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Rage about rape, but...

Aparna Sen and Javed Akhtar at the session

On the day the Centre sent to the President an ordinance with a provision for capital punishment for rape “in exceptional cases”, a star panel of writers, film personalities and activists at the Kolkata Literary Meet unanimously, well almost, agreed that death penalty was not going to act as a deterrent to rape and was not the best solution. The last session on Day Three, The KaLaM Question, saw actress Sharmila Tagore, poet and lyricist Javed Akhtar, author Kunal Basu, Delhi-based human rights lawyer Vrinda Grover, author and activist Anita Agnihotri and Google India corporate communications head Paroma Roy Chowdhury discuss “Will capital punishment for rape help or hinder justice” with actress and director Aparna Sen in the middle. Snapshots…

Vrinda Grover: “The death penalty is not warranted for any crime. Awarding the death penalty never acts as a deterrent.”

Paroma Roy Chowdhury: “Rape is a heinous crime and I don’t want my taxes to pay for the upkeep of such people.”

Javed Akhtar: “First, people who are insisting on capital punishment believe that after being raped the woman becomes a zinda laash, that she is damaged for life. I disagree! Second, judges are conservative about giving capital punishment and any suspicion will give the benefit of doubt to the rapist. What is much more important is better investigation.”

Kunal Basu: “Criminals don’t consider consequences before committing a crime, hence capital punishment cannot be a deterrent. We have no laws to penalise rape abetters, all those people who hinder justice to the victims like police officers and lawyers. For them, it could be social or political penalties.”

Anita Agnihotri: “The punishment process is not correct. What happens during the first 96 hours? The woman can’t even go to the police station without being accompanied by a man and without being asked about her antecedents and character.”

Sharmila Tagore: “Death is not the ultimate punishment, what is needed is rigorous imprisonment. And rape happens within the family, how many people can you kill? We need to talk about how to change the mindset that women are the repositories of morality.”

Aparna Sen: “Since cinema is such a powerful medium, why do we not try to work with the government so we can use cinema as a medium of gender sensitisation in schools?”

The session ended with Akhtar reciting his poem Doraha, that he had written for his daughter Zoya, which he dedicated to “women everywhere”.