A Madras High Court judgement last week has asked the central government to consider castration as punishment for those convicted in rape cases where the victims are children.
This is not the first time such a suggestion has been mooted by a court in India. In 2011, a Delhi sessions judge had suggested chemical castration for child rapists as an alternative to a jail term. While acknowledging that it may not be the perfect solution to inhibit child molestation, the judge said that it would certainly discourage sexual assault better than incarceration.
Like the 2011 judgment, Madras HC judgment has also relied on the prevalent practice in some of the states in the US and other countries where castration has been incorporated as a statutory punishment to deal with the pedophiles. Nine states in the US, namely California, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Lousiana, Montana, Oregon, Texas and Wisconsin, prescribe chemical castration as an alternative to penalties such as imprisonment or death penalty.
In 2010, Argentina’s Mendoza province authorized voluntary chemical castration for rapists in lieu of reduced sentences. Some other countries like UK, Poland, Russia, Germany, Czech Republic, Estonia and South Korea have also included chemical castration, primarily on a voluntary basis as an alternative punishment for sexual offenders.
However, as recent as in 2013, the proposition for slotting in castration as a form of punishment in the Indian Penal Code (IPC) had been shot down by Justice J S Verma Committee which was set up to revamp the criminal laws in the country after the outrage over Delhi’s December 16 fatal gangrape case. The committee had said that this punishment “fails to treat the social foundations of rape” and that it would be “unconstitutional and inconsistent with human rights treaties to expose citizens to the potentially dangerous medical side effects of castration without their consent.”
Further, castration being a retributive form of justice does not sit well with the criminal justice system of India where reformative practices have always assumed prime consideration. As strong and controversial as the HC’s suggestion may sound, it is not for the courts to dictate to Parliament the kind of law the lawmakers should frame. The courts must act within the boundaries of what the current laws stipulate.