With the unfortunate passing of a Woman who was brutally raped in India last month, debate has erupted over the Indian punishments for rape. The harshest penalty under current Indian law is a life sentence, but many think it should go further. Commentators and stakeholders are calling for the death penalty for rape, and some are even campaigning for chemical castration to be meted out in especially heinous cases. I have to be honest; this worries me.
Let’s leave aside the usual “we shouldn’t stoop their (the rapists) level” argument for a moment, and instead focus on the fallibility of the criminal justice system, especially in India. In my opinion, before an irreversible punishment (like death or castration) is meted out, it should be absolutely certain that the person is guilty. But we can never be certain, because the criminal justice system is fallible. For example, according to the Innocence Project more than 300 people have now been exonerated by DNA in America alone, by that process alone. 18 of those exonerated were on Death Row when they were exonerated. They were tried, convicted and sentenced to death when they were innocent. They were only found to be innocent because of time, money, will power and better technology. This is hardly a great advertisement for the criminal justice system, and this is in America, where these resources are aplenty. What would happen in India? What would happen especially in the case of rape trials, which are especially emotionally charge and sometimes based on tenuous evidence?
I agree with the general consensus that something should be done. Of course something should be done. But instead of putting more responsibility and power in a fallible system, resources should instead be directed to stop these attacks and persecute the perpetrators under the current system. In other words, resources should be directed to strengthen the current system (maybe make it a little less fallible). The simple fact is, our criminal justice systems are in no way perfect, and our societies should not be tempted to kill or mutilate our fellow human beings based on the outcome of imperfect systems. We are better than that. The perpetrators deserve to be punished, but while we cannot be completely sure they are the perpetrators, we should not do anything we cannot take back. Isn’t a life sentence close enough to castration anyway?