India risks finding that you can have two wrongs, and still no rights

One of the lovely volunteers who works here with us in the media team is from Taiwan. She was telling me that over the last few weeks she had been involved in some online debates with friends about the use of the death penalty in Taiwan – there was a depressingly predictable round of executions there over the holidays which have become an annual occurrence. She was telling me that people often say the death penalty is fair – an eye for an eye – and that some people contend that it is the only appropriate response to horrific crimes.

In India last month, a 23-year-old woman was brutally attacked, raped and left for dead by six men in Delhi. Her rape and murder have provoked calls for greater protection and rights for women and girls and reform of the law. However, the tragedy has also prompted calls for the death penalty, and there too, there is an assertion that it is the only proportionate reaction.

Amnesty is often asked to comment on calls for the death penalty prompted by the most horrific of cases, even in countries like the UK where we have not executed anyone for more than half a century – and the scale of the public outpouring of grief and rage in India at the moment, is testament to the way this case has galvanised outrage about sexual violence there. But it is sad to see people equate justice with the noose. Violence against women is endemic in India. It is rooted in many causes – a culture of discrimination against women, outdated laws on sexual assault and weak mechanisms to investigate and prosecute offenders. There are serious issues of injustice to tackle, but to jump to exacting revenge on the perpetrators, is to provide an ineffective answer to the wrong question.

This rape and murder did not happen because the death penalty was not used enough, it happened for many reasons, foremost of which are prevalent attitudes to women.

Submitting to the calls for the noose would not only be to answer one brutality with another, it would also be to ignore the real problem. Only meaningful reform of attitudes and the law so that women do not face the constant threat of sexual violence in India, can achieve the catharsis the country so badly needs.

You can read more in this comment piece on The Independent from Kate Allen, our Director.

You can also watch an interview from this morning’s Daybreak on ITV with our India campaigner, Sanhita Ambast, here (take the dial to 40:00).

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