Seeking medieval justice for rape Tuesday, Jan 1 2013 

The demand for castration or death for rape victims smack of medieval justice and side lines the real need for police and judicial reforms and social reforms.

Harsh punishments will not solve the problem as long as a large number of people involved in sexual offences could escape punishment. The conviction rates are low in Indian courts, and when it comes to rape and sexual offences, it is still lower.  A high conviction rate only will help to check the crimes.

Now a lot of influential people are immune to laws and protest against this is muted. Protests occur and speedy actions happen only when the accused are less influential and backward. The demand for harsher punishments such as castration and capital sentence against such people is remnants of the medieval practice of an eye for eye and casteist systems that did not recognise equality before law.

The Union government is fully justified in not convening the Parliament to discuss harsher punishments for rapists. Changes of laws were something that is to be done with due deliberation. Discussion in Parliament should await the report of the commission appointed by the Central government. It is to be remembered that sex is not always the prime motivational factor behind rape. A criminal mentality that enjoys violence and dominance is always behind it.

What is actually needed is social engineering and better enforcement of existing laws. It is notable that many of those involved in such crimes are people who had been implicated in minor offences before they started committing serious crimes. If they had been booked and punished earlier, the chances of their thinking or getting opportunity to commit serious crimes would have been lower. In the Delhi case itself, it is notable that the bus was plying without the necessary papers. Though the operators had been caught four times, they were let off without preventive action. This calls for major improvements in the administration of justice.


Laws that make you insecure

Land policy may be an eyewash Sunday, Jan 6 2008 

Cropping patternsThe draft Kerala Land Policy, released by the Government last week, is to be taken with a pinch of salt.

It is an attempt to refurbish the image of the Government tarnished by its failure to reclaim encroached Government lands. It also vows by the land reforms to neutralise the publicity over the Industries Secretary’s proposal to roll back land reforms. (The law, he said, had outlived the need.)

Policy contains hardly any specific proposals on crucial and controversial issues. Where it states something specific, it is established policy like land and titles for the poor (including tribals) and settlers and the poor. The test of the policy will be whether the government takes clear stand on various issues and implements the policy

The policy tries to create the impression that it is absence of laws that lead to encroachment and irregular land transactions. However, it is the government’s failure to enforce the laws that lead to irregularities.

Here is a sampler from the policy: The Government will take measures, including legislative measures, to strongly prevent illegal purchases of land and amassment of properties. Note that the sentence itself says that the purchases in question are illegal. Then, who do the Government need another law to prevent them?

The Government may argue that it needed stringent laws to check the abuse. However, experience shows that stringent laws with bigger punishments are not the answer when the problem is basically the unwillingness of the Government machinery to enforce the laws. A case in point is the Anti Social Activities Act, providing for preventive detention. The law has not served to bring down crimes.