Just days after Indian lawmakers demanded that rapists be lynched or castrated in response to the rape and murder of a veterinarian in Hyderabad, Union minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal has added to the roster of irresponsible suggestions by saying that the verdict in rape cases should be pronounced in as many months as the age of the victim.
Condemning the Hyderabad case, Badal, according to PTI, also said that once death penalty has been awarded to a culprit, there should not be any scope for filing a mercy petition, another dangerous suggestion that ignores the possibility of wrongful conviction.
“I urge the government that in rape cases, judgement should be pronounced in number of months equivalent to the age of the victim. So if the victim is 20 years old, the trial should be concluded in 20 months.”
The younger the victim, the faster the trial should be, PTI quoted her as saying.
Later, in a series of tweets, the Union Cabinet Minister of Food Processing again “advocated smaller the age, faster the conviction”.
While the minister has said women’s security can only be ensured through “out-of-the-box” solutions”, it’s worth noting that few MPs have proffered any sensible solutions so far on the issue of women’s security. Instead, they have engaged in fuelling bloodthirst and suggesting extrajudicial methods of dealing with offenders.
The Hyderabad rape and murder case had rocked Parliament on Monday with MPs demanding death penalty for rapists, lynching and castration of the convicts. While DMK’s P. Wilson said courts should be empowered to surgically and chemically castrate convicted rapists before they are released from jails, Samajwadi Party’s Jaya Bachchan called for lynching of rapists.
Union Minister Rajnath Singh said the government was ready for a discussion in Lok Sabha on the issue of crime against women, and willing to explore stringent provisions in laws to check such incidents.
Many commentators have pointed out that India already has strict laws in place to deal with rape and sexual assault—but conviction rates are appallingly low (a dismal 32.2% at the national level in 2017, according to NCRB data), cases can drag on for years in court and complaints by survivors are often not taken seriously or dismissed outright by the police.
In a Wednesday report based on the latest numbers from NCRB, The Indian Express said that in 2017, the total number of rape cases for trial was 146,201 but only 5,822 cases resulted in conviction.
The NCRB also noted the increase in the number of cases since 1971, when it started collecting data. The data shows that the number of rape cases increased by 1,209%—from 2,487 in 1971 to 32,559 in 2017. This could, of course, point to more cases being reported and registered due to increased awareness and sensitization.
The trouble with the “byte-sized sensationalism” advocated by MPs such as Bachchan, The Pioneer wrote on Wednesday, is that “it immediately absolves the government and its institutions of accountability and diverts the attention to something that is ludicrous and painful in equal measure, simply because it dilutes the chilling horror of the rape and murder scenario”.
The Indian Express’s lead editorial from Wednesday also made the same argument: “A charitable view of this disturbing desire in legislators for “instant, on the spot” mob-like justice could be that it is an expression of their helplessness in dealing with sexual crime.”
It is law-making, the editorial pointed out, that is abdicating its responsibilities for making considered, sober interventions in public life.
“Instead, it is channelling the worst of society’s instincts.”
Several people were left aghast at Badal’s suggestion and asked, for instance, what will happen in the recent case where a 70-year-old woman has been raped.
Others were completely baffled by the relation between a victim’s age and the months of conviction of a rapist.