A protest demanding justice for the victims of Kathua and Unnao rape cases
Representational image | PTI
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Even if a rapist is sentenced to death, men will not stop raping. They will only stop when they learn to stop regarding women as sexual objects.

Every day there is fresh news about the rape of children. Not just rapes but gangrapes of minors happening around the country, where rapists don’t even spare one-year-old infants. After the rape, they murder the children by choking them or bashing their heads in with rocks.

Most people share the opinion that the only punishment for such heinous crimes can be the death penalty. A new amendment has been proposed in the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act of India whereby crimes such as the rape of girls younger than 12 years can invoke the death penalty. That the government has heard its citizens and has taken steps to combat the menace of rapes has been enough to put many peace-loving Indians at ease.

One cannot help but recall Dhananjoy Chattapadhyay at this juncture, the man who was hung in 2004 for the rape and murder of fourteen-year-old schoolgirl Hetal Parekh. Meera Bhattacharya, the wife of then chief minister of West Bengal Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, had spearheaded a vociferous campaign for his death penalty ably aided by the media. The outcome had been a foregone conclusion.

However, the film Dhananjoy by Bengali filmmaker Arindam Sil which released last year insinuates that there was no conclusive evidence that proved Dhananjoy was responsible for the crime. Rather, Hetal was murdered by her mother and it was nothing but an act of ‘honour-killing’.

In fact, even back then many human rights organisations had claimed Dhananjoy was innocent, that he had been framed. I cannot say for sure what the truth is but one must agree that such things are not really unheard of.

Actual culprits are revealed only after an innocent person has been executed for the crime. When it is too late, the truth finally dawns on many of us. By then there is hardly anything one can do for someone who has been wrongfully executed for a crime they did not commit. Many such people are languishing in jails to this day, unable to put up a proper legal counsel because of poor financial circumstances while real criminals go scot-free and continue to roam with impunity.

Ours is a society premised upon discrimination. Those who possess money, fame and influence can escape even after committing the gravest of crimes like Nirav Modi.

In Pakistan, people from minority communities are ill-treated over fabricated allegations of hurting the religious sentiments of the majority. A poor Christian woman named Asia Bibi was charged with blasphemy by a group of Islamic fundamentalists a few years ago. She was sentenced to death and has been languishing in prison ever since. It does not take an expert to ascertain that Asia Bibi was innocent.

Iwao Hakamada of Japan served a 45-year prison sentence in a five square meter cell after being sentenced to death. It was only after he displayed signs of mental deterioration at the age of 78 that he was finally released. He had been sentenced to death based on his own testimony, which people claim he had been forced to make to save himself from police torture. Hakamada had expressed his disquiet at how the state is out to kill its own citizens and how that is completely unsupportable.

International law states that people with mental health issues should not be given capital punishments but Japan is unwilling to see reason. Nearly 140 countries around the world have abolished capital punishment and in many more it is reserved only for very rare and severe crimes. Perhaps Japan too will abolish the death penalty one day and those on death-row will find a measure of reprieve.

In the US nearly 142 death-row inmates were let off in 1976 once it was proved that they were innocent. Judgements go wrong, evidence gets misplaced, witnesses give wrong testimonies, the police lie – so many such things happen!

The death penalty is a symptom of our culture of violence, it cannot be the solution for violent crimes.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a milestone document that recognises that everyone has a right to life. Then how can someone lose that right when they commit a crime? Only if people are kept alive that there remains a chance of repentance and rehabilitation. There have been many instances where people have spent a number of years in jail as punishment for their crimes and turned over a new leaf or dedicated themselves to the betterment of society.

No one is born a criminal or a rapist or a murderer, it is society and its miseducation that turn people towards criminality. There is no point blaming only the criminal if we cannot place equal blame on these intervening factors. Some can negotiate and skirt this systematic miseducation while some cannot. Perhaps the safest approach then is to tackle this menace of miseducation in the first place.

Did rapes and murders stop happening in Bengal after Dhananjoy’s hanging? Or was there a decrease in the number of rape cases? To be honest, crimes against women have increased in recent years. In fact, West Bengal now ranks fairly in high in lists of states where such incidents are frequent and severe.

Does capital punishment reduce crimes? Do murders stop happening if one murderer is sentenced to death? Similarly, does the death penalty for one rapist ensure an end to rape itself? Research has shown time and again that none of this happens.

Canada abolished the death penalty in 1976. Now Canada’s crime rate is roughly half of what it used to be in 1976. It’s clear that crime rates can go down even when there is no threat of capital punishment. Something other than simply a fear of the death-row is then clearly responsible for it.

In fact, countries with no capital punishment often show a significantly lower rate of crime than the countries where the death penalty is still valid, like Switzerland, Iceland, Norway, Luxembourg, Austria.

On the other hand, Japan and Singapore where capital punishment is still valid also reported a reduced rate of crime. It’s not as if crime rates are lesser because of the fear of the death penalty in countries with capital punishment. These countries have gradually become civilised; simultaneously, awareness and education about ideas of tolerance, empathy, equity and human rights have been fostered which has, in turn, led to reduced crimes.

Does the fear of death deter a jihadi from continuing with their vendetta? No, it definitely does not. They believe that if they die as a result of their mission they will become martyrs and be elevated to Paradise without awaiting judgement. So, jihadists do not even hesitate from turning suicide bombers.

Even if a rapist is sentenced to death, men will not stop raping. They will only stop when they learn to stop regarding women as mere sexual objects.

Our misogynous patriarchal society has led men to believe that women are only objects, and so they can be raped whenever men wish to. Only if men can unlearn this sort of misogyny that there is a chance rapes can be stopped.

Rapes happen because of the violence insipient in masculinity and because of rampant victim-blaming. Patriarchy begets misogyny and the mentality that treats women as inferior objects that can be freely violated. It is this mentality that compels an arrogant and muscle-bound masculinist outlook to commit rapes. This is coupled with the tendency to shame the victim instead of the perpetrators.

The media too get busy with trying to ascertain what a rape victim had been wearing, whether it had been night or day, what sort of women she was, whether she had been alone or not, if she had drank or not, and so on and so forth. No one pauses to ask why the man had thought to commit such a heinous crime in the first place.

The only way to reduce crime like rape, murder, trafficking of children and sexual violence, is to eliminate the causes behind it. Since such an approach is difficult to adhere to as many try to take the easy way out – kill the criminal, an eye for an eye, a murder for a murder. This is not justice, this is vengeance. It can be used to fool the people and to make them believe that the government has taken a firm stance against crime.

The answer to violence cannot be reached through the path of more violence. If that becomes the case then people too will accept without hesitation that the only way to combat violence is through continued violence. And just like the state they too will sustain violence in society in return.

When we are speaking out against all forms of violence, condoning the violence committed by the state is akin to giving a free reign to certain kinds of violence, not that of the powerless but that of the powerful.

Taslima Nasreen is a celebrated author and commentator.

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