Castration as punishment for rape? The debate intensifies

By Madhulika Sonkar, IANS,

New Delhi : The often emotive debate over whether rape convicts should be castrated is back in the public domain. A Delhi judge’s suggestion that castration, whether surgical or chemical, be explored as a punishment for rape has reopened the issue with some experts advising caution and others saying it could be justified.

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At the centre of the debate is the law for rape, which provides for up to seven years’ life imprisonment, and its implementation. While many women feel that only an extreme step like castration can be effective punishment for so vicious a crime, a section in feminist and legal circles feel it is too medieval and some thought is needed before it is introduced.

“I don’t support castration at all. It’s barbaric, and takes us back to medieval times. Rather, we should make an effort to improve the implementation of existing laws,” Centre for Social Research Director Ranjana Kumari told IANS.

“It’s better if the judiciary emphasises on dispensing the cases faster. Just because the current laws are not being implemented properly, you get to see a rise in cases. Castration may not deter the criminals from committing the crime again,” she said.

Supreme Court advocate Meenakshi Lekhi felt a little differently.

“To call castration medieval is not justified considering what the child victims of rape and molestation go through. The law is for the protection of the victim after all,”said Lekhi, who was earlier with the National Commission for Women.

“Castration as a punishment for rape really needs to be thought over. Not because it is cruel or takes us back to the medieval times, but because the judiciary is trying to point out that something stringent really needs to come up for a crime like rape,” Lekhi told IANS.

The issue arose after additional sessions judge at Delhi’s Rohini Court Kamini Lau suggested castration as an alternative punishment for rapists while hearing the case against a man who had raped his 15-year-old stepdaughter for over four years.

“The Indian legislatures are yet to… address the issue (of rape) with all seriousness by exploring the possibility of permitting imposition of alternative sentences of surgical castration or chemical castration, particularly in cases involving rape of minors, serial offenders and child molesters or as a condition for probation, or as an alternative sentence in case of plea bargaining,” she said.

Chemical castration is administration of medication designed to reduce libido and sexual activity, usually in the hope of preventing rapists, child molesters and other sex offenders from repeating their crimes. In surgical castration, the testes or ovaries are removed through an incision in the body.

Countries such as the US, Britain, Germany and Poland use chemical castration as an alternative. Surgical castration is much less used.

Legal experts emphasise on the need for proper research and advocacy.

“Currently, we don’t have the right amount of data or research that is required before introducing castration in the country. We also need to see if the quantum of punishment can lead to a decrease in the crime rate,” said Paroma Ray, programme officer at Lawyers Collective Women’s Rights Initiative.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), 21,467 rape cases were registered in 2008, indicating an increase of 10.9 percent between 2006 and 2008. Madhya Pradesh topped the list with 2,998 cases, followed by West Bengal (2,336), Uttar Pradesh (1,759), Assam (1,631) and Rajasthan (1,519).

Conviction rate is abysmal.

“India has a rape conviction rate of four-five percent. This low conviction rate is because there is too much societal pressure on the victim, sometimes the victim is threatened, or it’s because of the social taboo associated with life after rape,” said Lekhi.

Women’s activist Annie Raja believes the debate is beyond a discussion on medieval or modern punishment for rape.

“The judiciary as well as the legislature need to take a look at the implementation of existing laws, before introducing something new,” Raja said.

“At the same time it calls for attention on the increasing number of cases and the dire to need to find the root cause of the problem that is causing a spurt in the number of cases,” added Raja.

(Madhulika Sonkar can be contacted at [email protected])