No, Maharashtra’s New Law Providing Death Penalty to Rapists is Not the Magic Cure for Sexual Violence

Social Commentary

No, Maharashtra’s New Law Providing Death Penalty to Rapists is Not the Magic Cure for Sexual Violence

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

In India, a country where rape is a serious threat to society, harsh punishments are often viewed as a fitting solution. Ever since the 2012 Nirbhaya gang rape caused a mass movement, lawmakers have been revising laws at the state level to introduce capital punishment for rapists. Maharashtra is the latest state to do so, with the state cabinet approving the “Shakti law”, a Bill that contains provision for death penalty in cases to do with rape, acid attack, and child abuse. The Bill will be tabled during the state legislature’s winter session, which begins next week on Monday, December 14.

The move has been widely praised by most people, who see it as a sign that the Maharashtra government is getting tough on sex offenders. Some have argued that such a law was the need of the hour, given how Maharashtra ranked third out of all Indian states in the number of crimes against women in 2019, according to a report by the National Crime Records Bureau. The “Shakti law” is similar to the “Disha law” that was passed in Andhra Pradesh earlier this year, with similar provisions that prescribed capital punishment for sexual offences.

However, as history has shown, tougher laws do not automatically lead to reduced crime. Since 2012, rape laws have been revised to include harsher punishments, yet the crimes against women continue to persist. Anup Surendranath, a teacher of constitutional law at Delhi’s National Law University, said that the new law would not “magically solve deep social problems” that lead to rape.

Columnist and writer Aakar Patel noted that so-called “tough” laws can also serve the purpose of exempting the government from accountability toward creating safer conditions in society for victims of sexual assault.

Whenever a rape case comes to national attention, calls for punitive justice are loud and plentiful. But punitive justice is very rarely preventative, as scholars and experts in criminal theory have maintained in many arguments.

New laws like the one drafted by the Maharashtra government may make India more dangerous for rapists, but without addressing the underlying causes of rape, they fail to make Indian women any safer as well.