Saturday, Nov 01, 2014

Ideal rape trial, or travesty of justice?

The trials went on parallelly, and convictions were pronounced within minutes of each other. The trials went on parallelly, and convictions were pronounced within minutes of each other.
Posted: April 11, 2014 12:31 am

Two high-profile rape cases deliver death penalties and touch off questions.

The two high-profile rape trials, which made history as the first cases to be tried under the newly amended rape law, have been “successfully”concluded. Having had a ringside view of the trial, it is time now to raise some uncomfortable questions. Were these “ideal” trials or a travesty of justice? Were these fit cases to hand out the death penalty to three young boys, one of them barely 18, from impoverished backgrounds, or an exercise in appeasing the collective conscience of the nation or restoring the wounded pride of a city?

The death sentence was meted out in a case that started off as the first incident of gangrape after the amendment to the rape law. Coming close on the heels of the gruesome Delhi gangrape and murder case, it invited unprecedented media glare, and punctured the image of Mumbai as a safe city. Hence, it had to be dealt with, with the severest of punishment. The second case that came to light accidentally a few days later, of the telephone operator (a convenient misnomer given to the 18-year-old from the lower strata, still struggling to complete her basic schooling), provided the perfect prop to the entire setting.

In the hands of an astute public prosecutor, with several death penalties under his belt but without any credentials for conducting rape trials with dignity and sensitivity, the trial that started off as the first and the most high profile was turned into a “subsequent case”, and the subsequent one transformed itself into the first. The trials went on parallelly, and convictions were pronounced within minutes of each other. But the design of pronouncing the convictions provided scope for entertaining an application to add the additional charge under Section 376E, warranting death penalty, at this late stage. Logically, the case that was registered first and the trial that commenced prior in time ought to have concluded first. But that was not to be, as it would not warrant a death penalty. Hence, the second case is rendered a mere prop for the first.

By this, the very meaning of “repeat offender” became skewed, setting a dangerous precedent, diluting the premise of “rarest of rare” in our criminal justice system. While there have been death penalties in the past, the public prosecutor has boasted that this is the first instance where the death penalty was secured in a case where the victim was alive. Worst, a child in conflict with the law can only be punished for three years, but the moment he crosses the threshold, he can be sent to the gallows. On the other hand, there is no accountability for the state that failed in its duty to reform a “child in conflict with law” when continued…

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