Ashok Gehlot's Remarks On Death Penalty For Rapists Deserve Concern Not Outrage

Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot recently said that death penalty for rapists has led to an increase in incidences of murder after rape.

Ritika Joshi
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The debate regarding the death penalty for rape has been a subject of debate since its introduction. Questions about how effective capital punishment is in curbing crimes such as rape have been asked, every time India reads up about yet another case of gruesome rape. Can harsher punishment for rapists impact rape culture, victim blaming, and slut-shaming? Should the focus be on punishment rather than prevention?

Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot’s recent comments about the death penalty and the Nirbhaya gangrape case have caused a row. Gehlot said that the death penalty for rapists after the Nirbhaya incident has led to an increase in murder after rape. He said, “The rapist sees that the girl will become a witness tomorrow, so he not only rapes but also kills her. This is happening across the country. This is a very dangerous trend.”

Delhi Commission for Women’s chief Swati Maliwal took to Twitter to condemn the remark and wrote, “Today barbaric rapes are taking place in the country. The law was made after great difficulty. Such statements of politicians break the morale of every victim. The job of leaders is to give women safety and not to make unnecessary statements.”

Nirbhaya’s mother Asha Devi too reacted to the comment and said, “Even before the provision came, girls were murdered. This shows their mentality of supporting culprits while they don’t have sympathy for victims. The law isn’t bad, people’s mentality is.”

Suggested Reading: Filth, Dirt And Soft Porn: How A Sexual Assault Survivor's Account Was Judged In Court


Ashok Gehlot's remark on Death Penalty for rapists: Rajasthan CM Missing The Point

Following the Nirbhaya case, the government formed a committee headed by Justice JS Verma that took suggestions from women’s groups and debated whether a death penalty should be imposed on rapists. The groups overwhelmingly opposed the death penalty, basically concerned that the threat of a death penalty would result in perpetrators killing women they raped to avoid potential witnesses.

The Justice Verma Committee did not recommend legislating the death penalty and described it as a “regressive step”. They said that rape was a “highly reprehensible crime in the moral sense” and requires “serious punishment”. The committee also cited certain studies and added that evidence suggested that the notion of death penalty being a deterrent for rape was “actually a myth”.

Despite the committee’s position against the death penalty for rapists, it was introduced through the Criminal Law Amendment Act (CLA) 2013.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), in 2016 over 94 per cent of the cases of rape of women in children, the perpetrator was either a family member, neighbour, or an acquaintance. So one of the major concerns has always been that the introduction of the death penalty for child rapists would deter people from reporting sexual abuse by family members and relatives.

Where Should The Focus Lie?


Criticising Rajasthan’s Chief Minister and calling out his government’s failure in preventing sexual assault crimes serves no purpose and takes away from the larger issue. We need more data which will help us understand if this punishment is actually working in deterring rape or not. While a death sentence could seem befitting and might appeal to the emotions of an enraged nations, we have to ensure that in doing so we are not putting more women and girls in harm's way.

The conversation should instead revolve around how we can prevent sexual violence by educating boys and men and ensuring that the legal system works smoothly, so that no cases of rape go unreported. What is being done to bring down the number of sexual crimes against women, apart from the threat of death penalty in crimes like rape? How are we planning to educate men about concept, how are we ensuring that boys don't grow up feeling that objectifying women is "normal"?

Deterring rapists via threat of capital punishment seems like a quick and superficial fix for a deep rooted problem that needs more social intervention on our behalf, if we truly want a long-term and a long-lasting change, which will hopefully create a society where everyone is sexually safe.

The views expressed are the author’s own.

Sexual crimes against women in India Ashok gehlot death penalty