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.

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

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  1. #1 Maureen 07 May 14

    While we cannot play God, we should also be able to verbalise our anger, helplessness, support in favour of the victims. Too long we have walked the path of indifference and apathy.

  2. #2 Josette 07 May 14

    Indeed,in spite of the disgust we feel for rapers and the like we cannot play God. But they do deseve very severe punishment. Why are prisoners not more often put to hard work?? Of course without salary!

  3. #3 Communal 07 May 14

    Caste system for the past 2000 years has seeded sadists/savages in India. India is going to end up as Africa where rape is a hate crime.

  4. #4 david cohen 07 May 14

    Mari Marcel Thekaekara's blog helps us appreciate all the more those who are making
    extraordinary contributions to the public good. Enakshi Ganguly is doing just that with
    her leadership of HAQ, a child rights advocacy group. Her leadership tells us why one form of violence (capital punishment) is not a remedy for prevention or treatment of child rape or other forms of sexual predatory behavior.

    Enakshi Ganguly's suggestion of India creating a Commission to examine the roots of the rape and other predator violence should not be limited to India. Each countruy needs to do it as does each large locality. The Commission goes beyond a report but is a way to engage citizens in creating a culture that won't tolerate pornography, verbal violence or any kind of violence directed at children. There should be no violence, verbal or otherwise, at all. Let's start with children.

    I think it is time to move away from the abstractions of free speech that places porn, and other forms of printed and electronic violence, at the level of ideas and political speech.
    It is time to study what the effects are of such violence and pornography on children. We can surely find the appropriate responses that should inform and dominate our culture without limiting the liberties of free and robust discussion, advocacy and organization.

    David Cohen
    Washington, DC
    May 7, 2014

  5. #5 Christine 08 May 14

    Dear Mari

    Playing God would mean ‘forgiving from the heart’ – because that’s what God teaches us to do. I am reading a beautiful book “His name is Mercy” written by Fr Ken Barker – an Australian priest I met at a woman’s conference a couple of years ago. He talks about Mercy in such a deep level – that anyone who seeks it finds peace within – hatred no longer exists when someone finds mercy.

    You see when some does a horrendous crime such as a gruesome rape or murder; it’s not the person – but the act that is condemned by God. God lovingly tells the person – go your way, and sin no more.

    God loves every one – that is the beauty of His love. It is hard to imagine God even loves the rapist. Now try imagining what the rapist would feel to know that God loves him. That alone would kill him.

    And in Christianity we are bound to act like Christ. God is Love – And his teachings are mercy – compassion and forgiveness. Not to get back.. take revenge… or punish the individual. We live in a world that pays back and retaliates and seeks revenge. With everyone doing that.. we all become hateful.. just the opposite of being Christ-like.

    Chris

  6. #6 mari 08 May 14

    Thanks All, for taking the time n trouble to write in.

    Its a huge dilemma. I do feel some people are evil. They surely deserve appropriate punishment.

    Currently the men who trafficked the Nigerian girls, all trafficked women and children. How do we deal with them?
    The horror is when you hear about a person who has spent 25 years in jail and was innocent. A person who has lost their entire youth suffering for a crime he\she did not commit.

    So unless there is certainty, its a frightening decision to make
    Unfortunately, I have more questions than answers.

    mari 67 28449993

  7. #7 Mark Fernandes 09 May 14

    The type of crimes being committed in recent years baffle me!

    Man, in his animal instinct, probably can be blamed for rape and crimes against children for time immemorial. As our society has evolved, no longer accepting such behavior...its under belly is also becoming more rotten that we have to see the type of brutality...
    Is it happening now, or is the extensive media coverage bringing to the fore front what has existed?!

    ..and yes,I shudder when I put myself in the place of someone innocent who is accused of such crimes....the society's call for blood( as always) has only grown....

    We have to find a more holistic way of dealing with this as a society...for now the capital punishment for rape in India doesn't seem to get the desired results as I read of more acts committed regularly in the papers...I guess those with the right reach don't give a damn!

    Can we get porn out of the reach of children? can we educate them in a open healthy manner on sex & sexuality, on giving respect.....the list is so long.

    A daunting task when we are hit with a media which shows us semi nude women on the daily news papers' page 3 and also reporting on rape in one of the other pages.

    I guess its left to each individual to teach his children well!!

  8. #8 Paula Thomas 30 Apr 15

    There is an assumption behind the debate on the death penalty and that is that it is a greater punishment than life in prison. That assumption is only correct for those who are innocent of the crimes of which they are accused for them it represents the end of hope. For the rest.. Well let's use Mark Bridger as an example. Let's be clear Mark Bridger will never be released. He will spend his time in a Catagory A prison mostly in his cell. For his own protection (other prisoners hate child molesters with a fervour). He will eat his meals alone. He will exercise alone. He will shower alone. He will most certainly not be pampered. He will probably receive very few, if any, visitors. That is my idea of hell.

  9. #9 JD Manas 20 Sep 16

    All I am seeing is lame straw man arguments here thrown under the guise of this facade of this new brand of selfish politically correct pseudo liberalism that is a western concept.

    I have never understood the defence mechanism of how it fails to act as a deterrent. Well neither does locking the perpetrators up within the confinements of a prison cell by lining up them up against the wall and shooting them in the head they are being punished individually for the individual crime that they committed regardless of whether or not it would act as a wider deterrent.

    Invoking miscarriages of justice and making references to when those were convicted on the basis of dubious circumstantial evidence doesn't justify an execution in light of the circumstances where there is extremely strong forensic evidence, to hand out a death sentence on the basis of things such as witness testimony which has proven to be notoriously unreliable and comparing that to when forensics rules any other perpetrator(s) out is downright preposterous.

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About the author

Mari Marcel Thekaekara a New Internationalist contributor

Mari is a writer based in Gudalur, in the Nilgiri hills of Tamil Nadu. She writes on human rights issues with a focus on dalits, adivasis, women, children, the environment, and poverty. Mari's book Endless Filth, published in 1999, on balmikis, is to be followed by a second book on campaigns within India to abolish manual scavenging work. She co-founded Accord in 1985 to work with Adivasi people. Mari has been a contributor to New Internationalist since 1991.

About the blog I travel around India a lot, covering dalit and adivasi issues. I often find myself really moved by stories that never make it to the mainstream media. My son Tarsh suggested I start blogging. And the New Internationalist collective are the nicest bunch of editors I’ve worked with. So here goes.

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