Remember ME - You Me and Dementia

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Indian courts advocate zero-tolerance towards sex crimes

The Bombay High Court has taken a tough new line on sexual crimes against women, with a two-judge bench equating rape with murder and declaring a zero-tolerance policy for convicted rapists by the judiciary. While sentencing a man to capital punishment, on January 11, for raping and killing a minor girl, the two-judge bench of Justices S Radhakrishnan and Roshan Dalvi said that more than tough laws, the need was for courts to deal with such cases “sensitively, sternly and severely”.

Warning against a sympathetic attitude towards those convicted of rape, the judges said: “Once a person is convicted for an offence of rape he should be treated with a heavy hand. Any undeserved indulgence or liberal attitude in not awarding adequate sentence in such cases would amount to allowing or even encouraging potential criminals,” the judges said.

“Society can no longer endure such serious threats... Courts must hear the loud cry for justice by society in cases of heinous crimes like rape and impart adequate sentence,” said the judgment written by Justice Radhakrishnan. “Public abhorrence of the crime needs reflection through imposition of an appropriate sentence by the court.”

The court's remarks were made during the sentencing of 48-year-old Haresh Rajput, a resident of Pimpri, in Pune, Maharashtra , who was convicted of brutally raping and murdering his neighbour's 10-year-old daughter in 1999.

In 2001, a Pune sessions court sentenced the accused to life imprisonment for his crime. However, the high court felt compelled to increase the punishment as the victim's autopsy revealed eight serious injuries to her genitals, an indication of the “extreme brutality and depravity” of the crime.

Turning down the defence's plea for mercy on grounds that Rajput had a young son and an elderly mother who were dependent on him, the judges noted that he was an alcoholic and hence was “likely to commit similar crimes against other small girls” and would be a “serious threat and menace to society if allowed to live”.

The high court asserted that courts could not ignore the impact that incidents of sexual violence have on individuals as well as society. “The social impact of crime, particularly where it relates to offences against women, cannot be lost sight of and per se requires exemplary treatment,” the judges said. “Any undeserved indulgence or liberal attitude in not awarding adequate sentence would amount to allowing or even encouraging potential criminals.”

The judgment is seen as advocating more stringent punishment for sexual offenders.

Under Indian law, capital punishment is awarded only in the “rarest of rare cases”. In 2004, the Supreme Court of India upheld the death sentence on Kolkata resident Dhananjay Chatterjee who was convicted of raping and murdering a minor girl. Chatterjee was later hung for his crime.

The judges equated the heinousness of rape with murder, which, under the law, is the most serious of all crimes. “Whereas a murderer destroys the physical frame of a victim, a rapist degrades and defiles the soul of a helpless female,” the judges said. “Sexual violence, apart from being a dehumanising act, is also an unlawful intrusion of the right to privacy and sanctity of a female,” the judgment said.

Meanwhile, in an another instance of the higher courts' growing concern over leniency shown to rapists, the Supreme Court upheld the compulsory retirement of a judge in Uttar Pradesh for granting parole to a person convicted of assaulting a minor.

Additional sessions judge Raj Kumar, who otherwise has a good track record, released the convict under the Probation of Offenders Act after finding that he had already served a sentence of over 15 months.

The judge had either overlooked or been ignorant of the fact that, under the law, the crime of assaulting a minor carries a minimum sentence of 10 years' rigorous imprisonment that could be extended to a life term in addition to the imposition of a fine.

Kumar challenged the judgment in the Supreme Court and, on January 11, he lost.

Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

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