

      It has to start somewhere right? We can’t just use a magic wand to change the mindset of men, there has to be some way to generate thoughts in their mind telling them not to do it. It should be morality there in there minds telling them that its wrong, but for now it has to start with fear. This judgement shows that our Govt. will take action against them, this should generate fear in their minds that will tell them not to do it or they’ll be punished.

  8. Mohan

    Completely agree with you!!

  9. Sumit

    Death sentence is so easy. These monsters should have been skinned alive and their genitals be cut and fed to the pigs. I do not understand why some people are talking as if they are the messiah of human society. First try and feel the ordeal of the girl who have been brutalized and then talk big of not supporting death sentences. Shame on you who says death sentence for those spineless creeps is not a good decision. Don’t talk insane to gain attention.

    1. ujjawal choudhary

      Completely agree with you.

  10. Neha Mayuri

    I respect your views but I expect nothing except understanding from you.. the death sentence was not for rape, it is for cold blooded murder, do you realise she died such a painful death? And I firmly believe it the death sentence is justified.

  11. Sanskruti

    Your views are compatible with a society different from that of our country’s..people here have no fear at all..and that is the main reason they do whatever they feel like..one needs to fear something or someone, God, conscience, public, police..but such monsters think they own the world and the women they subject to unimaginable brutality..currently, and for quite a few years at the least in India only fear can keep such crimes in check..there are no other means whatsoever..the rest, who don’t share the same mindset would anyway not even think of committing such a crime..I’m disappointed that you don’t get this..

  12. Malabika

    the decision was not at all a reflection of vengeance .The act undertaken by those men included rape as well as culpable homicide.They did not want the girl to live .Even if we allow the criminals to live ,how will they use their life anyway?Will they go down on their knees and ask for forgiveness or support the girls’ family financially?They are,were ,and as long as they live -hardened criminals who I feel do not have an ounce of guilt for their crime…somewhere or the other they still believe that they were right in doing whatever they did that night.I believe their bestiality stemmed from a deep source of perversion and deep-rooted hatred for womankind….how else can you explain their inhumanity ?Believe me ,the death sentence was the least they could do !They hurt a human being in the worst possible manner …I guess it is extremely easy for you to sit at home and give a Gandhian viewpoint to everything in life …but believe me even Gandhi and Buddha would have balked at them.This is just the beginning,hope death sentence is enforced for every rape case that goes on.Only then can we rid the society of such vermins .And of your idiotic viewpoints .Sorry culdnt be more respectful.

  13. Vishnupriya

    This case, where Nirbhaya was raped by 6 men not 5, was something that went way beyond the rape cases you hear of everyday. They used a blade to cut her vagina and inserted a metal rod in her abdominal cavity repeatedly, took out her intestines with their hands and raped her again.
    You first have to see that the death penalty is a punishment for the crime committed first, and then as a message to the community of rapists. A wide panels of psychiatrists spoke about how people who are mentally unstable won’t be capable of committing anything like this, this is done intentionally to feel powerful over the victim. To intentionally hurt her, cause her pain and leave her with that traumatic experience for the rest of her life that is if she survives. These people showed no remorse or even realization about what they had done. According to the officials these people used to laugh at police officers, while being taken to court. These people are misogynistic bastards.
    The punishment for the juvenile is still pending. He and Ram Singh who killed himself were the most brutal of the lot, the juvenile raped her twice. You can only alter a person till a certain point, people who have committed something like, which makes us squirm when we read about it, imagine the way she must have cried out in agony and yet they continued with their torture seeing the pain they were inflicting on her. Their mentality is beyond change or alteration.
    She died, doctors said they had never in their careers seen an act of rape that had caused that level of damage to internal organs.
    You can set an example for the nation by doing what is right, not protecting what is wrong.
    Hanging them is still not enough to satisfy the thirst for revenge because you’re setting them free within seconds, this is justice for the crime they committed.

  14. Nijhum Rudra

    Absolutely nonsense, these are all philosophical thinking and philosophies never work in real life. If you torture and kill someone, you will get back the same thing and that is what needed. This is a strong message to rapists that they will think at least once before raping someone. God cannot punish human being those are all bullshit sayings, indeed God has created human beings to punish the wrongdoers and giving plaudits to someone who is doing something good. Criminals have no right stay alive, if they were given chance to stay alive, they will introduce different kinds of crime.

  15. Anu Dhir

    Dear Dhruv,

    I fear you are missing the point here really. It’s got everything to do with time- it is because the social/ mindset changes that you are talking about shall take decades in a society like ours, that we need the shorter term deterrents – in as strict a term as possible to sail us through.

    You talk about there having been worse crimes in the history of the world or India specifically, I agree. But there has to be a start somewhere right, and when there is one, we shouldn’t really be saying ‘ what about the incidents before it?’

    Whoever said that you should probably go through the same, though talking out of their prime emotive response, was trying to make a very valid point- rape is more about what it does to your head than what it does to your body- it’s about breaking your spirit, your sense of being someone, of being human and alive and not a non- living thing. If you can’t understand this basic thing, you aren’t qualified to comment on the issue in the first place.

    Please don’t worry about the nation turning to an uncivilized angry mob crying blood- every emotion has it’s day.

    And kindly don’t write things like- ‘ even if a fair trial was conducted ‘, that not only mocks all our legal system but also our collective conscience.

    Warm regards,

    anu

    1. Nitin

      great response. Please marry me.

  16. Nitin

    Article was too long to read, so I skimmed through comments section to get an idea about your objection. Didn’t find the point of objection ( but found there is too much feminism in comments). Anyhooo going by title alone, I knew sooner or later there is going to be someone opposing this execution.

    Ok now I read your article. You have raised too many questions, without providing any solution in return. Life needs to be simple. ‘Health is wealth’, ‘early to bed early to rise’, ‘As you bow so you reap’. Capital punishments are quick justice( dont say blood for blood). People can now carry on with their lives, and I believe departed’s soul can also rest in peace.

  17. Priyam R.

    “the sentencing may have gone this way even if a fair trial was conducted. Perhaps that was a possibility.”
    Kindly refrain from making such a statement in public forum as it directly casts aspersion on the trial and the legal system. Those who have doubts on the ‘fairness’ of the trial are free to support the Accused in their appeal to a higher court of law. But in any event by no means are you qualified to make such statements about the process of law. Making contemptuous statements against the judiciary won’t fall under the ambit of your ‘Freedom to Speech and Expression’ under the Constitution. Please appreciate that before u blog and share your profound thoughts with the world.

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