The shortest distance between two points is determination. By sentencing three of the four men in the Shakti Mills gang rape cases to death, a city sessions court in Mumbai has applied for the first time Section 376(E) of the law against rape enacted after the Delhi bus gang rape of December 2012. By this provision, ‘repeat’ offenders in rape invite either imprisonment for the rest of their life or death. The sentence should send an unambiguous message to molesters and rapists, and its impact has been made stronger by the fairly short time between the law’s enactment and its implementation. Side by side, the Kerala High Court’s verdict on the long-fought Suryanelli case, in which a girl was abducted and taken on rounds where she was allegedly raped 67 times by 41 men before being set free, has found 24 people guilty. The same court had acquitted all the accused in 2005. This verdict is the result of a fresh hearing ordered by the Supreme Court in 2013. The impact of this verdict, too, is a strong one, since this was the first major sex racket case in Kerala. That there may be glimmers of institutional concern about the unabated violence against women is also suggested by the fact that the Calcutta High Court has taken suo motu cognizance of the suicide of a raped woman in Malda as a result of additional insults in the local court.
The actions of these courts at different levels in different regions seem to promise a more determined approach to crimes against women. The death sentence, however, stands out, not only because of its firmness, but also because, unlike in the 2012 Delhi rape case that turned into murder, the women in the Shakti Mills cases are alive. For those against capital punishment per se, neither matters: the State cannot send anyone to death. This, however, is not the space to discuss that. The point here is that many activists and thinkers do not want capital punishment for rape. For one, the low conviction rate for rape would drop further, and two, rapists would incline more towards murder to lessen chances of identification. These practical objections need to be examined. Still, it is heartening to see that India’s justice system can move fast if it wants to. The Shakti Mills case exemplifies that, for fast movement in crimes against women would itself act partly as deterrent and partly as an institutional expression of zero tolerance.