The latest ordinance to give capital punishment for rapes of girls younger than 12 years has evoked mixed reactions from the political leaders and women activists. While some assert the ordinance will act as deterrent, others allege it is aimed only to pacify public anger. The ordinance amends the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) and the Evidence Act primarily to increase maximum sentences, including death penalty, to convicted persons.
Anju Grover for Indian Currents spoke to the fiery woman activist Kavita Krishnan to know her views on the ordinance and the rights of rape survivors. Secretary of the All India Progressive Women's Association (AIPWA), Krishnan is also a member of the politburo of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) (CPI-ML). She says that ordinance was meant just to deflect the public attention.
According to Krishnan, armchair lawmakers have played to the political gallery. She asserted that death sentence is only likely to endanger the life of the rape victim. Krishnan said that impunity to the rape accused was worrying. The situation was unprecedented because of the brazenness and openness with which rape accused were defended by the political parties/leaders and how rallies were organised for the accused in rape cases, she said.
IC: Your comments on the ordinance on death sentence for accused of under 12 girls. The ordinance promises to tackle low conviction rate and delay in trials.
Kavita Krishnan: Death penalty is pure posturing for political gain and not to help any rape victim. The ordinance will create more dangerous situation for the victims of child sexual abuse. It is a well-known fact that vast majority of child sexual abusers are members of the same family, same community and so on. As it is, this is a great deterrent to reporting abuses; now death penalty will be a greater deterrent because family will not want their child or themselves to bear the pain of sending a close family member to the gallows. They will not take the risk.
As far as low conviction rate in such cases is concerned, it is due to the bias in investigation and prosecution. The whole process is hostile to the victim, although there are rules for giving protection to rape survivors and creating a sensitive atmosphere. The issue is about implementation of existing laws and not introducing a new law.
In the Kathua and Unnao cases, the political machinery was out to protect the accused which left the people high and dry. If a perpetrator thinks that he can be killed or he may go to the gallows or victim may complain against him, he is far more likely to kill the victim. So we are endangering the survivor of child sexual abuse.
IC: The Centre has always argued against the capital punishment in the past. But it has come up with an ordinance which recommends death penalty. Is death penalty really a solution?
It is not a solution at all. It is nothing but an attempt to distract the attention from the real issue of impunity provided by the powerful, state and other institutions to the accused. The tendency is to blame the victim and not the accused. The most dangerous is the way politics is being done to protect certain people wearing saffron colour or the powerful allegedly involved in rape cases of minors. It has happened in the case of Kathua and Asaram Bapu case when protest rallies were held in the support of accused.
IC: Is it harmful to have an ordinance which recognises the need for a reliable and quicker process to make tougher sentence meaningful?
The words in the ordinance are meaningless. What are they doing to create circumstances for a reliable investigation? For instance, the ordinance talks about speed in forensic examination but a laboratory takes months and months to give a report and that too is not reliable. Also, there are not enough judges and courts to take up cases. The idea of fast track courts, stated in the existing rape laws of 2013, could not be implemented because there are not enough courts and adequate judges.
IC: Prime Minister Narendra Modi has justified the ordinance stating that it would strengthen the POSCO act. He has also given a call for social movement to make India safe for daughters. Your comments.
I would support any call which can make India safe for children and not just daughters alone. But what has Modi government done to create a safe environment for children? The accused in the Unnao case was arrested only when the court ordered the state government to do so, which had refused to arrest the accused BJP MLA. The UP Chief Minister has ordered the withdrawal of case of rape against another God man, Chinmayanand. What is worrying is the politics of defending the accused (who are powerful), based on the politics of religion. PM Modi himself has politicised rape as his election posters in Karnataka talked about rape cases.
IC: PM has also asked people to make their sons more responsible and give respect to girls, and instil a sense of responsibility among boys. Your views.
The issue is not just about being respectful to women alone. The issue is to respect women's autonomy and freedom.
IC: Do you think that harsh laws can be deterrent?
No. I do not think so.
IC: The ordinance has made the rape of a girl more severe than sexual abuse of a boy. Your views.
Yes. It should be withdrawn. Also, it is dangerous to create a new category of under 12 and over 12. It means that 13-14 year old child of sexual abuse may be lying. Why are you assuming that a rape of child under 12 is more heinous than rape of child who is over 12? A child is a child.
(Published on 30th April 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 18)