PACHU MENON, MARGAO
IT is indeed remarkable to note the haste with which the government decides on promulgating laws against crimes that hold the nation’s attention no sooner they repulse the public for their sheer heinousness. News that the Union government has approved an ordinance to award the death penalty to those convicted of raping a child up to 12 years of age coming in the backdrop of the nationwide outrage over the recent spate of rape and murder of girls in different parts of the country is an example of this ‘forced response’. The infamous Nirbhaya case which saw the ‘timely’ amendment of the criminal laws making a provision for awarding death sentence in case the woman either dies or is reduced to a vegetative state after rape could well be the first instance where public outrage against a horrendous act made the administration shrug its ennui and enact laws that dealt with perpetrators of such atrocities in a stern manner. However, that it took over three decades after the Chopra siblings’ kidnapping and murder case of ‘78 which saw similar sentiments and a sense of revulsion running deep within the populace against Billa and Ranga who portrayed everything that was evil to make improvements on the earlier laws paints a very sorry picture of the criminal justice system in the country. If the monstrosity of a crime, and the public uproar over it, has to decide the quantum of punishment to be met out to the offenders, is our system of law enforcement anything better than those of the Khap panchayats, or Kangaroo courts, that dot villages and non-urban areas of contemporary India which is known to create a dangerous threat to the stability of the regular tiers of the justice system. One of the benchmarks of a truly egalitarian society is a steady and reliable system of justice and not one which places exceptional reliance on ‘public mood’ to decide on the gravity of the crime and the necessary punishment. Moreover, when the whole world stands divided on the issue of capital punishment it is but natural that prolonged debates on whether a particular crime qualifies to be termed ‘the rarest of rare’ warranting the statutory death penalty – and the perennial delay in executing the sentence once decreed – will only deny justice to the victims.