In India, the law’s delay is such an accepted fact of life that one does not ever expect anything connected with the law to happen without a very long lapse of time. This is rather unfortunate especially in respect of the most judicious penal provisions determined by legal luminaries that may be there in our laws but may be of little use because of the time taken to enforce them. What is even more saddening is that quite often penal action against a criminal does not get enforced at all if the criminal is well connected. That is how politics often determines when and how the stipulated penal provisions for certain heinous crimes shall be enforced. What has greatly encouraged crime and criminals in India is that it often takes years for a criminal to be punished according to the provisions of the law. And whenever it is decided to exempt a criminal from the stipulated provisions of our law, one gets to read about the criminal managing to go scot free only because the evidence was inadequate to sentence the criminal. No one seems obliged to explain why the evidence was inadequate, nor is anyone too concerned about a criminal escaping punishment merely because of inadequate evidence. Over the years, we have not encountered any genuine efforts to ensure that this common excuse of insufficient evidence is not misused time and again just to protect criminals with the right connections.
During the last few weeks, the one crime that has received deserved attention in India is rape. This has happened mainly for three reasons. In the first place, there have been far too many cases of rape in India. In Assam alone, there have been 3,009 cases of rape in just two years, and over 1,700 arrests related to rape. Secondly, we have had many more cases of gang-rape than we have ever had. Thirdly, the most condemnable aspect of this crime is that recently the rape of minors—of girls aged even six, seven or eight—has increased abnormally. And it is obviously because of the horrendous manifestations of this crime that President Ram Nath Kovind lost no time in promulgating the criminal law amendment ordinance, paving the way for providing stringent punishment, including the death penalty, for those convicted of raping girls below the age of 12 years. While we hail the latest amendment and the speed at which it was promulgated, we are at a loss to understand why the ordinance was restricted to the rape of girls below the age of 12. Any purposeful legislation should have come up with an amendment that provided the death penalty for the rape of girls up to the age of 15 or 16 years.
According to reports, the President’s nod to the ordinance came after the Union Cabinet approved on Sunday the tightening of the law against people involved in rape, following the public outcry over cases of sexual assault and murder of minors in Kathua and Surat and the rape of a girl in Unnao. A citizen survey carried out the next day showed that 76 per cent of the people agree that the death penalty is just punishment for rape of minors. What is indeed commendable is that the President should have decided on the ordinance at a time when Parliament was not in session because he was convinced that circumstances existed that made it imperative for him to take immediate action. The ordinance promulgated by the President stipulates stringent punishment for perpetrators of rape, particularly of girls below 16 and 12 years. Death sentence has been provided for rapists of girls under 12 years. In addition, the minimum punishment in case of rape of women has been increased from rigorous imprisonment of seven years to 10 years, extendable to life imprisonment. However, since India is a country that has retained capital punishment, the overwhelming support for capital punishment being extended to rape is hardly surprising, considering that rape is as heinous a crime as murder.