Off with mercy: President leads chorus
President Ram Nath Kovind on Friday said there should be no scope of mercy for those sentenced to death for sexual abuse of children under the Pocso Act, throwing the weight of his office behind the clamour in Parliament for speedy justice in rape cases, with one MP even calling for public lynching.
“I have called for a review of the mercy provision allowed to those convicted under Pocso. Now it depends on Parliament as it would require a constitutional amendment. But we are progressing in this direction,” Kovind said in Mount Abu.
All death row convicts in India have the right to file a petition for mercy as a last resort, after all judicial options have been exhausted. The petition can be filed before a governor or the President.
The President — who takes oath to preserve and defend the Constitution and law — allowed himself to be moved by the dominant narrative of the day, deviating from his prepared text to speak about withdrawing the constitutional provision of mercy. He did not refer to any particular incident, but spoke on women’s safety in general.
Kovind was echoing a sentiment aired in the Rajya Sabha on Monday by chairman M. Venkaiah Naidu after members expressed outrage over the Hyderabad gang-rape and murder and disappointment that fast-track courts for sexual abuse cases had not delivered the desired results.
“Can anybody think of having mercy on such people? And why? Because some practice has been there for years together. The process is there. Then the state government to appeal, then the central government to appeal, then the home ministry and then the President…. We should really think about it to have a change in our legal system, in our judicial system,” Naidu said, amid calls for public lynching and castration being aired in Parliament.
The demand for lynching came from Jaya Bachchan, who said: “I think these kinds of people need to be brought out in public and lynched.”
DMK’s P. Wilson cited the example of Korea and California in the US to make a case for surgical or chemical castration for serious offences like rape and murder before such convicts are let off. A couple of other MPs also backed his call.
On Friday, Bachchan had this to say of the “encounter killing”: “Better late than never’’. She refused to comment on whether she wanted the same done for the Unnao rape accused.
While she was trolled on Monday, on Friday she had company in BSP leader Mayawati and RJD’s Rabri Devi, who said Uttar Pradesh and Bihar police should learn from their Hyderabad counterparts.
One person who stood out as a voice of reason in the collective celebration of the killings was former Union minister Maneka Gandhi. “What happened was horrifying for the country... You cannot kill people because you want to. You cannot take law in your hands, the accused would have been hanged by court anyhow,’’ she told journalists in Parliament. “If you’re going to shoot them before due process has been followed, then what’s the point of having courts, law, police?” she asked.