Today when the International Women’s Day has just passed, I want to talk about the most retrograde judgement given by the Supreme Court of India in a case involving a woman.
The shocker of judgment came in the case of a woman from Punjab where the Supreme Court let off three gang rapists after they claimed a “compromise formula” with the victim and agreed to pay her a fine of Rs. 50,000 (or just about USD 1100) each for their offence!
A bench of justices Markandeya Katju and Gyan Sudha Mishra reduced to three and half years the 10-year sentence awarded to three gang rapists who took the plea that both the convicts and the victim were now happily married to different people and “wanted to live peacefully.”
Under Section 376(G) of the IPC, the minimum sentence to the gang rapists is 10 years, which may extend even to life imprisonment.
Another plea given was that it was more than 15 years when the incident had occurred, the bench relented and said it was upholding their conviction but reducing their sentence to the three-and-half years already undergone.
Such compromise formulas existed in the dark ages. They even exist in countries such as Afghanistan, Saudi Arab etc where you have the concept of blood money, but in India which is the world’s largest democracy? How can in this day and age we accept and allow the practice of “rape money” to let off men who preyed on a helpless woman. The fact that one of the judges is herself a woman makes this even more appalling.
The fact that 15 years have passed since the incident, does not take away anything from the gravity of the crime. The fact that 15 years have passed before the final disposal of the verdict is not the mistake of the victim.
And it is not as if the accused spent those 15 years in jail. They were free. They were free to get married in the mean time, procreate and start “living a peaceful happily married life”. They spent only 3 and half years in jail.
Most legal cases in India, as elsewhere, are decided on precedent. And when Supreme Court sets a precedent, it not only dictates the course of all the future judgements but at times becomes the law. In this case the Supreme Court has set the worst kind of precedent.
And who set the price of Rs. 50,000 as the settlement fine to be paid to the victim? This year’s economic data released by the government says that the expected per capita income in India is Rs. 54,527. What it means is that the court has allowed the rapists to go scot free six and half years earlier with a fine which is less than the yearly national per capita income. This is a joke and not a fine at all. The court has set a very low value to the trauma and agony caused to the woman.
Most rape accused will now take recourse to this judgment and strike (actually negotiate) deals, many a times forcefully, with the victims and ask to be set free so that they can “live happily and peacefully.” In this case, I read that the victim and her family are extremely poor and hence were forced to “settle” for a deal with the much richer criminals. With this as a precedent, we have brought the punishment for rape to the negotiating table!
The other worrying aspect is that today the court has allowed rapists to go free. Tomorrow the same thing can happen in case of a murder. What stops a murderer from taking the same plea – already “x” number of years has passed, I am now married and living peacefully, the victim’s family and I have struck a deal for “y” amount of money, so let me be free. Where are you going to draw a line?
Please do let me know what do you think about this sordid affair.