The whole nation has been shaken by the recent Unnao and Kathua rape cases. In the following public outrage, there were demands for stringent government action and giving more teeth to the existing legal regime in order to combat menace of the heinous crime of rape. In the recent past, cases of rape of minors/ infants have come to light. No rape can be justified and every instance of rape must be dealt with an iron fist. Maximum possible punishment must be meted out. However, a rape of a minor girl or a child crosses every possible level of brutality. It robs little kids of the joys of childhood and plunges tender minds into trauma. It needs to be punished even more severely because of greater magnitude of cruelty attached to it.
Modi government recognized the need for punishing the rapists of infant girls severely. Thus, the union cabinet has given nod to an amendment in the POCSO Act, 2012 providing for death penalty in cases where the crime of rape is committed on a girl below the age of 12 years. There is also an enhancement in the minimum amount of punishment that must be meted out. Under the present law, a minimum of seven years jail term is to be awarded where a person commits a minor’s rape and the maximum punishment can extend upto the remainder of a person’s natural life. However, after the POCSO amendment takes effect the punishment in case of a minor’s rape will be imprisonment for rest of life or death sentence. Apart from this, the minimum punishment for rape has been increased to 10 years and minimum punishment where a person commits rape upon a girl aged below 16 years has been increased to twenty years. It is frequently seen how juveniles are involved in the most brutal of rape cases but escape the wrath of law on the ground of being minors. This move must have been welcomed as it gives more teeth to the legislation dealing with protection of children from sexual offences. However, it seems that those in the opposition who have been unabashedly politicizing the sensitive issue are again playing spoilsport. Several Congress leaders who were till now showing concern for women safety and pressing for stringent action have come out opposing this move by the government.
Several so-called ‘social activists’ in the opposition who had left no stone unturned in making a communal and political issue out of the Kathua rape case have also come out defending the rapists against a strong POCSO amendment. It is shocking how the self-appointed proponents of women safety in the opposition are openly opposing capital punishment against pedophiles and sexual offenders.
Salman Khurshid, a senior Congress leader has tried giving a cold shoulder to the POCSO amendment and has advised the government to contemplate its decision. At a time when the Congress should have open-heartedly supported this movie, its senior leader and former Union cabinet minister tried to underplay the issue and resorted to rhetorical comments. He opined that judiciary cannot help in this issue. However, the government looks in no mood to “contemplate” its strong decision which will go a long way in creating a deterrent effect.
Even more outrageous and bizarre was the statement made by eminent CPM leader, Brinda Karat. Even in this sensitive issue she gave greater importance to her party stand and politicizing the issue. She stated that, as a matter of principle, CPM is against death penalty (communism which advocates bloody/ bloodless revolution is against death penalty in India probably in order to politicize specific executions).
However, it seems that she has limited understanding of India’s legal system. She tried dismissing the POCSO amendment as hogwash by stating that provision for death penalty is already there in rarest of the rare cases. But what she, maybe deliberately, ignored was the fact that Courts can award death sentence even in the rarest of rare cases only where the provision in question provides for imposition of death sentence. Courts cannot give a punishment which the legislature has not specifically mentioned in the enactment. Merely because a crime qualifies as rarest of rare does not mean that the Court can award capital punishment unless it is specifically mentioned in the provision under consideration.
This is exactly why this POCSO amendment is a milestone. It has widened the scope and effect of the Act. It has also empowered the Courts to create a deterrent effect in face of rising rape cases. In a subsequent tweet she went on to state that this amendment does not address the concern of the agitated Indians. At this point one can only wonder in shock as to whether she even understands what the general public agitated for. People were agitated and protests were conducted because some stringent steps were required. The government has taken statutory action in order to arm the executive and the judiciary for tackling this menace.
AAP was no exception as its senior party leader came up with the following tweets:
In an ideal world, the opposition should have rallied with the government at least on this issue. There can be no two opinions on the point of inflicting maximum possible punishment acceptable under our legal system on rapists, especially those who commit this unpardonable crime against those who are in their tender years. The opposition, particularly the Congress and the communists have made it clear that they are going to oppose the government even on this sensitive issue due to political reasons. These fake feminists can be expected to stall the progress of even the bill relating to the POCSO amendment when it is eventually tabled in the Parliament. One can only hope that they do not commit the grave sin of denying justice to India’s little innocent daughters.