Shakti Bill: Is Death Penalty The Strongest Deterrent To Rape?

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After facing backlash from close to 30 women’s rights groups, the Maharashtra government has referred Shakti Bill to a 21-member panel for review. Activists and rights group that opposed the bill, which suggested death sentence for convicts in cases of rape and acid attack and imprisonment in cases of false allegations “draconian”. The revised draft of Shakti Bill will now be tabled in March 2021 budget session. Here are nine things to know about Shakti Bill.

The backlash against Shakti Bill raises a pertinent question yet again; is the death penalty the biggest deterrent to rape and sexual crimes against women? Can judiciary guarantee swift justices in cases of crimes against women and children? Will a swift justice be an accurate one as well? And above all, is it fair to again push the onus of curbing sexual crimes on everyone but us as a society?

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According to a report by the Times of India, women’s rights groups and activist opposing the bill have alleged that the clause directing imprisonment of those who file false rape cases could act as a deterrent and discourage women from filing cases. The bill also grants the accused a chance to use the consent plea and escape prosecution altogether. Those opposing the bill have also suggested that timely investigation is a stronger deterrent than the death penalty when it comes to rape cases.

This isn’t the first time death penalty in cases of rape has been under scrutiny. It feels ironic in fact to write out a piece against the death penalty on December 16, a yearly reminder of the horrific Delhi gang-rape case. The perpetrators of which were hanged after much stalling on March 20 this year, over seven years after the crime. However, as per the National Crime Record Bureau data for the year 2018, as many as 1,38,642 rape cases were pending trial at the end of the year 2018. The report further reveals that the conviction rate in cases of rape stands at 27.2 percent. It is but natural for activists to question whether passing the bill is enough, and how does the government plan to guarantee swift and thorough investigation in cases of rape. The bill does propose that a probe should be completed within 15 days and trial within 30 days, but unless we see that happening efficiently, can we show trust in the potency of such a bill?

Another important factor that often deters people filing cases of sexual crimes is the fact that perpetrators are often known to the survivor. As per NCRB 2018 report in 94 percent cases that took place in the said year, the offenders were known to survivors. Of 33,356 rape cases that were reported in 2018, the offender turned out to be a family member in 2780 cases. Imagine the kind of pressure and dilemma a survivor and her family must have to deal with when the perpetrator is known to them. Wouldn’t their dilemma to seek legal recourse worsen in case of a death penalty?

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Lastly, the discourse around sexual crimes against women and children cannot be limited to the death penalty, strict legal action and encounters. We have to ask ourselves what is the reason the women and children in our country are so appallingly vulnerable to sexual crimes? If as many as 1,38,642 rape cases are reported yearly (and many go unreported as well) then clearly we are doing something wrong. We are not talking about consent, we are not teaching men to respect women, we are not addressing how sexualisation and objectification of women is not a big deal in our country and we are still hesitant to discuss sex and sexuality openly, let alone champion sex education.

Rape and sexual crime are a problem that needs action on every possible level. While Shakti Bill is under review, we need a thorough review of all the questions it has left us with, so that we can achieve the larger goal of making this society a better and safer place for every person.

Image Credit: PTI

The views expressed are the author’s own.

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