PUCL Bulletin, January 2003

Letter by -- Rukmini Sen, Fri, Dec 6, 2002
Why feminists oppose the death penalty for rapists

The Deputy Prime Minister of India proposed Death Penalty for rapists through a statement. Apart from any other arguments, Death Penalty, as such, is a violation of Human Rights.

Contrary to the common belief, the Feminist world was shocked and at a loss at this attitude.

The basis of such a statement is that "Rape" is the most heinous crime possible against women, that there is no difference between being killed and being raped, that if a woman is raped she is as good as "dead". My question is - is she?

As a woman who has interacted with women in various ways I want to answer this question. Being raped is nowhere close to dying. We don't die when we are raped. We may feel powerless, humiliated, insulted, hurt, angry etc for a while but Rape is another trauma. Life goes on after a trauma. We'll be traumatized if we are dragged from our house and stripped in front of a bunch of people. We'll feel the same if we are tortured by slaps, kicks, abuses. The point I am making is there are many more ways of getting physically and emotionally hurt. How and why is Rape different?

Is Rape different because a "sexual act" happens here? Is Rape different because one is getting "Sexually assaulted" here? Is "Sexual assault" necessarily more traumatic than any other "assault"? Does it all look so painful because in the hierarchy of "Sexual assaults" also rape tops considering legally rape happens only if there has been "peno-vaginal" penetration. Does it all look so traumatic because Peno-Vaginal penetration is the ultimate sexual act according to the normative population? Is it more so as one associates it with a woman's virginity and honour in our patriarchal society? My question is if a woman is severely sexually assaulted and somehow penetration hasn't occurred will she be any less traumatised? Are we women being told that our life ends if forcefully " vaginal penetration" occurs but if it doesn't "we can still live". Are we being told that if penetration is proved the rapist will die but if it isn't then nothing much happens?

The point is "Death Penalty" to rapists is a reinforcement of the same "honour-shame" syndrome. Moreover why will the rapist not get rid of all possible evidence, which might take him towards death penalty? Yes, I mean why will he not kill the rape survivor in the end of the day? Moreover why should we go by the Sexual Hierarchy set by our patriarchal society? A sexual assault is a sexual assault and can't be judged by the parameters of "penetration" alone. A Trauma is a trauma and can't be judged by the parameters of "Honour" and "Shame". In the end no woman loses her "honour" when she is raped. She loses it when she allows her mind to believe it.

Same goes for men also. So what if we are silent about it. Rape is another form of physical and emotional torture and what it requires is quick justice not irresponsible statements. Lastly death penalty can't be supported in any civilised state. Sincerely.

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