Death penalty ‘barbaric, anti-life’: SC judge

TIMES OF INDIA

NEW DELHI: Justice AK Ganguly of the Supreme court has termed the award of death sentence as “barbaric, anti-life, undemocratic and irresponsible” which is “legal” in the prevailing judicial system.

Describing this as his “personal view”, Justice Ganguly said the Constitutional guarantee of right to life cannot be subjected to “vague premises”. The doctrine of the crime falling in the’rarest of rare’ category in awarding the death penalty was a “grey” area as its interpretation depended on individual judges, he said, adding the “sentencing structures” should be in consonance with the goals set by the Constitution. The remarks were made by Justice Ganguly yesterday at a two-day seminar on ‘Abolition of Death Penalty in India‘. The seminar was organized by the Jindal Global Law School at Sonepat in Haryana. The sitting judge of the apex court said sending a convict to the gallows, is legal but “barbaric, anti-life, undemocratic and irresponsible”.. The guilt of an accused should be proved beyond “lingering” doubt in cases warranting the award of capital punishment, which has so far not yet been evolved.

He cautioned that before giving death penalty, a judge must be “extremely careful” and weigh “mitigating and aggravating circumstances”. The Judge said the state must adduce evidence that the accused cannot be reformed.

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Death-penalty-barbaric-anti-life-SC-judge/articleshow/10742277.cms

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Is this real justice?

DEATH PENALTY

DEATH PENALTY

PAMELA PHILIPOSE IN THE HINDU

Capital punishment is retributive justice and abolishing it is a risk that modern states need to take, says Pamela Philipose.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez‘s classic, One Hundred Years of Solitude, begins with a line that could be read as a powerful argument against capital punishment: “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, General Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”

The imminent extinction of a sentient life endowed with thought and memory, linked intimately to the lives of others, is a fearsome thing. So it is entirely understandable why that angst-ridden question — Should India remove capital punishment from its statute books? — refuses to go away. Here we are, with our much-feted legacy of non-violence, with our burnished democratic Constitution and Credentials, still attached by the feet to the ever-shrinking corner of the globe which continues to defend the death penalty.

Uneasy defence

It has been an uneasy defence for sure. The umbrella formulation that the death penalty should only be accorded in the “rarest of rare cases”, put forward in 1980 by the Supreme Court in Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab, has remained an uncertain talisman with Indian courts interpreting it in an astoundingly variegated manner, but it has remained a talisman nevertheless. Indian Presidents, too, have routinely dragged their feet over rejecting mercy pleas. The country has also, incidentally, seen attempts to institutionally “reform” the administration of the death penalty. The ‘Model Prison Manual for the Superintendence & Management of Prisons In India’ (2003) recommends that all prisoners going to meet their fate at the gallows be made to wear “a cotton cap with flap” so that he/she will not be able to see the gallows — an highly ineffectual aid, surely, under such circumstances.

Internationally, India continues to remain in an ambiguous position. It is party to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights that requires countries to move towards the abolition of capital punishment, but has desisted from ratifying the Second Optional Protocol to the Convention and last November it voted along with China and Saudi Arabia to oppose a UN resolution for a moratorium on the death penalty.

So while there may be some curling of toes over the prospect of denying criminals on death row their right to life, the Indian State has consistently balked at doing away with the hanging option. By and large, the argument put forward by the Law Commission of India in 1967 continues to hold sway. In its 35th Report, the Law Commission pronounced that “Having regard… to the conditions in India, to the variety of the social upbringing of its inhabitants, to the disparity in the level of morality and education in the country, to the vastness of its area, to the diversity of its population and to the paramount need for maintaining law and order in the country at the present juncture, India cannot risk the experiment of abolition of capital punishment.”

Necessary risk

The fact is that 139 countries in the world — and their number is rising not declining — despite serious security challenges have taken this “risk”, precisely because it is a risk that modern and modernising states should take, given that not doing so would compromise the very notion of an enlightened state. Remember that many of these countries have had long and grisly trysts with capital punishment. Pre-19th century England, for instance, had over 200 “crimes” that could invite a hanging sentence. The list included thievery (goods valued at five shillings and more), maiming horses, impersonation and ‘sodomy’.

One of the justifications for persisting with the death penalty is, of course, that inchoate, arbitrary, unquantifiable and often irrational concept known as “public opinion”. Indian courts, incidentally, have been sensitive to “public opinion”. In a judgment, Dhananjoy Chatterjee v State of West Bengal, that had led in 2004 to the last public hanging India has witnessed so far, the Supreme Court stated: “Imposition of appropriate punishment is the manner in which the courts respond to society’s cry for justice against the criminals. Justice demands that courts should impose punishment befitting the crime so that the courts reflect public abhorrence of the crime…”

But “society’s cry for justice” is an uncertain foundation for justice as Arthur Chaskalson, who served as Chief Justice of South Africa from 2001 to 2005, reiterated. He put it this way, “Public opinion may have some relevance to the enquiry, but in itself it is no substitute for the duty vested in the Courts to interpret the Constitution and to uphold its provisions without fear or favour. If public opinion were to be decisive there would be no need for constitutional adjudication…”

The founding fathers and mothers of post-Independence India did not ban capital punishment and retained the 1861 Indian Penal Code providing for the death penalty. But it was not as if they did not envisage the possibility of the country exercising that option at some point. Amiyo Kumar Ghosh, a member in the Constitutent Assembly, while opposing an amendment that wanted a partial ban on capital punishment, went on to say, “I think that with the growth of consciousness, with the development of society, the State should revise a punishment of this nature…”

Why persist?

The questions we then need to ask is why, despite the long decades that have intervened since those words, India still cannot countenance such a possibility. Why does it continue to perceive the hangman’s noose as coterminous with the scales of justice? Why does it settle for peremptory and irrevocable responses to heinous crimes, when the world is engaging with ideas of restorative rather than retributive justice? Can’t post-independence India not hold itself to standards higher than those set by its one-time imperial rulers, standards that had been sharply critiqued by the freedom movement?

A passage from Bhagat Singh’s last petition to the Punjab governor should give us pause: “As to the question of our fates, please allow us to say that when you have decided to put us to death, you will certainly do it. You have got the power in your hands and the power is the greatest justification in this world. We know that the maxim ‘Might is right’ serves as your guiding motto. The whole of our trial was just a proof of that. We wanted to point out that according to the verdict of your court we had waged war and were therefore war prisoners. And we claim to be treated as such, i.e., we claim to be shot dead instead of to be hanged.”

He and his comrades in arms, Rajguru and Sukhdev, were hanged on March 23, 1931.

http://www.thehindu.com/arts/magazine/article2442039.ece

Rape – Violence most foul

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