Delhi gang rape: a case for the death penalty
“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.
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.)