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Govt favours rape death penalty, women don’t

New Delhi, Nov. 26: Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani today said the government favours death penalty for rapists but women’s organisations and NGOs rejected the proposal, pointing to the poor conviction rate and discrepancies in laws dealing with the assault.

“The punishment is quite tough as it is in the existing law against rape. The problem is of conviction and not the degree of punishment,” said Kirti Singh, a lawyer with the All India Democratic Women’s Association. “We are totally opposed to it. This is a ridiculous suggestion — nothing but a gimmick.”

Advani told the Lok Sabha the government would like to enact a law in consultation with states and political parties for sentencing rapists to death. “I feel the punishment for rape should be death. However, I would like to get the point of view of political parties and state governments in this regard,” he said, intervening during Question Hour.

Responding to Congress MPs Margaret Alva and Renuka Chowdhury’s demand for stringent punishment for those guilty of the assault, he said many members had expressed the view that if someone commits murder, the person is hanged. Rape is worse than that but no such punishment is meted out to the culprit.

The deputy Prime Minister said he had supported such stringent punishment for rapists as far back as in 1998 but pointed out that many states and women’s organisations were not in its favour.

On their part, women’s activists made it clear that what they wanted was an overhaul of the “archaic” rape laws and not just a tinkering with the form of punishment, which, they say, will only “worsen” the situation. “They should first strengthen the law machinery in such a manner that conviction takes place,” said Jyotsna Chatterjee of the Joint Women’s Programme, echoing Kirti Singh.

“Even if you bring in a death sentence, no judge will be willing to use it,” said Indira Jaisingh of the Lawyers’ Collective.

Earlier, the Lok Sabha saw a strong demand cutting across party lines that women be given adequate protection and laws regarding rape amended. “The way women are being raped, hope we are safe at least in Parliament,” Alva said.

Her party colleague Chowdhury wanted to know the problem in implementing laws on preventing atrocities against women and gave a spin to the inaction in rape cases. “We are being kept out of Parliament and that is also a kind of a rape,” she said. “Why are you not implementing the 33 per cent seat reservation for women in elected bodies'”

In his reply on the plight of rape victims, minister of state for home I.D. Swami outlined various measures taken to protect women, including the setting up of police stations manned by women and a cell to deal with crimes against women.

Swami said the government has involved 12,000 NGOs, which deal specifically with issues related to women, and added that the Centre has asked the states to help these organisations.

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