Here is a dangerous opinion: murderers should not be killed.
It is an opinion you have probably heard before, and if the statistics I have heard about are right, and you live in western Europe, the chances are you agree with it.
However, in India, they do not. At least, they do not agree with it to the point of changing their statutes to reflect this. We have seen a prime example of this, this week, with the announcement that the four men convicted of raping and causing the death (murder or manslaughter is not clear) of a woman student, have been given the death penalty. Another man who was alleged to have participated in the incident has already died (there is evidence he hanged himself, though his family deny this) and one male who was 17 at the time has been sent to a juvenile reform institution.
This case therefore provides food for thought for those who oppose the death penalty but who also have a strong interest in tougher, and greater, sentencing of rapists. In the UK, current attitude suggests that rape is a more sinister and politically incorrect crime than murder or manslaughter, so one might think that a death penalty should be awarded for that crime, if any, especially if it is accompanied by the death of the rape victim. It seems that international organisations are also starting to take this view. For example, Meenakshi Ganguly, the South Asia Director of Human Rights Watch, said the treatment of individual women was “much, much more important” than whether or not the perpetrators were put to death. It is not clear under which context these remarks were made, but from the outside it starts to sound that human rights can be picked and chosen.
What interests me more than the human rights angle is India’s use of the death penalty at all. Ghandi said, referring to violent conflict, “An eye for an eye, and the whole world goes blind”. Barely more than sixty years after independence, this appears not to apply within India. Add that this particular case is unbalanced in this respect; justice is apparently served to one manslaughter/murder and six rapes by five deaths and a remedial sentence. This starts to sound more like a state-mediated revenge for the crimes at the behest of public pressure, and less like justice.
Militant feminists reading this will no doubt be angered by that view, but I am not alone in holding it. Tara Rao, Director of Amnesty International India seems to agree. He said that “Sending these four men to the gallows will accomplish nothing except short-term revenge”.
There is no doubt, for me at least, that nothing can justify the actions of rape and murder of any person. However, in the interests of equitability, we must ask ourselves whether death and a painfully unbalanced approach solve any of the problems that come under the spotlight in this case. The upshot of this is that men and women are as separated as much as they ever were, justice has compromised yet again by ignorant and political intervention and the causes and consequences of rape and murder are more unclear than ever before.
What we lack is an even-handed, cool-headed, objective approach. When are we going to get that?
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