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Panel says no to death penalty for rape

Report urges minimum 20 years for gang rapes

Panel says no to death penalty for rape
Protesters criticize slow judicial proceedings in rape cases (File photo)
Swati Deb, New Delhi

January 24, 2013

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A committee formed to review rape laws in India has come out strongly against the death penalty, it said yesterday. 

The three-member panel, headed by retired justice J. S. Verma, was convened a week after the December 16 gang rape of a paramedical student in a moving bus in New Delhi to suggest ways to make rape laws stronger in the country.

“We did not recommend the death penalty because we received overwhelming suggestions against it,” Verma said.

Caritas India, the social wing of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), submitted its suggestions to the committee earlier this month, opposing the death penalty and advocating a gender-sensitive curriculum in schools.

“The Church has a clear stand on capital punishment. Life is a precious gift of God and no one has the right to take away that life,” the CBCI said in a statement yesterday. It urged the federal and state governments to address women-related crime without delay because “violence against women and children will crumble the pillars of our society.”

In its 630-page report, the committee recommended the maximum sentence for gang rape be raised to life in prison from the present seven-year maximum. It said the minimum punishment for gang rape should be 20 years. 

The committee also recommended the minimum sentence for rape be raised to a minimum of 10 years from seven years to a maximum of life imprisonment.

The panel, which also included former judge Leila Seth and solicitor-general Gopal Subramaniam, cited data from the UN Working Group on Human Rights, which suggests the murder rate has declined over the last 20 years despite a decrease in executions since 1980.

“Hence, we do take note of the argument that introduction of the death penalty for rape may not have a deterrent effect," a panel statement said. 

The report said castration of rapists -- a punishment that has gained support in the wake of December's shocking crime -- would be “unconstitutional."

A government spokesperson said the committee’s report would be tabled in parliament and given utmost importance.

“We are serious about the report. It will be placed in parliament after cabinet clearance. Certain aspects suggested would need constitutional amendments,” federal law minister Ashwini Kumar said.

Procedural problems, such as delays in delivering justice, need closer scrutiny, he said. 

The panel recommended against any immunity to armed forces in cases of sexual violence against women in conflict areas like terrorism-hit Jammu and Kashmir and northeast Indian states. It recommended a review of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act.

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