Shakti Act, 2020:
The Maharashtra Cabinet recently approved the draft for a women's’ safety centric bill that has provisions for harsher punishments, heftier fines, swift investigation and sentencing of perpetrators of sexual violence. The Bill, called Shakti Act 2020, aims to deter crimes against women by setting a precedent for sex offenders in the country.
Modeled on the Disha Law passed in Andhra Pradesh earlier last year, Shakti Act proposes amendments in existing sections of the Indian Penal Code, Code of Criminal Procedure and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act. This Bill can be used to sentence those guilty of heinous sexual assault charges - rape, aggravated sexual assault and acid attack- the death penalty as well as a fine of upto Rs.10 lakh. The Bill also focuses on ensuring quick and thorough investigation into the crimes and wrapping up cases within 30-45 days, with a special committee to oversee the trials.
As of 2018, with 88 reported cases of rape each day and a conviction rate below 30%, India is one of the most dangerous country for women in the world. 99% of rape cases go unreported, either due to lack of access to justice, social stigma, fear of reprisals or deep-rooted gender stereotypes. A National Crime Records Bureau report published in 2019 ranked Rajasthan first with the highest number of rape cases, closely followed by Uttar Pradesh, while Maharashtra ranked third.
Although the rest of the nation is lauding the move by the Maharashtra government and urging other states to follow suit, many are against the proposition of the death penalty. As abhorrent and dismally frequent as sexual assault is, imposing a death penalty does not solve the problem, neither prevent it.
Here are some reasons why:
Studies show no evidence to prove that capital punishment prevents crime. Rather than severity, it is the certainty of punishment that averts the crime. However, due to the sheer number of pending cases and lack of evidence, courts are overburdened, delaying justice to victims, while criminals exploit this snag in the system to get away with lewd acts.
A shocking 93% of rapes are committed by someone close to the victim. Imposing a death penalty would only increase the pressure on victims to forsake charges due to the personal connection with their abuser.
Not only does a death penalty have no correlation to decrease in the crime for which it is sentenced, it can worsen the situation for victims; rapists may attempt to dodge the death penalty by threatening, mutilating or going as far as eliminating their victims after violating them sexually to settle for life imprisonment or lighter punishments instead.
Apart from being a human rights violation, capital punishment serves as an easy way out for governments by absolving them of their duty to safeguard victims of sexual assault.
India is not the first country to adopt stringent laws for crimes against women. Surgical castration of those convicted of rape are the chosen method of justice in Nigeria. In case of minor victims, castration is followed by the death penalty. Bangladesh recently amended laws to sentence rapists to death, while Pakistani locals call for public hangings and castrations.
With rape becoming an endemic in the country, legislation and implementation of strict laws is the need of the hour. The gravity of such crimes arouses feelings of resentment, anger and hostility in the people, and rightly so, however, resorting to retributive justice is not the solution. The trauma that a victim undergoes cannot be compensated for by making the offender suffer similarly or be sentenced to a worse fate. Such form of justice - if it can be considered that - does not help the victim in any way, except perhaps emotionally.
The judiciary must focus on acknowledging and eradicating the root of the problem instead of conveniently eliminating the rotten fruit. Alternatives such as legal reforms, community service and rehabilitation centers to provide help in the form of therapy and counselling, should be adopted to prevent future instances of such crimes.
This article has been written by Shazia Farooqui for The Paradigm
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