Shakti Mills gang rape case: in defense of the life sentence

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In 2013, a 22-year-old woman who worked as a photojournalist in Mumbai was gang raped at Shakti Mills compound while on assignment with a male colleague. In 2014, a district court sentenced three of the men involved in the crime to death by hanging. In November 2021, the Bombay High Court commuted the death sentences of Vijay Jadhav, Qasim Shaikh and Salim Ansari.

This verdict has disappointed those who believe rapists deserve nothing less than the death penalty due to the brutality to which the rape victim / survivor has been subjected. However, the court’s decision to suspend the death penalty and grant life imprisonment can also be seen as consistent with feminist calls for the abolition of the death penalty.

In his article “Sexual violence against women, laws, sanctions and the negotiation of duplicity”(2021) for Laws magazine, sociologist Suvarna Cherukuri argues that the death penalty“ has no deterrent effect on crime ”. 2012 to examine possible changes in the criminal law and to propose measures for faster trials and harsher sentences for felons accused of sexual assault.

In January 2020, feminists and women’s organizations across India called on the Indian president to stop the execution of Akshay Kumar, Vinay Sharma, Pawan Gupta and Mukesh Singh, convicted of brutal assault, gang rape and the murder of a former medical intern in Delhi in December 2012.

The statement acknowledged the “inexorable pain” of parents and relatives of those who are raped and killed, but warned of “the efforts of politicians and parties, courts and other vested interests to capitalize on their pain. and make the matter a matter of the honor of the nation. ” He notes: “The plain truth is that even after the Indian state executed Auto (Gowri) Shankar in 1995, Ranga and Billa (Kuljeet Singh and Jasbir Singh) in 1982, and Dhananjay Chatterjee in 2004 for rape and murder , sexual assault and murder continues unabated. “

If fear of the death penalty has proven ineffective in deterring rapists from raping, why is there such a push towards the death penalty in our society? What is the nature of this so-called collective conscience, which demands punitive action of a type unlikely to end sexual violence against women? What gratification or victory is she looking for in punishment? Who, if there is anyone, benefits from this notion of justice?

Cherukuri draws attention to “disproportionate death sentences against racial, ethnic and religious minorities”. She writes: “There can be no equitable application of the death penalty; the doctrine of “the rarest of the few” is left to open interpretation. This feminist critique of the legal discourse on rape and the death penalty is supported by lawyer Flavia Agnes. “The rape of Dalit women and girls by upper caste men is treated as a less serious crime, and in contrast, those sentenced to death in most cases of rape are caste and lower class, ”she said.

Those who believe that minorities in India are always pampered might hear Agnes and Cherukuri’s arguments as attempts to demand differential treatment for abusers from marginalized backgrounds. However, Agnes backs up her statement by pointing out that outrage over the 2020 Hathras rape case was “far from” the protests that “erupted in almost every major city” after the rape case. “Nirbhaya” from 2012.

The Death Penalty India report (2016), published by Delhi’s National Law University Project 39A, notes that 76% of death row prisoners are “backward classes and religious minorities”. It does not suggest any “causal link or direct discrimination” but mentions that “the disparate impact of the death penalty on marginalized and vulnerable groups must take center stage in the conversation about the death penalty”.

There is another reason why many feminists oppose the death penalty. Agnès explains: “With regard to women, the state draws a line between the so-called ‘good’ woman who needs protection and the ‘bad’ woman who must be penalized because she does not fit into the category of women. ‘good’ women. According to her, when the state assumes the role of “benevolent patriarch,” it tries to “curb female sexuality.” Bar dancers, sex workers, lesbians and others are the recipients of this punitive program disguised as protection.

Do Judges Sadhana Jadhav and Prithviraj Chavan share this vision of the state? It would be presumptuous to draw such conclusions from their judgment, which declares that rapists deserve to be imprisoned “for the rest of their natural lives”. The judges added: “Every day the rising sun would remind them of the barbaric acts committed by them, and the night would lay them down with a heavy heart filled with guilt and remorse.”

The judges are against the death penalty, but they want rapists to suffer. They have no hope that the mentalities of these men can change. It is clear from their observation that “death puts an end to the whole concept of repentance, to all suffering and mental agony.” They believe that the condemned “do not deserve to be assimilated into society” because they “regard women with derision, depravity, contempt and as objects of desire”.

The judgment states: “The conduct of the accused and his bold admission to the survivor that she is not the first to satisfy their desire is sufficient to conclude that there is no room for ‘reform’. or a “rehabilitation”. Is life imprisonment then a more severe penalty than the death penalty? If fear of death does not deter men from raping women, what could? What justice would really open up possibilities for reform or rehabilitation? These are important questions to think about whether or not you identify as a feminist.

(Chintan Girish Modi is a freelance writer, journalist and literary critic)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

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