Rights groups slam India death sentence for rapists

A demonstrator shouts slogans outside a court in New Delhi. Photo - Reuters

New Delhi: Indian rights groups voiced dismay on Saturday over death sentences handed to four men for a fatal gang rape, saying it was unlikely to reverse the country's "rape crisis" despite a clamour for their execution.

After a seven-month fast-track trial, Judge Yogesh Khanna said on Friday the four men should be "hanged by the neck till they are dead" for the brutal rape of a 23-year-old woman on a bus last December.

After the sentencing, people distributed sweets on the street in celebration and tweeted that "justice" had been served.

But on Saturday, rights network Avaaz slammed the verdict, urging the government instead to launch a mass public education campaign to stop India's "rape epidemic".

"Executing these men won't bring back the woman they raped or reverse India's rape crisis.

The only way to stop rape before it starts is with a massive public education campaign," the online activist network said.  

Indian newspapers splashed the sentencing on their front pages along with mug shots of the four convicts whose crime shocked the nation and triggered weeks of street protests.

"Showed no mercy, got no mercy" screamed a banner headline in the English language Hindustan Times while the Times of India said "Death for four for dastardly, diabolical, brutal crime".

In the lead-up to the sentencing, there had been a huge clamour for the four — Vinay Sharma, Akshay Thakur, Pawan Gupta, and Mukesh Singh — to be executed for their attack on the physiotherapy student and her male companion December 16.

The papers, however, wondered if handing down the death penalty in rape cases would make women any safer across the country.

Last year, there were 24,923 cases of rape reported in India, according to the government's official statistics. But the actual figure is believed to be far higher with experts saying women are reluctant to file complaints for fear of social stigma in the socially conservative nation.

An editorial in The Hindu newspaper was scathing in its criticism of the verdict, saying it would serve little purpose other than providing a "false comfort of retribution".

"In meting out the hangman's justice... the sessions court has regrettably missed an opportunity to turn the discourse away from retributive punishment to constructive dialogue on policing and legal reforms," it wrote under the headline, "Crimes death can't wish away".

The victim, who cannot be named for legal reasons, died of massive internal injuries on December 29 after being lured on to the private bus by the gang following a cinema trip with a companion.

In handing out the sentence, judge Khanna said the crime fell into the "rarest of rare category" that justified capital punishment under India's legal system.

Kavita Krishnan of the All India Progressive Women's Association said the punishment was hardly going to serve as a deterrent.

"In the same court, there were acquittals in 20 out of 23 rape cases. Potential rapists can see how remote their chances of conviction are, leave alone the punishment," she said.

The Hindustan Times said the verdict was "not an occasion to rejoice" because it would not stop sex crimes.

To make India safer for women, "we must tackle deep-rooted social problems", it said.
Human Rights Watch called the verdict "troubling".

"It may have a popular appeal and seem like the easy option, but the government should abolish this inhumane measure and get down to the harder task of institutional reform," the group's regional director Meenakashi Ganguly said.

"That would be the way to really protect women and girls from future attacks," she added. 


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Reader Comments

Given the gravity of the shocking incident of December 16, 2012, everyone wanted justice to be delivered at the earliest possible time, and for every effort to be made to avoid recurrence of similar incidents.

The judge’s decision to hang the four men convicted of the Delhi rape and murder truly reflects the anger of the Indian public.

At the same time, there have been several debates in the past about the death penalty. On one occasion, retired judges called for its elimination, arguing that the degradation of people by the law belongs to the Stone Age.

It has been argued that practicing the norms of the past jeopardises the societal and cultural achievements of the modern era. Indeed, many countries around the world are joining hands against capital punishment.

The agony of those who are sentenced to death, waiting for the gallows doors to open, is beyond the comprehension of most human beings. The most painful scenario occurs when the death sentence is postponed several times, forcing a scenario which one lawyer has described as “virtually killing the convict every day”. Such action should be considered abusive.

Together with the millions of supporters of Amnesty International, my conscience cannot allow me to accept capital punishment. I consider it an unethical act of aggression that is against the values of humanity.

Being a nation with a rich cultural heritage, India should not implement the death penalty. It is high time for a review of the statute book.

I wonder if these so-called human rights champions will still feel the same if they or their daughters are raped and brutalised. Will they protest the execution of the vicious rapists and murderers still? I dont think so. Armchair liberals.

I agree that hanging people will not stop rape but for sure it will stop the perpetrators from raping again. All told, I doubt the world will mourn the loss of any rapist.