Monday, 24 December 2012

Don't let them off this easily

The protests in Delhi has the Government reeling back in shock. Once again we see the extent of disconnect between the people and our leaders. They had no idea how much rage was simmering among the people. They never fathomed such a reaction. Hence they never took to solving the problem seriously.

Now it is in their face and they do not know what to do. So instead they have found a quick fix yet again: Increase the severity of the punishment. The Government now plans to quickly pass a new amendment to appease the public and claim that they responded swiftly to the situation when they beg for votes next year. It is disappointing that they may get away with it.

The demand for an increase in punishment for rapists has been gaining mommentum for a while now. Many prominent leaders, both in the government and outside it, have been debating in it's favour. This would be a mistake. Why are we obsessed with the idea of killing the rapist or giving him a life sentence? Why are we discussing how to make his life more miserable after he gets caught, when the chances are he won't? In our thirst for a quick solution and instant revenge has anyone realised that we might be encouraging murder?

Let us be straight here; we have no reason to believe that the problem is leniency of the punishment. We have plenty of reasons to believe it is the lack of enforcement. The all India conviction rate for rapes stands at 26.4%. Effectively, 1 in 4 victims who dared to report the crime get justice. The cases which are not reported? That is a whole different story.

It is not like the nuisance, that is our justice system, is not covered, but it is not given the spot light it deserves. This is the only way forward. We need a combination of judicial and police reforms that will permit a higher conviction rate of rapists and give confidence to the people that they shall recieve justice. Instead we are adovacating a solution not completely thought through with major side effects.

Assume we punish rapists with capital punishment and think this scenario through: A man stands over a girl after violating her. She is lying incapacitated after the ordeal completely at his mercy. This man now contemplates his choices: He could kill her effortlessly in her current state, thus eliminating the only person who could recognise him. If caught, he would get the death penalty. On the other hand, if he left her alive it would increase the chances of being convicted substantially, on which he would be killed anyway. What will he do?

I am fully aware of how cold my logic may sound, but this is simple game theory. The dominant strategy for the rapist will always be to murder the victim and increase his chances of survival. What we hoped would deter rape, could potentially just increase rape and murder. Furthermore, it could also reduce the conviction rate due to lack of evidence!

The fault lines have existed for ages, and the recent gang rape just gave it the impeteus it needed to reveal the extent to which the anger had festered. This is an excellent opportunity to demand action from the Government, but we should not be satisfied by a half thought out amendment. The Government will give it to us and wash their hands of the whole situation. We should instead fight for deeper structural reforms. Lets not allow them to divert the focus from the main issue. Don't give them a choice. Ask for reforms. Ask for results.


  1. The problem over here has been highlighted beautifully - there is definatley a requirement for structural and judicial reforms, and there is no doubt in the logic used.

    Having said that, there is still no clear solution. So to take this forward I wanted to uderstand what is it that you feel should be the steps taken by the government/public to arrive at a solution, and if not capital punishment then what other form of justice can be given.

  2. Udit - I dont think it the form of justice that is the problem but rather implementation. What we need is a good policy which is trained not to make stupid comments about the length of the girl's skirt and a quick judicial system. Having said that - pari perhaps explore what the law should define rape as.

    have you guys read this?

  3. A good criminal justice system needs three ingredients- certainty of punishment, swiftness of punishment and appropriate severity of punishment. You have rightly pointed out that most people are focussing on the last ingredient whereas the biggest points of failure are the first two. They require substantial reforms in police and judicial system. For an outstanding article on this - read Abhishek Singhvi in TOI a couple of weeks back. He has covered only judicial reforms but it is worth reading.

  4. Udit - The solution is not something simple enough to just cover on a comment. I could say a few things from the top of my head but that will make no difference. A simple google search will show you the number of studies and recommendation available for the possible reforms in both judiciary and policing. These have to be considered and further deliberation must be done before a 'solution' can be determined.

    Anonymous - Thanks

  5. I agree with you on the point about judicial and police reforms. I think this will single handedly increase conviction rates, which in turn will act as deterrents for future crimes.

    Other things such as change in societal mindsets, incentivising samaritans, etc are more long term fixes, the need of the hour as you correctly pointed out is police and judicial reforms across the board. Good post!

  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.