Will Death Penalty Stop Rape? Think Twice !

Lalita Ramdas

Will a death penalty solve the problem? Can it guarantee that there will be no more rapes?

The problems are embedded in a complex set of social, cultural, economic, political, patriarchal, feudal practices which span both geographic, national, time and space boundaries. The solutions therefore will eventually have to be sought in our educational, familial, social – religious – customs and traditions, as much as in our legal and other institutions and frameworks.

Globalisation has only served to accentuate and increase growing disparities at all levels – within national and across national borders. Today’s mind blowing, instant communications and social media networks lead to rapidly changing norms – and cultural confusion – with little or no sign posts or anchors to turn to for values or counsel. This is particularly so for millions of youth growing up in slum and resettlement colonies, or in rural and semi-urban communities – who find themselves caught between the traditions of a conservative social milieu and the rapidly changing norms of a fast paced so-called ‘modernity’.

We appear to be running after instant and meaningless solutions to deep rooted dysfunctionalities – and it is this desperation and superficial analysis and reactions to these pathological behavioural patterns and symptoms which is equally worrying, as is the increase in the acts of mindless violence – sexual and otherwise. This is not to say that the guilty should not be punished. But let us evolve such punishments which will also try to dig deep into the psychological and social roots of aberrational, sexual violence such as in the Delhi Bus rape incident. At the same time we also need to begin a process of introspection as a civilisation and a people to seriously begin to analyse, evaluate and then address the core issues from the cradle so to speak.

  • I speak as a mother of three daughters, independent women today, whom we allowed to travel on Delhi buses four decades ago, armed with chilli powder and a set of dividers!
  • I speak as a service daughter and wife who has long been struggling with the in-built macho-ism which militarisation in any form carries within itself. And have sought with degrees of success to dismiss the notion that rape has to do with a notion of class – and that it is not `people like us’ ! Starting up a womens’ counselling service during our time in the Navy at least put paid to that myth in the minds of some – but the myth is alive and thriving – it is so comfortable to believe that it is those lumpens who inhabit the resettlement colonies and slum areas who are responsible and if they are locked up or better still, hanged, then all will be well and `the weaker sex’ [UGGH!!] can sleep safe.
  • I speak as a grandmother of three teenagers who travel alone on subways in New York, the metro in Delhi, and on three wheelers in Hyderabad – and who would not hesitate to come to the assistance of someone they see in trouble. We constantly say a silent prayer that they will return home safe each day.
  • And I speak as an activist who was out on the streets of Delhi raising the issue of the Mathura rape case in the seventies and eighties – and wondering today what did we achieve and how long and hard the struggle really is.
  • Like many of you, sisters and brothers, I too ask : What more must we do, and to say I am ready to do what it takes – but will NOT sign on to petitions that are baying for blood.