If rape and murder have the same punishment, the culprit will find it reasonable to kill the victim, for this would hugely reduce his chances of getting caught.


Death penalty for rapists of children is an ineffective idea whose time may have come. Facing flak over a series of rape-and-murder cases, the government is contemplating this provision. Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi has reportedly directed her officers to propose an amendment to the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO).

Every normal human being shudders at the thought of child rape; the guilty are simply unconscionable fiends, deserving the harshest punishment. So, it’s not surprising that so many people in politics and society ardently favour death for rapists. They, however, don’t realise a simple fact: that the proposed provision would end up incentivising rapists to murder their victims; this may lead to a situation where there would be few survivors. If rape and murder have the same maximum punishment, the culprit will find it reasonable to kill the victim, for this would hugely reduce his chances of getting caught and convicted.

At any rate, the remedy doesn’t lie in new, harsher legal provisions; it lies in improving the standards of justice delivery—in fact, the entire gamut of governance—in general. You can’t expect rapists to be properly prosecuted, let alone punished, if important politicians condone and shield the guilty. Stricter laws will be of no use if the culprits are not caught in the first place. So, the need of the hour is a proper system. But we must also remember that anything proper, in statecraft as well as in life, presupposes the existence of a fairly known or knowable set of essentials. Without in any way trivialising a beastly crime, a couple of illustrations will prove this assertion—pertaining to good health and good academic performance.

If a person wants to have the physique of a movie star or model, they have to lead a certain lifestyle knowing which is quite easy. They have to eschew or curtail smoking, drinking, junk food, high-calorie and high-cholesterol diet, sedentary habits, irregular meals, etc.

Four points should be made here. First, you need not be a doctor to know what comprises a healthy lifestyle. Any gym trainer can tell you what to do to make yourself fit; then there is Google. Second, the real solution will be tough and taxing; it will require considerably assiduity; there is no genuine short-cut to hard work as far as good health and attractive figure are concerned.

This brings us to the third point: the available short-cuts are actually traps that’ll surely harm you. The market is full of “revolutionary” devices and “miracle” drugs (usually “herbal” and/or Ayurvedic) to reduce your girth; the promise is a beautiful body without the rigors of exercise and regulated diet. The results, however, vary from waste of money to physical harm. Finally, if somebody wants to get rid of their paunch, it’s not that they just have to take care of their diet and do exercises targeted only at tummy fat; the regimen would require much more than that, e.g. jogging, weight training.

Similarly, if a student strives to have an excellent academic record, he has to study hard and remain focused through all the years. He can’t afford to while away his time and study just in the run-up to the examinations. The alternatives are observing fasts, praying to gods, indulging in sharp practice, etc.; these don’t work.

In other words, to achieve any goal, there is a fairly known course to follow. The course involves a set of prerequisites that a person, an organisation, or a nation has to stick to. It is unrealistic to expect success while avoiding the prerequisites.

In the context of governance, the prerequisites include sound administration, professional policing, and an efficient justice system. The real improvement, as in improving one’s physique and academic grades, requires hard work, sincerity, and perseverance—the qualities our political masters usually lack. Besides, it’s a long process, whereas they love events. A law or legal provision is an event, an important data point in rhetoric; a government or a party can claim that it introduced an Act to, as in this case, safeguard children. Real improvements in governance, on the other hand, are slow; worse, they may not even yield good electoral dividends.

Unfortunately, it is not just politicians who are keen on special laws. About two years ago, in the wake of the murder of two journalists in Bihar and Jharkhand, the Press Council of India had demanded a special law to ensure the safety of scribes. Thankfully, nothing came out of it, but the lure of being seen to be doing something is always there.

And doing something invariably involves big announcements, celebrations, pageantry, etc. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is often accused of being obsessed with events. But others are no better; Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s idea of poverty eradication has gone little beyond eating at the homes of Dalits.

Our politicians, steeped in denial and whataboutery as they are, don’t seem interested in improving the law and order situation and the justice system; at least, it doesn’t reflect in their actions. Against this backdrop, a stricter POCSO may prove to be a remedy that does little to eradicate the malady.

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