Jyoti Singh Pandey aka Nirbhaya, who died of brutal gang rape and murder in December 2012, will finally be avenged on January 22 at 7 a.m. as per the death warrant of the four convicts issued by a Delhi court on Tuesday. Her parents have already started to feel jubilant as they are the ones who have struggled day in and day out to send the convicts to the gallows and fought a seven-year-long legal battle ensuring justice is met. When this incident came to limelight, it jolted the very soul of the country as the gory incident unfolded. It highlighted crime against women and to this date it still makes me tremble as I visit the Vasant Vihar area at night.
So, when a case of this magnitude that led to structural and judicial changes, promulgating the concept of safety for women in the country, gets to its final stage of punishment for the offenders, the whole country celebrates along with the people close to the victim. But are we really celebrating or the seven years of struggle has exhausted us? By no means does this mean that now people have stopped to care about the case, they always did and they will continue to do so but more than half a decade of hearings after hearings have certainly created a lull where now until the convicts are hanged for real, there is a general consensus that it could still be delayed.
Now let’s talk about the death penalty being the ultimate deterrent to such heinous crimes. When Nirbhaya fund was created by the then UPA government to allocate a whopping Rs 1000 crores towards the cause of women’s safety, one of the initiatives most talked about was the creation of fast-track courts to deal with crimes against women in the country. Now until 2017, there were a total of 127,800 rape cases pending in India, it continues to be unknown how many of these cases actually reached a verdict and if the death penalty has actually been pronounced in any of these cases. How many rapists have actually gone to the gallows since 2012? If the infamous Nirbhaya case that was processed in a fast-track court could take so long where legal remedies have been used in a manner to delay the verdict further and yet continue to remain, then what is the guarantee that a case filed in the interiors of the country that fails to get any traction will ever reach the corridors of justice?
If the infamous Nirbhaya case that was processed in a fast-track court could take so long where legal remedies have been used in a manner to delay the verdict further and yet continue to remain, then what is the guarantee that a case filed in the interiors of the country that fails to get any traction will ever reach the corridors of justice?
The Nirbhaya fund tripled since then and the usage of it remains questionable. The case also led the government to set up the Justice Verma Committee in order to recommend amendments to the Criminal Law so as to provide for quicker trial and enhanced punishment for criminals accused of committing sexual assault against women. It led the country to realize the importance of gender sensitization and yet bare minimum change seems to show up.
While there are many other logical arguments to repeal capital punishment as a deterrent in these cases, let’s consider this first, is it ever going to prohibit any rape offender from committing the crime if it is going to take so long to reach a verdict and secondly, there is no guarantee of it at all. There is no dearth of reasons and circumstances for rape survivors and their families to retract a case just because they are threatened. We have already seen recent examples of the Unnao survivors who was burnt to death by her perpetrators as soon as they were released from jail on bail.
It is also worth noting as to who are these people who will get the death sentence in heinous rape crimes? Is it going to be only those who belong to the lower social strata of society? Very recently, a Delhi court gave life imprisonment to former BJP MLA Kuldip Singh Sengar who was found guilty of raping a minor girl. He is also allegedly involved in the road accident that severely injured the survivor and her lawyer and killed two of her aunts while they were all on their way to meet her uncle in Rae Bareilly.
Apart from the several challenges the survivor had to face after the case gained national attention, what is also bewildering is the fact that her family approached the police numerous times to register the FIR and they were denied, it was only when she threatened to set herself ablaze in front of the house if UP CM Yogi Adityanath that the media took note of it and it became the case that country set its eyes on. Not every survivor has the kind of willpower displayed by the Unnao survivor. Power structure plays a huge role in deciding the kind of punishment a rapist gets.
There is no dearth of reasons and circumstances for rape survivors and their families to retract a case just because they are threatened. We already have recent examples of the Unnao survivor who was burnt to death by her perpetrators as soon as they were released from jail on bail.
In such circumstance, when justice delayed equates to justice denied, in the recent rape case of Hyderabad where a woman was gang-raped and then burnt to death again shook the country, the police found out the potential perpetrators and without any further investigation shot them all in what is considered as encounter killings. The country hailed the police, why? Because our justice system failed us long before. Let alone anybody else, Nirbhaya's parents also hailed the Hyderabad police. No one was concerned about the due process then; everyone got justice as they had imagined it - with the cold-blooded murder of the accused persons.
The judicial system, the law-enforcing agency, the political system are supposed to be the great flag-bearers to ensure safety for women, but all three have continued to fail in awakening a sense of security among the weaker sections of the country. There is no one answer to the question whether justice is delivered or delayed in the Nirbhaya case. For me it is both, so it doesn't spark joy because of the perpetual state of outrage women have to build to generate support in claiming justice that should be delivered to us without any blame, question and delay.
Picture credit: IB Times