After Madhya Pradesh passed a law to allow the death penalty to those convicted of raping minors, the state’s special court set up under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act has served capital punishment in 26 cases, The Wire reported. Of these, 21 cases of the death penalty were served in 2018 and the remaining five in the months of 2019. The court also ordered life imprisonment in 168 cases.

One of these judgments has been reportedly pronounced in no more than five days. “This is the swiftest capital punishment given to anybody in the history of jurisprudence. This case has found mention in the India Book of Records,” said the director general of prosecution Rajendra Kumar to The Wire.

The accused in most cases are persons who claimed to belong to economically marginalised groups who didn’t have the money to hire a lawyer. Although the MP States Legal Services Authority provides lawyers to those accused who don’t have the means to afford it but since the trials conducted by the special court is so swift that a lawyer in one case alleged that “he did not even have the time to speak to the accused”. However, Kumar has denied such allegations and said, “Lawyers have been made available to all the accused. It is not correct to say that they did not have lawyers.”

One of the shortest trials was that of Motilal Ahirwar, who was accused of raping a seven-year-old girl on May 29, 2018. He was sentenced to life imprisonment on August 8, The Wire reported.

In 2016 when the latest National Crime Record Bureau report was released, it ranked MP on top among all the states for having the highest crime rate against women.

Is Death Penalty the ultimate answer to reduce rapes?

People supporting the women’s movement have for long stood against death penalty as a response to rapes. Women’s Rights Activist Dipta Bhog in a conversation with SheThePeople.TV said, “Death penalty in case of rapes is not something women’s movement stands for at all. There are two arguments in support of that of which one is that rape is not the ultimate crime against a woman or a girl. This eulogizing of rape as the ultimate crime robs us of the fact that we need to recognise it as a crime but it is not the worst crime. It then furthers the narrative that a woman cannot live her life beyond this crime therefore it is the most heinous crime which needs to change. Yes, it is a crime against women that needs to be investigated and people need to be punished.

The other thing is that as a crime becomes more and more criminalised, it becomes identified as something that only requires death penalty and the chances of conviction gets lower. Such cases need to go through a due process.”

Supreme Court lawyer Shomona Khanna also denied death penalty as being the ultimate solution for rapes in the country. She said, “I am completely opposed to the idea and one of the reasons for it is that death is completely final. If there is an error in judgment which convicts a person wrongly because new evidence has emerged then nothing can be done about it. Another reason for death penalty for sexual assault crimes is not acceptable is that in India the conviction rate for rape and sexual assault crimes is among the worst in the world out of the very few cases that get reported.

Of the cases which come for trial the conviction rate is only 20% and what the women’s movement wants is the certainty in conviction.”

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Fast-tracking cases and pronouncing death penalty an “aberration”  

As far as fast-tracking of these cases is concerned, Bhog said that it is important to talk about these high rates of conviction and punishment where the criminal may have a possibility of reform as much as girls have the right to continue their lives without the stigma. “This approach to order capital punish in rape cases is a very protective approach of the lawmakers, where they are saying that they will kill the person who commits sexual crimes against young girls. In trying to protect their daughter’s honour by handing out such a punishment is like taking revenge which sparks riots,” Bhog added.

Khanna also raised concern around such fast-tracking of rape cases against minors and said that it is an “aberration” in terms of how due process is being attempted. “The normal reaction of a judge or a judicial officer in such a case would be that they will be even more hesitant to convict. They will actually hold the conviction because in any case in a criminal matter the standard of proof is without reasonable doubt which is very high.”

“In case of capital punishment then the judicial officer will go even beyond that and will have to consider unassailable proof that the person is guilty. These 26 cases are an aberration which is happening in one corner of the country.”

Khanna raised concern around such fast-tracking of rape cases against minors and said that it is an “aberration” in terms of how due process is being attempted. “The normal reaction of a judge or a judicial officer in such a case would be that they will be even more hesitant to convict. They will actually hold the conviction because in any case in a criminal matter the standard of proof is without reasonable doubt which is very high standard of proof.”

Strengthen Criminal Justice System

There should be a criminal justice system which convicts people with certainty for committing sexual crimes against women and minors and that will prove to be a deterrent which will hopefully bring down the number of cases, said Khanna on one of the solutions to deal with the rising crime rate against women and minors. She added, “Right now the system is such that the probability that a person will be caught and after the person is caught, the probability that they will be convicted or conviction will be upheld in a court of law is very low. This is why we have a culture of impunity.”

Picture credit- Development News

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