Two BJP states contemplate death penalty for rape; face opposition

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government in Madhya Pradesh has passed a Bill in its Assembly to award capital punishment to those found guilty of raping children below the age of 12. The Rajasthan government, too, was contemplating of bringing a similar Bill. 

Currently, the maximum punishment under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) for rape convicts is life imprisonment. The state government has also suggested that the minimum punishment for rape be kept 14 years, and 20 years in case of gang rape.

The Bill — Dand Vidhi (Madhya Pradesh Sanshodhan) Vidheyak, 2017 — is awaiting the President’s assent. 

The civil society said awarding death punishment would barely be a deterrent. “This is a knee-jerk reaction from the state government,” said Ravi Kant, a Supreme Court lawyer and child rights activist. “Rapists would now kill victims to hide their identities. The state government should instead invest in policing and scientific techniques of investigation. Most accused get away scot-free because of shoddy investigation and victims turning hostile because of threats.”

The Madhya Pradesh government brought the Bill following the rape of a teenager in Bhopal. The girl was returning from her coaching class when four men allegedly abducted and raped her.

The state reported the most number of rapes in 2016. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, the state reported 4,882 rapes cases, followed by Uttar Pradesh with 4,816 cases and Maharashtra with 4,189 cases. Madhya Pradesh was also among the states that reported the maximum number of cases for crimes against children. Uttar Pradesh topped this list with 15.3 per cent of cases, followed by Maharashtra at 13.6 per cent and Madhya Pradesh at 13.1 per cent. 

The Justice J S Verma Committee, which was set up to recommend amendments to the Criminal Law for speedy trial and enhanced punishment of criminals accused of committing sexual assault against women, had also suggested against imposing the death penalty. The committee was set up following public demand for death punishment in the aftermath of the Nirbhaya case in Delhi in 2012. 

“The committee rejected the proposal for chemical castration as it fails to treat the social foundations of rape. It opined that death penalty should not be awarded for the offence of rape as there was considerable evidence that death penalty was not a deterrence to serious crimes. It recommended life imprisonment for rape,” said the summary of the report available on the website of PRS Legislative Research, a not-for-profit organisation. 

After the Verma Committee report, the government amended the IPC through the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, popularly known as the anti-rape Bill. It introduced several provisions, including Section 376A, which allowed for death penalty to be imposed in cases where rape led to the death of the victim, or left the victim in a persistent vegetative state. The maximum punishment was raised to life imprisonment in case of a non-death. Two years later, the Law Commission recommended abolition of death penalty for all crimes except cases related to terrorism.

Madhya Pradesh, which is not bound either by the Law Commission report or the Justice Verma committee report, has proposed that death penalty should be given to those found guilty of raping children below the age of 12 years. “The Union government is finding it difficult to recommend the President to accept the state government Bill because of the divergent views. The matter has been referred to the Union Law ministry for its opinion,” said an official.

Among the other changes, the Madhya Pradesh government has also passed a provision for a three-year jail term for stalking. 

Rajasthan Home Minister Gulab Chand Kataria told reporters that the state government was currently reviewing the Madhya Pradesh Bill and intends to bring its own Bill in the budget session.

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