The death sentence won't prevent or deter such crimes

M N singhI appreciate the hue and cry which the incident in Delhi has caused. India is a conservative society and the reaction is understandable. I am concerned with the calls for the death penalty for rape in light of the Delhi case. We already have one of the strongest laws for rape in the world. So far as proving rape in court, there are many cases of rape where convictions have been secured on the basis of the victim’s testimony alone. There are even some convictions by the Supreme Court where the medical opinion on rape was inconclusive.

The second issue is that punishment from the courts does not necessarily work as a preventive measure. But a criminal fears immediate consequences of his crime, not the prospect of a distant punishment. I believe the death sentence won’t prevent or deter such crimes, and must be used only to punish the guilty in exceptional and barbaric cases. It is not the severity of punishment but the certainty of punishment, which matters.

The third thing we need to understand is that there are two kinds of rapes. There are the kinds which are done in the privacy of people’s homes, by relatives and friends. They cannot be prevented by police, but can be prevented by parents or guardians of the child or by family. Often the reason parents choose not to believe their children when they report sexual abuse is that families are afraid of the stigma and prefer to let bygones be bygones. As I said earlier, India is a conservative society, and they can’t be blamed for it.

The other kind of rape is that which takes place in public places, such as the gang-rape in Delhi. Cases like these clearly point to a failure to control the law and order situation in a city and point to ineffective policing. Better policing is the need of the hour. There should be a general feeling in the minds of criminals that they will be caught if they try anything. A more alert and visible police presence, CCTV in places such as colleges and public transport would help.

Unfortunately, so far as molestation on public transport is concerned, it is something which women have to face daily and seldom come forward to complain about it. Perhaps they have come to believe it is part of their daily misfortune, besides which, going to the police station and registering a complaint is an ordeal in and of itself.

Both the force and the courts have always been short staffed, but we have to manage with what we can. I remember when I was in the force, the government closed the recruitment of sub-inspectors as an economy measure, and as a result the sub-inspector training academy at Nasik was nearly closed. This was unfortunate, but today I think the government spends far more on policing than it used to. Even so, currently we have a 2/3rd vacancy of sub-inspectors in Mumbai. Then there is the issue of sensitising the police that also needs to be addressed.

Guidelines by the Supreme Court (such as those framed in November this year to curb eve teasing) are well-meaning, but will not go a long way in deterring such crimes. They are crimes of opportunity where the perpetrator is looking for a likely target and the absence of a guardian or protector.

Coming to the issue of burking, I must admit that not all cases reported to police are taken on record. The problem is our statistics-oriented system. We spend more time managing statistics than managing crime. We will have to learn and improve policing and not worry about the statistics. For example, in London, there are far more crimes recorded than those recorded in Mumbai. But you cannot say that this means there are more crimes in London than there are here. Police are more open there and readily register complaints. Fortunately today, the media has ensured that at least in high-profile cases, no burking takes place as it is difficult to conceal such cases from media scrutiny.

Our current commissioner of police Dr Satyapal Singh spends a lot of time visiting colleges and meeting members of the public, and it is a welcome initiative so police have an idea of what their grievances are. Cities have expanded, and people from rural areas are coming there. They often come for work leaving their families behind. These sex-starved migrants from backward areas are often dazzled by the city. Police need to keep a watch on them.

The entire criminal justice system, including police, prosecution and judiciary is in a bad state and there is a need for holistic reform. Some day, I would love to see an ideal situation, where girls are free to walk on Marine Drive at 12 am or 1 am.

— The writer is former Commissioner of Police, Mumbai

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