LAW RESOURCE INDIA

A thousand deaths

T R ANDHYURUJINA IN HINDU

Procrastination on mercy petitions is inhumane to death-convicts.

An inordinate delay of 11 years occurred in considering the mercy pleas of the three death-convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan, with their pleas being ultimately rejected on August 11, 2011 by the President of India. This is only one instance of the inhuman, unconscionable and arbitrary manner in which mercy pleas of convicts condemned to death are kept pending by the government for years on end.

Simultaneous with the rejection of the pleas of these three convicts, the Home Ministry has recommended to the President to reject the mercy plea of Afzal Guru. He was sentenced to death by the Supreme Court on August 5, 2005 and the government has not taken a decision on his clemency petition for six years now.

These are some of the prominent cases among pending mercy petitions, but not the only ones. Eighteen mercy pleas are pending with the President as on August 16, 2011, the earliest among them dating back to 2005. The government seems to be totally indifferent to the pathetic plight of such convicts who are kept in suspense for many years. Courts in all civilised states, including India’s Supreme Court, have recognised that any prolonged delay in executing a death sentence can make the punishment, when it comes, inhuman and degrading. The trauma and psychological stress, coupled with solitary confinement, creating a conflict known as the “death row phenomenon,” in themselves amount to a cruel punishment. The prolonged anguish of alternating between hope and despair, the agony of uncertainty and the consequence of such suffering on the mental, emotional and physical integrity and health of not only the convict but also his family members should never be allowed in a civilised society.

In a leading case from Jamaica decided by the Privy Council in 1993, the court said: “There is an instinctive revulsion against the prospect of hanging a man after he had been under sentence of death for many years. What gives rise to this revulsion? The answer can only be our humanity. We regard it as inhuman to keep a man facing the agony of execution for a long extended period of time. To execute these men now after holding them in custody in agony of suspense of so many years would be inhuman punishment.”

In 1983, the Supreme Court of India observed that a self-imposed rule should be followed by the executive authorities that every such petition should be disposed of within a period of three months from the date it is received. In other cases, the Supreme Court has commuted the death sentence to life imprisonment because of the unconscionable delay and suspense involved for the convict. As recently as on September 18, 2009, the Supreme Court specifically reminded the government of its obligations with regard to the 26 mercy petitions that were then pending with the President. The Government of India has been not only oblivious of the inhuman aspect of the procrastination but has disregarded the repeated directions of the Supreme Court.

The case of Afzal Guru has been a gross instance of political considerations coming in the way of deciding a mercy plea. Afzal Guru has been a political pawn, with the Bharatiya Janata Party in an unseemly manner demanding his immediate execution and making it an election issue. Meanwhile, for political considerations the government has delayed taking a decision, giving flimsy grounds such as that the file was not returned by the Delhi Government for four years.

As a matter of fact, it was revealed by the Delhi Chief Minister that the previous Home Minister had deliberately instructed the Delhi Government not to take action promptly on Afzal Guru’s file. Afzal Guru’s mental agony can be seen from a pathetic statement he made in June 2010. He said: “I really wish L.K. Advani becomes the next Prime Minister as he is the only one who can take a decision and hang me. At least my pain and daily suffering will ease then.” On the United Progressive Alliance government’s ambivalent attitude, he said: “I don’t think the UPA government can reach a decision. The Congress party has two mouths and is playing a double game.” Whatever his crime, surely Afzal Guru does not deserve this agony.

On September 30, 2009, Home Minister P. Chidambaram said he would consider afresh the cases of the 26 convicts awaiting the death sentence whose mercy petitions had been lying with the President for several years. He said the Home Ministry would examine each case turn by turn — as if deciding petitions submitted to the President was an act of grace or mercy.

It is a fallacy to believe that the power of granting pardon given to the President and the Governor under the Constitution is an act of grace or mercy. The power conferred on the President and the Governor is a part of India’s constitutional scheme and is an integral part of the criminal justice system in the public interest. The convict has a constitutional right to have his or her petition considered by the President or the Governor on relevant grounds, including miscarriage of justice. And it should be decided expeditiously. To use the felicitous words of a U.S. Supreme Court judge: “When granted the pardoning power is the determination of the ultimate authority that public welfare would be better served by inflicting less punishment than what the judgment has fixed.”

It appears that the Home Ministry has now fast-tracked death penalty cases because of petitions filed in courts. On June 12, 2011, the Gauhati High Court issued notice for the delay of 12 years in the case of Mahendra Nath Das. In July this year, the Supreme Court issued notice to the government in the case of Devender Singh Bhullar, forcing it to speed up the rejection of his mercy petition. On July 8, 2011, in a Public Interest Litigation petition moved by a non-governmental organisation against the government’s inhuman and arbitrary practice of keeping such petitions pending, the Supreme Court issued notice to the government.

It is time the entire system of disposal of the so-called mercy petitions was set right once and for all by an authoritative pronouncement and correction by the Supreme Court. Individual cases such as those of the convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case that are now in court would raise the larger question of the working of the pardoning system by the government, and why cases of the other convicts on death row who are kept in similar suspense should not be simultaneously considered. This can only be done if the present system is examined and corrected by the Supreme Court for the benefit of all mercy plea petitioners.

(The writer is a senior advocate of the Supreme Court, and former Solicitor General of India and Advocate-General of Maharashtra.)

http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/article2418776.ece

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Rape – Violence most foul

Posted in SEXUAL OFFENCES, VICTIM COMPENSATION, VICTIMS by NNLRJ INDIA on September 3, 2011

Rape, a widespread crime against women, shows little signs of abating. The unbearable trauma that a rape victim has to bear is further compounded by the insensitive laws and the “couldn’t care less” attitude of the law-enforcing machinery. Until rapists are dealt with severely, the offence will continue to breed and grow.

Shree Venkatram in THE TRIBUNE

Rape is one of the most heinous crimes, impacting the victim for life. Given its enormity, it should be considered next only to murder. Sadly, it has not been given the attention it needs by social scientists, law makers and justice dispensers. When two Class IX boys attempt to rape a Class I girl, as in a Bathinda school recently, it is time society introspected. What kind of signals are we sending out to our young?

The National Crime Records Bureau had termed rape “India’s fastest growing crime”. We have complete figures for 2009, when according to the NCRB, a total of 21,397 rape incidents were reported countrywide. Add to this, 25,741 cases of kidnapping and abduction of women and 38,711 cases of molestation, and you get 235 reported cases of molestation/rape/ abduction of women every day. These are just the reported cases. Most, especially molestation and rape cases, go unreported in the name of guarding ‘family honour’.

Convoluted sense of justice

Let us examine some recent sentences proclaimed by our justice dispensers and the messages these have sent out to society. A few months ago the Supreme Court decided to let off three farmers, who had been convicted of gang raping a woman in Ludhiana district. A sessions court had awarded a 10-year imprisonment to them. The Punjab and Haryana High Court had upheld their conviction, following which, the criminals appealed to the Supreme Court. Their sentence was cut short after a few years under a “compromise formula” that entailed paying Rs 50,000 each to the victim.

The rapists had appealed to be let off as “they and the victim were happily married to their spouses” and “wanted to live peacefully”. The fact that the victim is “happily married” is no credit to the rapists. Did the judges ascertain the happiness quotient of the criminals’ marriages? Did they speak to their wives? Men who rape, make for draconian and violent husbands. As far as “wanting to live peacefully is concerned”, it is easy to say that after committing a violent crime. The fact that they can indulge in rape makes them dangerous criminals. If they could do that to one woman, they can inflict themselves on another. How does the court ensure that this does not happen? The National Council for Women has asked for a review of the case for it sets a bad precedence of reaching a compromise in rape cases, where conviction rates are extremely low anyway.

Wrong signals embolden rapists

It is not surprising that such a judgement should come from our highest court. The former Chief Justice of India, K G Balakrishnan, is reported to have said that society and the state must respect the decision of a rape victim if she chooses to marry the rapist. His words as reported by a newspaper: “Due regard must be given to their personal autonomy since in some cases victims may choose to marry the perpetrator.” Imagine the trauma of a woman having to spend her life with a man who has raped her? It is like inflicting a lifelong sentence of mental and physical cruelty on her, while the man goes scot free. And then, what would prevent the rapist from marrying the victim to escape punishment and then deserting her? This kind of a mindset furthers the warped view society holds that marriage is the be all and end all for a woman. And that it is better to marry a man who has raped you than not marry at all!

Now look at the punishment a panchayat in Ghaziabad meted out to an rapist uncle: It ruled that five smacks with a shoe was enough punishment for raping his niece. In another case, also in Ghaziabad, a five-year-old was raped by her 19-year-old cousin. But the family chose to keep quiet, not even getting medical attention for the little girl.

She was sent to school the next day where she complained of abdominal pain and died. It was only then that the parents approached the police. The girl’s mother said she had raised an alarm when she saw the cousin raping the child. The family elders had caught him, slapped him and let him off. Consider now how these family elders and panchayats handle youngsters who marry outside their caste group or marry within their own gotra. The punishment has ranged from social ostracism to even death! Obviously, rape is considered a minor crime compared to violation of caste and kinship lines.

Compounding victims’ trauma

The law as it stands today is weak and archaic. Apart from woefully inadequate sentences, it only recognises vaginal rape and does not believe that children below 12 can be raped. Women’s groups have been demanding its amendment but though decades have passed, the bill is still in a draft stage.

The Aruna Shanbaug case illustrates the complete warpedness of our justice system. While Aruna, the nurse who was raped and maimed for life has been lying in a hospital bed for the last 37 years, the rapist, ward boy Sohanlal Walmiki, is a free man today. He is said to have changed his name, moved to Delhi with his family where he works in a hospital. He was imprisoned for only seven years for attacking her and stealing her jewellery, but not for rape as it was anal and not vaginal rape he indulged in as Aruna was menstruating at that time. What kind of justice is this?

The death penalty awarded to rapist and murderer Santosh Kumar Singh was commuted to a life sentence because of what is termed as “mitigating circumstances”. Among them were that he was “young, just 24 years old” at the time of his crime. At 24 years, one is an adult! The fact that he was “married” and “the father of a girl child” were the other “mitigating” factors. Now, how does this help either the wife or the daughter? They have to fend for themselves anyway and live with the knowledge of having a rapist and murderer as a husband and father for the rest of their lives. In fact, the law should give the wife and children of a rapist the choice to walk off from the relationship with no legal binding on their part, while retaining all their rights on the family property. If the wife has the option of being legally freed of the relationship, she can think of starting her life again. It is extremely traumatic for a young girl to grow up knowing her father is a rapist. In fact, such men are best kept away from their daughters.

We have also had judgments where the sentence was commuted when the rapist passed a civil services exam. What is the message that went out? That if you pass the exam, all will be forgiven and you will occupy an important government post. In fact, the opposite should be the case. Convicted rapists who have served their term in jail should be debarred from holding a government job.

Need for unorthodox methods

The law must acknowledge that rape mars a person for life. The condition has been recognised as Rape Trauma Syndrome where the victim suffers from phobias and nightmares and feels emotionally crippled, unable to form meaningful relationships and friendships for life.

Kamini Lau, Delhi’s additional sessions judge, recently called for a public debate on “chemical and surgical castration” of child rapists and serial offenders as an alternative punishment. She said this while delivering a sentence for a man who raped his minor step daughter for four years.

Chemical castration is being used in parts of United States and many European countries, with the rapist’s consent. Sweden, France and Germany are among them. In Poland it is mandatory. A province in Argentina is the latest to adopt it. It involves an injection of an anti-pregnancy drug every three months to lower libido and uncontrolled sexual impulses. There is much evidence in the medical and psychiatric world that a rapist cannot be cured unless there is a medical intervention. It is time to act. There can be no compromises with a rapist.

The writer works in the development sector

http://www.tribuneindia.com/2011/20110902/edit.htm#6

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