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Effective deterrent?

Effective deterrent?

The long-overdue justice for Nirbhaya was finally delivered on the morning of March 20, 2020, with the hanging of all four convicts at 5:30 am. Following the exhaustion of their legal remedies, the four convicts pleaded across nearly two months as multiple death warrants were issued and rescinded under the ambit of legality. Mercy petitions got rejected as the convicts stalled their fate by weeks but could not evade it. In the process of their pleas, arguments of deliberate delay by convicts in the exercise of their legal remedies also surfaced. It was duly witnessed that the judiciary indeed takes its time to realise capital punishment. After all, these four men were convicted back in September 2013 but justice was delivered nearly seven years thereafter. While the fast-track court may have come up with capital punishment for culprits in an expedited manner, the same was not delivered. Convicts moved first to Delhi High Court and then the Supreme Court. Delhi High Court also expedited the matter and upheld the death penalty in March of 2014. But the Supreme Court took three years to uphold capital punishment in a verdict dated May 5, 2017. While it can be agreed that the land's highest court has to exercise immense clarification of facts in order to move ahead with a decision, three years to uphold a verdict given by a lower court and subsequently upheld by the High Court sounds exaggerated. There is no doubt that the top court has a lot riding on it with a variety of cases pending in its schedule but three years to verify facts and uphold the judgment seems longer than expected. Yet, in May of 2017, it was clear that the convicts will be hanged. But the fact that the punishment was executed in March of 2020, three years after the Supreme Court's verdict, is another long buffer period that requires explanation. Justice might have been done but it certainly took a long wait for Nirbhaya's family. Justice came seven years after the horrific incident. Without getting into the argument that there have been cases that have lingered in the judicial corridors for longer, there needs to be introspection over the message that the seven-year-long wait for justice gives out. Throughout these seven years, as legal proceedings against the four convicts went on, rapes happened unabated. In fact, despite stringent laws brought in the wake of the Nirbhaya incident, heinous rapes did not stop. Unnao, Kathua, Hyderabad vet, all happened because the Indian judiciary could not deliver justice in time to act as an effective deterrent. Notwithstanding the changes made in several laws following the Nirbhaya incident, there has been an increasing incidence of crimes against women in India. The National Crime Records Bureau shows that police registered 33,977 cases of rape in 2018. NCRB data only underlines registered cases of rapes. With rape also being a social stigma in society, several cases are never reported. With 98 per cent of rapists being known to the victim, many cases are buried or never registered. There is a two-stage question at the forefront of rapes in India. Firstly, whether the expedited conviction and swift delivery of justice act as strong deterrent? Secondly, are stern laws and swift justice the correct way to prevent rapes in the country or do we need a social awakening in society? We must ask ourselves, what does this justice yield for society?

Social awakening of society, it would seem, has been a continuous process throughout history. The eighteen and nineteenth-century reformers had done enough to allow society to re-evaluate, if not outrightly abolish, practices that were detrimental to the good of humanity. The deeply entrenched patriarchy has seen stages of decline but never has it been out of the picture. Abolishing the custom of sati was historic as it paved the way for women to lead a dignified life even after the death of their husband. While the practice was inhumane, to begin with, it required the intervention of social reformers to solve the historic crime in form of a tradition. Fast forward to the 21st Century where men and women live dignified lives with socialistic ideals embedded in modern-day laws to proclaim the doctrine of equality in all spheres. All that is true at least on paper. Ask any average Indian women about how safe she feels in society and the answer might not match the modern-day proclamations of an equal society. This reality points to a fact that despite women empowerment, the deeply-rooted patriarchy in society is a testimony to the false narrative of social equality in practice. Unless men stop treating women as their properties, crimes against women will not decrease. Families and society in general needs to realise its role in making the country a safer place for women. Any misbehaviour, derogatory comment, even a slight thought along misogynistic lines needs to be dealt with the utmost severity. Unless boys are taught to respect women as they do to other boys, and men exhibit the same rationale, there can never be any hope of a safe society for women. Social awakening in this aspect is pending for centuries now! With justice for Nirbhaya, four rapists may have been punished but the conditions (patriarchy) that propel men to indulge in crimes against women still exist. We must change those conditions if we are to protect our women.

(Image from outlookindia.com)

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