Last week, a district court in Saket handed out the death penalty to the four remaining rapists in the Nirbhaya case. There can be no doubt that one wanted extremely harsh and quick punishment for these rapists. Given the pace at which most cases move in India, including rape cases, this one has moved at a reassuringly fast pace. But there is a widespread glee with which the death penalty was received by people at large, including the media, which is deeply disturbing. Speaking for a large range of woman activists and certainly for myself, I believe that any civilised society can have no place for the death penalty.
There are many issues surrounding the death penalty. There is an ethical and moral issue, there is the issue of efficacy and there is the issue of human error. In so far as the moral and ethical issue goes, if we believe that there should not be violence done to anybody’s body, how can we accrue to ourselves or to any institution of a democratic society, the right to take a life? There are women activists who have worked on the ground, who say that the first impulse is one of revenge – for many women, including those who have survived rape, physical assault or acid attacks, the first impulse is to want castration or physical harm to be done to one’s perpetrators. But after deep discussion, women’s movements have come to the view that they neither want castration nor death. They believe that what you do not want done unto your own bodies, should not be done to anybody else’s body. What we want is justice, not revenge.