December 16 Delhi gang-rape: Can death sentence act as a deterrent?

Nearly nine months after six men outraged her modesty, tortured her and threw her on the road naked with her companion; justice was finally delivered to the 23-year-old Nirbhaya.

By Ritesh K Srivastava | Last Updated: Sep 16, 2013, 10:07 AM IST

Ritesh K Srivastava

Nearly nine months after six men outraged her modesty, tortured her and threw her on the road naked with her companion; justice was finally delivered to the 23-year-old Nirbhaya.

Though she passed on to a better world 13 days after December 16, the fire she ignited in the hearts and souls of millions forced the government to take steps for women’s safety. It has brought in a tough anti-rape legislation to punish the guilty in cases of sexual offences, but the big question that needs answer – has anything changed?

The Saket fast-track court in Delhi today awarded death sentence to the four accused for what it termed the "cold-blooded murder" of the "defenceless victim". The court`s verdict is highly laudable as `sentencing` more than the `conviction` of the accused was the key-point of the case, which stirred the collective conscience of the nation and triggered massive protests.

Whether death sentence will suffice for the bestiality displayed by Nirbhaya’s killer is another debate, but the more important worry is whether the strict punishment will act as a deterrent to other criminals.

As the Delhi gang-rape verdict will certainly have far-reaching implications, it is important for us as a society to not let go of the momentum that has built around the issue of women’s safety. The political class and judiciary will have to play a pivotal role in bringing about the change by ensuring that safety and speedy justice not just remain a guarantee on paper.

This is where I go with former IPS officer Kiran Bedi`s view that it is the duty of every household in India to nurture responsible sons and confident daughters for a safe and healthy society.

Although the December 16 gang-rape case brought the issue to the centrestage, several offences were committed against women across the country in the last nine months. In 2012 alone, cases of rape, dowry deaths, sexual harassment, kidnapping, trafficking and
other crimes against women rose by 6.4 percent from the previous year.

The figures provided by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) state that 244,270 crime cases against women were reported to the police last year. According to the Praja Foundation, a non-profit organization in Mumbai, there was a 15 percent rise in crimes against women in 2011-12 in the financial capital of India over the previous year, with 207 cases of rape being registered.

All this combined with lax policing and callous official attitude, India has probably become one of the world`s most unsafe countries for women.

Safety regulations - including transport norms like GPS on commercial vehicles plying on the roads and removal of tinted windows shielding the vehicles – have still not been implemented fully. The police force needs to be made more sensitive and more fast-track courts are yet to be appointed for delivering speedy justice to victims.

Even in the highly reported December 16 gang-rape case, the `fast-track court` meant to deliver speedier justice actually took nine months to conclude that the six men are guilty of the crime and this itself proves the plight of the plaintiffs in routine cases.

The conviction and sentencing in the Delhi gang-rape case - a watershed moment for our society- should not be looked as a closure unless the society resolves that the perpetrators of such heinous crimes will not go scot free in the future. Let us also hope that the historic sentencing will put fear in the minds of those intending to commit such a crime in future and no woman will suffer what Nirbhaya had to endure.