Death penalty in Delhi gang rape won't end sexual violence - activists

By Nita Bhalla

NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Hanging the four men convicted of the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman will not end India's scourge of rape, activists said on Friday, adding there was no "quick-fix" to the multiple threats faced by women in the country.

A special fast track court sentenced the men to death on Friday following the brutal attack nine months ago, which prompted thousands of usually apathetic urban Indians to take to the streets and stirred national debate about rising crime against women.

As many Indians - including the parents of the victim, politicians, Bollywood celebrities and the public on the streets and on social media sites - welcomed the death penalty, human rights groups and some feminists expressed concern.

"Sending these four men to the gallows will accomplish nothing except short-term revenge," Tara Rao, director of Amnesty International India, said in a statement.

"While the widespread anger over this case is understandable, authorities must avoid using the death penalty as a 'quick-fix' solution. There is no evidence that the death penalty is a particular deterrent to crime, and its use will not eradicate violence against women in India."

Increasing the number of courts, judges and prosecutors, sensitising police to gender crimes and improving security on the streets are essential steps for tackling sexual violence, said Amnesty India, adding that the gang-rape case should not be taken as an exception.

Some 244,270 crimes against women were reported to the police in 2012, against 228,650 in 2011, according to the National Crimes Records Bureau.

These included rapes, kidnappings, sexual harassment, trafficking, molestation and cruelty by husbands and relatives.

They also included crimes in which a woman was driven to suicide as a result of demands for a dowry from her husband or in-laws.

Women's rights groups and lawyers say many of these cases take years to come to trial, if at all, and that the Delhi gang rape case was exceptional because of the level of media and public attention.

DEEP-ROOTED MISOGYNY

Bus cleaner Akshay Kumar Singh, gym instructor Vinay Sharma, fruit seller Pawan Gupta, and unemployed Mukesh Singh lured the trainee physiotherapist and her male friend onto a bus in New Delhi after watching a movie at a shopping mall on December 16.

As the bus drove through the streets, the men repeatedly raped the victim before dumping her naked and semi-conscious on the road.

Prosecutors said the men used a metal rod and their hands to pull the woman's organs from her body after raping her. She died two weeks later.

The crime was seen by Judge Yogesh Khanna as "the rarest of the rare" which means the death penalty can apply according to Indian law.

Some women's rights groups said that while they welcomed steps taken by the authorities over the last nine months, including a stronger law to tackle sex crimes, these measures were not enough to change patriarchal mindsets which see women as inferior.

"Eliminating these men will not eliminate the culture of rape. The deep misogyny of potential assailants, as well as many actors within the criminal justice system needs to shift," said Karuna Nundy, a supreme court lawyer and prominent activist.

Organisations such as global campaign group Avaaz say the only way to reverse such attitudes, which lie at the root of gender crimes, is through a massive public education campaign across India.

The United Nations called on India on Friday to take a more "comprehensive approach" to women. "Laws by themselves are not the solution - their implementation also matters as does changing mindsets," said a statement from UN Women.

"Violence against women is preventable, not inevitable. Prevention is achievable because the majority of the factors associated with men's use of violence can be changed."

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