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On the path to a safer society

The justice Verma panel, appointed in the aftermath of the brutal gang rape of the 23-year-old paramedical student in the national capital, submitted its report on Wednesday, in which it has steered clear of suggesting death sentence for rapists, rather going in for a ‘full life term’ as the maximum punishment. ‘We did not recommend death penalty because we received overwhelming suggestions against it,’ Justice Verma, who retired as Chief Justice of India, said. The panel report will no doubt disappoint those who had been protesting against the incidence and the lack of security for women in the city ever since the 16 December rape. Protestors had unanimously called for death sentence for rapists, and/or chemical castration. Cries for death sentence had intensifies after the victim, lost her battle for life at a hospital in Singapore, where she had been removed for better treatment. But activists, against death sentence will be satisfied. Even some women’s rights supporters had given their verdict against death sentence for rapists, in the aftermath of the December 16 gang rape, fearing this might encourage rapists to kill their victims, to lessen chances of punishment. While the debates will continue, a calmer study of the Justice Verma panel recommendation may assure some of the justice of his recommendations. The punishment of death, brings but a moment’s suffering to the convict. Or may be the suffering of a few prolonged moments. But the knowledge that one is to spend all one’s remaining years, in captivity, and die in a similar state, without ever having the hope to move freely again, is a slow killer.

Also, the Justice Verma panel report is important for the one other very important point that they have raised – a review of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act in conflict areas so that sexual offence by those in uniform are brought under ordinary criminal law. One reason why the gang rape in Delhi has captured national attention is because of the brutality with which the victim was attacked. But it is also true that anything good or bad that happens in Delhi gets more attention because of it being the national capital. Women in north east India have been protesting against rape by those in uniform for years. But apart from the odd reference in some news channel or a little article somewhere to fill space, it has hardly ever got the attention it deserved. The Justice Verma panel report is important because it addresses this, and and the need to end ambiguity over the control of the Delhi Police. Women, not just in the national capital, but in every part of the country deserve to feel safe. And the threat they face is equally from the civilian male population, as from the police and army personnel who are supposed to protect them. A lot has been written about it in the past few weeks. It is now time to take a step towards change. It is more important to work towards creating a safer society than debating punishment for violators.
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