India: Should rapists receive the death penalty?
The Supreme Court’s judgment in a notorious gang-rape case “will put the fear of God into sexual predators,” said DNAIndia.com in an editorial. The “gut-wrenching, graphic details” of the crime are seared into our nation’s consciousness: In 2012, six drunken men brutally attacked a physiotherapy student on a moving bus, beating up her male friend and raping and violating her with a metal rod. The 23-year-old victim, Jyoti Singh, became known as Nirbhaya, or “Fearless,” because of her valiant efforts to fight off her attackers; she died of her injuries two weeks after the assault. One of the attackers committed suicide in police custody; another, a minor, was sentenced to three years in prison. The final four assailants were sentenced to death, a rare punishment here, and last week the Supreme Court upheld their sentences. They will hang: a suitable end for the criminals who awoke “a deep, seething rage” among Indian women.
Why did this rape resonate so? asked Namita Bhandare in Livemint. Before 2012, poor women were raped every day in India, and the entire country did not rise up in outrage. Nirbhaya, though, was “an ideal victim” to arouse Indian sympathy. She was “the hardworking daughter of an airport loader who had sold his land in order to educate her,” an aspirational figure “India could and did empathize with.” That’s why the Nirbhaya case “remains a touchstone of almost mythical proportion.” Massive nationwide protests after Nirbhaya’s death led to new laws mandating tougher penalties for rape and special courts to fast-track cases.
Yet in practice, not much has changed, said the Millennium Post. The committee charged with overhauling the rape laws “highlighted the urgent need for greater safety measures for women who use public transport.” But four years later, all we have is a new panic-button app for smartphones, which is of little use to the mostly poor women who ride buses and rickshaws. And the nearly $500 million Nirbhaya Fund, which is supposed to support programs that protect women’s safety in public spaces, “has remained almost entirely unspent.” Worst of all, the number of rape cases being reported to the authorities has climbed by nearly 40 percent since 2012. Perhaps some of that surge is due to women being more willing to come forward. But with 95 rapes reported every day, India must do better.
The rise in rapes shows that the death penalty is not working as a deterrent, said The Indian Express. And some of the other laws have actually backfired: Raising the age of consent from 16 to 18 has prompted a raft of rape charges brought by angry parents against their teenage daughters’ boyfriends. To fight rape, India must change its culture to end “women’s economic marginalization” and stamp out “regressive gender imagery in the media.” Toughening penalties for rape “addresses the appalling, but not the endemic.” ■