Delhi gang rape: a case for the death penalty

December 21, 2012

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Thomson Reuters)

“It appears to be that a rod was inserted into her and it was pulled out with so much force that the act brought out her intestines along. That is probably the only thing that explains such severe damage to her intestines,” he said.

According to sources, one of the accused persons who were brought to the hospital for a medical examination on Tuesday confessed to having seen a rope-like object — likely her intestines — being pulled out of the girl by the other assailants on the bus. The sources said that the girl had bite marks on her body.

“There was permanent damage to her intestines, and with the intestines completely gone she will have to feed through intravenous fluids all her life. But that is secondary, our primary focus at the moment is to save her life,” said Dr BD Athani, Medical Superintendent, Safdarjung Hospital.

The Hindustan Times

Six men gang-raped this woman, a 23-year-old medical student, on a moving bus. They beat her with an iron rod. They beat the man she was travelling with. They threw her off the bus and left her and the man for dead. She has undergone several surgeries. Doctors reportedly had to remove her small intestine.

The men who did this to her, if convicted, face a lifetime prison sentence – or maybe just 10 years. With a low conviction rate, they might yet beat the charges. What we have now is not enough. They should be hanged. To do otherwise will put India and its legal system to shame.

Newsrooms, television networks, newspapers, the people – they’re reeling from this horrific incident, which took place last Sunday night. Parliamentarians, the prime minister, politicians, the police… everybody had something to say. The people are in the streets, and some of them are demanding death for the accused.

Here are the objections:

Capital punishment is barbaric or cruel. It is inhuman. It is the mark of repressive, bloodthirsty societies. Countries around the world are looking to do away with it, preferring to focus on rehabilitation, treatment or simply life in prison. No crime warrants human annihilation. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Violence to repay violence is morally indefensible. The poor get the scaffold, but the rich escape punishment. What if you convict and execute the wrong man? The death penalty is not a deterrent that can sway a nation.

Let’s look at the other side.

There are 1.2 billion people in this country. Regardless of religion, the general rule is that men are more important than women, more exalted, somehow less expendable. Sons are better than daughters, sons are worth more than daughters. Women are mothers or sisters or maids, or they are vessels for men and their sexual needs. Subjugating a woman against her will carries little fear of reprisal in the eyes of many men. It was probably her fault anyway because she was drinking, hanging out with men, a slut or dressing in appropriately because she was in heat like a dog and asking for it. To rape a woman is to break a glass of little value. You can replace it with another one, and nobody will scold you. If you amended the laws against rape to include death by hanging (India’s method of execution) as a possible remedy for the crime, the threat of paying the highest price will always be there. This will not depend on economic differences. Rich men rape, and so do poor.

The laws against rape are inadequate to the point of being shameful. If a man rapes his wife, he faces no more than two years in jail. Others face comparatively little time in prison. The women, meanwhile, could face ostracism from their families and villages, scorn from the people around them, and possibly death at the hands of their own family.

Swift and harsh penalties against rapists, including the death penalty, would prevent people from seeing the crime as just one more infraction to overcome. Here are people whose history of rape did not get in the way of their lives. There was the convict who cleared his civil service exam while serving his sentence for rape. The Delhi High Court said he was in jail for such a long time that he “redeemed himself.” Last June, former President Pratibha Patil commuted the death sentences of several rapists. Among them was a man who killed a family of five and raped their young daughter.

The death penalty is supposed to be reserved for the “rarest of the rare” cases. Does that mean that the incidence of rapes makes the crime not rare enough? (One every 22 minutes, according to the National Crime Records Bureau, cited in CNN). Is it not rare enough when an estimated 20 percent of rapes are reported? (In Delhi this year: 635 reported, 754 people arrested, 348 cases pending, says India Today)

The laws also are inadequate because of the definition of rape. Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code specifies that sexual intercourse comprises rape. What about fingers? Fists? Bottles? Iron rods? Broomsticks? All of these have penetrated women and men in acts of violent aggression. Are these not rape? Are these not enough to cause injury or death? They do constitute rape, and they are enough to cause injury or death. This kind of assault should include the death penalty as a government reprisal.

Finally, assaults like the one on the bus are enough to leave the victim as good as dead, psychologically and physically. The victim does not have to die to justify a penalty of death. Remember that India allows death penalty for other non-lethal crimes: large-scale narcotics trafficking and treason are enough to get the noose. But rape – the ultimate mental and psychological violation of another human being – is not?

The idea is gaining some currency among the political class (as well as immediate opposition). See these lines from The Times of India:

Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj made a strong pitch for capital punishment for such crimes, a demand which did not find favour with Girija Vyas (Cong), who said such a penalty would lead to killing of women after rape.

Swaraj, however, got support from her party colleague Najma Heptulla as well as UPA ally DMK member Vasanthy Stanley and V Maitreyan (AIADMK) in the Rajya Sabha, who said “these culprits should be hanged till death”.

Maitreyan also urged the government to amend the law and introduce death penalty for rapists.

“Death penalty is the only punishment that is to be given. We can enact a law. This will serve as a deterrent,” Heptulla said.

Judging by the photos of street protests, some people want the same thing. People on Twitter are angrily recommending castration, anal penetration with an iron rod for the woman’s attackers, and yes, the death penalty. I understand the feeling. Passions are running high because a woman can’t go out on the street and go to work or to the movies without facing the threat of rape, evisceration, murder. Leaving aside the hot bloodlust for revenge, let’s remember that the idea is to make India a better place with a better society. There are countless ways to begin doing it. Not all will succeed on their own.

Meanwhile, the woman who was raped and tortured on the bus this week likely will survive, according to reports. She is off a ventilator and communicating with her family by writing. But what of the men, the sixth of whom was arrested today? The accused men allegedly disemboweled her while alive and threw her body into the street. Now they face attempted murder charges. Even if they limited their attack to simple rape, would this woman have somehow been a victim less deserving of the ultimate restitution? No. India should consider the death penalty in the case of the Delhi bus gangrape because of the severity and callousness of the crime. The barbarity of what the men allegedly did to her lies in the intent to defile her, not just the way that they did it. That is what must be punished, and the punishment must be the most severe one than there is.

(College student shout slogans during a protest in Jammu, Dec. 20, 2012. Thousands of protesters took to the streets in various parts of the country to demand urgent action against the men who took turns to rape a 23-year-old woman on a moving bus on Dec. 16. Reuters photo.)


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Completely disagree. Advocating capital punishment is a knee-jerk reaction to a complex problem. Taking a life for another is no solution and makes a society who supports this as barbaric as the rapists. Their sexual lust should not give way to our blood lust.

Posted by Nita_Bhalla | Report as abusive

@ Nita Bhalla: Sexual lust? Really!!! I have lost sleep over this incident and have developed fear of going outside! What happened to this woman is so brutal that one cannot just describe it as a sexual lust. It’s a rape of humanity. Humanity was killed inside that bus. Such people need to be tortured and then killed. They too need to suffer. So that anyone thinks twice about committing such a crime.
The reason why we are talking of this punishment is that existing law is not a deterrent. We were first treated to Santro rape case, JMC student rape case, Swiss female rape case, in fact the list just goes on. While death may not be a sentence in every rape case, this case is beyond it. 6 men raped her, then the iron rod, bite marks. You know what the police said once they saw the victim. They couldn’t look at her for a long time. Police personnel: those who deal with criminals, murders almost daily, they couldn’t. Can you can imagine the brutality of the assault. They say she was coughing blood while speaking pleading not to tell her parents who will be shocked. She is an innocent girl who did nothing to deserve this and is now battling for life. Those guys deserve nothing less than death. I wish India introduces electric chair for killing such people.

Posted by Woman21 | Report as abusive

Nita, it might not be your reaction or mine, but it was definitely not a knee-jerk reaction. I know because I edited the commentary :)

Posted by Robert MacMillan | Report as abusive

where gone my comments

Posted by defecto | Report as abusive

I India These perverted and corrupt politician have criminally wasted public fund for implementing sadistic reservation on basis of muslims reservation, SC/ST, OBC since independence and First Amendment to the Indian Constitution, and recently much time of parliament and public money was sadistically wasted on FDI and SC/ST reservation which is more urgent for political greed of politicians cutting across party lines than the pressing National need and requirements of new laws and amendment in Rape in Penal code, Enforcement/Black money etc but these anti-national politicians are suppressing the public demand by throttling genuine protests and demands, It is urgent need of the Hour, That General VK Singh take command and Immedietly shall form a emergency committee over him consisting of Pranv Mukherji, APJ Kalam, TN Seshan, KPS Gill, and Ram Jethamalani to guide the nation

Posted by kchatto | Report as abusive

Your comments gone trash. Write what you wrote before, but I will not publish comments WRITTEN IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS (LIKE THIS).

Posted by Robert MacMillan | Report as abusive

There is no need to amend IPC because making provision of Capital Punishment in rape cases never serve the purpose. The need of the hour is to complete entire process of a case including appeal in 10 to 20 days. This will deter rowdy or criminal thoughts of people doing any crime. Change Entire Cr.P.C.. Investigation period must be finished in 10 days and charge sheet must be filed in 13 days, trial court must deliver the judgment in 20 days and appeals must be filed online and only one appeal be allowed in all cases and appellate court must deliver judgment in 25 days from the date of crime.

If there is some delay in investigation, it must be with the knowledge and permission of court.

And everyone will see that the crime rate will drop to 2% of present levels..

Posted by sk257 | Report as abusive

In India the Police are working as Politician’s servants, not for the public safety or to keep law & order. So, the criminals who almost always have political connection get away with it. India used to be called as Blessed country and with all the recent corruption and incidents like this rape, I feel India is a cursed country. when will be the relief??

Posted by ksundaram | Report as abusive

In light of the public rage these six idiots have engendered, they may only be able to stay alive by going to prison for life.

Posted by Shamizar | Report as abusive

I second the proposal for death penalty. Instead of taking things to court, a public court can be held where evidence is presented to a jury made up equal number of men and women. The court takes place in a public place. Verdict is given quickly. If appeal is made, only then does the case court to a court (or call it the bureaucratic machine). This way, penalty can be varied from fine to jail term to death penalty (based on the background of the people involved). Our court system is too strained to handle all cases. Ajmal Kasab could live for four additional years after being sentenced to die. Courts must be split up according to the categories of crimes. If all cases go to the same court, it will take forever to get justice. And punishment has to be harsh in order to discourage people from indulging in their crimes. At the same time, a cultural change has to happen in India where males and females are taught to interact in a healthy manner. There is too much isolation that leads to perversion and criminal acts. Our media and movies have to discourage rape and other crimes committed against women on the streets (eve teasing is a classic example).

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive

This is a crime of humanity. The creatures that committed this abomination deserve nothing more than a swift removal. To allow them or any human capable of this to live amongst us is a injustice to the civilized world and until we as a people of the world can understand that this and actions like the recent killings of innocent children in the United States will continue. There is no accountability in this world. It has to stop.

Posted by Aldohuman | Report as abusive

we are so dumb, after few days everybody will forgot all these things bcaz we are used to. someone was telling about human rits. ask them if it happens with their children, sister, mother, wife or with any family member, then also he will say about huminity.
these kind of people who did this rape should be hanged in open places. so that otherone wo’d never think about that. i wish i can kill them all 5 bastards.

Posted by ashishkpandit | Report as abusive

Why not impale them alive on pikes?
Just don’t make them up so they look like W.

Posted by Darr247 | Report as abusive

Folks! protests and demonstrations are age old methods and Govt is used to it. I bet there is not going to be much impact on long run.
I suggest one new method if you Delhi folks like to make some impression to the whole world about what women is going through there on daily basis. I lived in Delhi for 4 years and I am very familiar with street wisdom: women do not ride the bus all the way to terminal especially if the bus is empty and there is a POLICE OFFICER in it. You have higher chances of getting raped by the DRIVER, CONDUCTOR and the POLICE.
See if any one is willing sponsor banners around the city at important entry places like airports or bus terminals etc saying ” WOMEN! YOU ARE ENTERING THE RAPE CAPITOL OF THE WORLD AT YOUR OWN RISK” or find a new way of reminding every one, every day, about the rapes, indefinitely including the Govt or ask the Half Naked Bollywood stars to organize a rally on behalf of the victims( Govt will pay better attention to them)or create a religious poster of RAVANSURA asking people of Delhi to follow his example at least (if not RAMA)who never laid hands on Sita and waited for her permission until his death!!

Posted by scorleo | Report as abusive

Who is minor? According to Islamic Law Any male or female who show signs of puberty or attraction towards opposite sex or sense to earn livelihood etc r considered Adult.But under Indian Law one who is above 18 is an adult.Under 18 is considered growing baby ,so place for Juvenile system arise that is very funny ……….One among the rapists of Delhi moving bus rape case is under 18 but he has been said to be most brutal in this crime.while Indian Law considers him growing baby.Under Islamic Law He & all his crime partners r supposed to be beheaded in public within 3 days,while witness is proved,evidence has already been collected.No time to rethink no way to let them go.this is Islam…………[By;Er Mueen H Salati srinagar.Feed back:]

Posted by Mueen1 | Report as abusive

I recommend that these men be taken into custody and stung once by a scorpion on their penis or testicle every night after dinner, for the rest of their lives i.e. as long as they survive.

Posted by loneresider | Report as abusive