New Internationalist

I don’t want to play God – even when it comes to rapists and child killers

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Justice systems around the world are flawed. Imgarcade.com under a Creative Commons Licence

I’ve been completely obsessed with the Indian elections – so much so that I even hit the campaign trail to follow a politician, not generally my beat.

But on 1 May I was stopped in my tracks by a report about the botched Oklahoma execution. It really churned my insides, left me feeling pretty sick.

When I read about children being raped, I rant that even the death penalty is too good for the perpetrators. I’ve often wondered about my reaction, when nauseated by stories like that of April Jones, the Welsh five year-old murdered by paedophile Mark Bridger in 2012. These stories don’t get headlined in India. Should they be? Children’s rights groups warn that statistics about abuse are alarming, but rarely exposed. I am filled with rage and loathing. Why should these vermin be pampered in prison, or fed on public money? Why shouldn’t they suffer for their unspeakable crimes against defenceless children?

My friend Enakshi Ganguly, founder of the child rights organization HAQ, deals with child abuse every day. Watching her listening to routine help-line calls, I wonder where she gets the courage and resilience to go on fighting and dealing with this daily nightmare.

At a recent women’s rights meeting, the rape reports that routinely poured in had us all seething with anger. Yet feminists have issued a statement, pleading for sanity amidst the hysterical demands for ‘fast-track death to all rapists’. Capital punishment won’t help, they insist.  Prominent Indian feminists, after the ‘Nirbhaya’ outcry around the December 2013 Delhi rape, argued that the death penalty would lead to perpetrators killing their victims to eliminate evidence.

An angry death penalty advocate protested: ‘Think of the agony of those women – brutally tortured, battered, burnt, bitten and scratched, while being raped. Death is too good for those filthy rapists. I feel like pouring acid on their penises. Slowly. Very slowly. Castration should be part of their punishment.’  

Enakshi replies patiently. She’s obviously been through this debate before. ‘You can’t say that. No matter how angry we get. Rape, torture and abuse are undoubtedly abhorrent, but capital punishment is not the solution. It is now proven beyond doubt that it is not a deterrent.’

‘We cannot go by what we feel,’ she continues. ‘Two things need to be done. We need an inquiry into why such a rise in violence is taking place in India. The rise of sexual aggression is only a manifestation of the growing culture of violence around us. It’s found in books, films and now on people’s mobile phones.

‘All around us the image is projected that it’s cool to be the macho man, killing, shooting, raping. There’s easy access to porn juxtaposed with a more traditional world where young people are not supposed to have sex before marriage. We need to look into the larger picture and we need to deal with the violent porn around us.’

Much will be written about the pros and cons of capital punishment after the Oklahoma execution. Clayton Lockett, the condemned man died a terrible death. Unbelievably, the guards even tasered him before the execution.  

I find rapists and child molesters abhorrent and unforgivable. But watching The Green Mile – a 1999 film set on death row in a US prison in the 1930s – changed my perspective. Anyone who watched those terrible executions would think twice before condemning another human being. My main problem was this. The death-row man turned out innocent. Our justice system is beyond doubt, still flawed. Regrettably, the law, all too often, is still an ass.

So, at the end of the day, how can we condemn someone to death, if they turn out to be innocent. There have been many cases in recent years where this has happened.

I definitely do not want to play God. And neither can the state.

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