From the Viewsroom

Avoid selective capital punishment

Anand Kalyanaraman | Updated on March 23, 2020

Shouldn’t Nirbhaya and Kathua cases be treated on the same footing?

The execution, last Friday, of four convicts in the Nirbhaya gang-rape and murder case finally brought some closure to the victim’s family after more than seven years of relentless legal struggle. But the case and its denouement bring home the fact that in India, the capital punishment is not applied in equal measure. Convicts in similarly brutal rarest-of-the-rare category cases are often given lesser punishment. Consider the gang-rape and murder of the eight-year girl in Kathua, Jammu, in January 2018. In this case, six men were convicted in June 2019 by a special court — three were sentenced to life imprisonment for 25 years, and three were sentenced to five years in jail for destroying evidence. One person was being tried in a juvenile court, and another was acquitted. The judgment of the special court has been contested in higher courts.

Given the savagery of the crime, its motivation and the persons involved, the punishment given by the special court appears inadequate. There don’t seem to be mitigating circumstances; rather there are aggravating ones. One, the victim was a child, all of eight. Two, the crime was premeditated — the nomad-girl was lured on the pretext of finding her horses and kidnapped. Three, she was repeatedly sedated and gang-raped over many days in a place of worship. Four, she was strangulated and her head smashed with stone. Five, the crime was meant to terrorise the girl’s community away from the place — a communal motive. Six, the main perpetrators include a retired revenue official, and a special police officer — those who should have upheld the law inflicted unspeakable brutality upon the victim.

The judgment sentencing the convicts termed the crime “shameful, inhuman and barbaric”, and said: “This devilish and monstrous crime has sent shock waves across the society and the actual guilty need to be brought under the sword of justice.” Does this crime then not deserve exemplary punishment? As long as India has the capital punishment, it is imperative that the law be applied fairly.

The writer is Deputy Editor with BusinessLine

Published on March 23, 2020

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