Mockery of justice
- The Law Ministry must amend punishment for rape in the pending Criminal Code bill
Dec 17, 2014-
On March 20, 2012, Puja Bohara, a 14-year-old girl from Kaipal VDC in the Far Western mountainous district of Baitadi, was among the thousands appearing for the School Leaving Certificate examinations. Two days into the tests, she went to the only bookshop in Patanbazar to purchase a ‘guess paper’. It was a hot day and she asked the shopkeeper for some water. Another man brought her soda. No sooner did she drink it, Puja felt dizzy and nauseous. The shopkeeper showed her the bathroom and entered alongside her, followed by the man who had handed Puja the soda. The two men proceeded to rape her. Based on evidence and Puja’s statement, the District Court of Baitadi slapped a Rs 50,000 fine on each of the perpetrators and sentenced them to 13 years in prison. But in less than a year’s time, the Appellate Court in Mahendranagar released the rapists.
Yesterday, Kantipur daily published an open letter from Puja to Minister for Law and Justice Narahari Acharya on its front page, where she details her harrowing experience and demands punishment for the perpetrators. Puja’s letter comes at a time when the government is mulling over a new Criminal Code bill, which details the punishment for rape and will soon replace the Muluki Ain, along with a separate Civil Code. A high-level committee on gender-based violence, formed after the ‘Occupy Baluwatar’ campaign, had suggested stringent punishment for rapists, with a minimum jail term of 15 years. But disregarding its proposition, the minimum punishment for the rape of a woman above 18 years of age has been reduced from five to four years behind bars. The bill has also lessened the maximum additional sentence for gang rape from upto five years in the Muluki Ain to up to three years. The sentence for rape of a minor in the age groups below 10, 10-14 and 14-16 remains 10-15, 8-12, and 6-10 years, respectively. Punishment for the rape of a 16-18 year old is 5-8 years. The high-level committee had proposed lifelong imprisonment for gang rape and imprisonment until death for the rape of a minor.
Who indeed benefits from reducing jail terms for rapists? Clearly, victims do not stand to gain anything from such lenient punishment meted out to perpetrators, as Puja asks, “Does the release of my rapists now mean that I am the one at fault?” Rape is a heinous crime and the Criminal Code bill must be amended to punish it accordingly. A four-year sentence for rapists is nothing short of a slap on the wrist. In India, prison sentences for rape range from a minimum of 20 years to life. Repeat offenders, in certain cases, can even be sentenced to death. The government could amend the draft bill and make comparable changes. It should also take into account the severity of the crime and the use of drugs to incapacitate the victim while penalising rapists. Those who abet the perpetrator must also be held accountable. As far as Puja’s case is concerned, the Law Ministry must look into the reasons the verdict was repealed by the Appellate court and make further proceedings transparent. Such an atrocious crime must not go unpunished.
Published: 17-12-2014 07:36