After the death sentence against four rapists, the Catholic development aid organization Misereor calls for a rethink in India. The Asian Centre for Human Rights ACHR also does not believe that the verdict could deter other perpetrators.
"Instead of immediate vendettas, there is a need for real reforms, for example in the police and judicial system. That would be a greater satisfaction than the death penalty for the four convicts," said Anna Dirksmeier, the India officer at Misereor, to the Internet portal katholisch on Friday.de in Bonn. "As a Christian charity, we are of course not in favor of the death penalty. Most of our local partners in the country also share this opinion."
Dirksmeier is counting on the worldwide public attention for the mass rapes to lead to changes in India. For example, declining tourist numbers could bring about reforms. The Misereor spokeswoman pointed out that Indian authorities often send women who want to file charges home without having done so. "Too many cases are left by the courts and end with impunity. There are many good laws, but they are not implemented."
According to Misereor, the situation is particularly hostile to women in rural regions. The charity and its local partners supported, among other things, groups where women can come together and talk about their problems with the patriarchy. "In rural areas, society is very misogynistic and women's lives are not worth much," Dirksmeier said.
The four adult rapists and murderers of a 23-year-old student in India had been sentenced to death on Friday. Judge Yogesh Khanna, pronouncing the verdict, said it was a "bestial crime" that had shaken the consciousness of society. He thus followed the request of the prosecution.
Defense lawyers for the men, aged 19 to 26, had demanded prison sentences – one of the young men broke down in tears after the verdict was handed down. The victim's brother said his sister wanted to see the men burned alive. 'Now her soul can rest in peace'."
Pardon petition to the president possible
The four men, along with two other perpetrators, had kidnapped the 23-year-old Indian woman on a bus in New Delhi in December, raped her one after the other and injured her so severely with an iron bar, among other things, that she died of it two weeks later.
The extremely gruesome crime against the student had startled the whole of India and led to weeks of protests against sex crimes. Protesters again stood outside the courthouse Friday demanding the hanging for the rapists.
On Tuesday, the judge had already found the men guilty of murder, gang rape, kidnapping and numerous other crimes. Now he announced the sentence. The death penalty is provided for in the Indian judiciary only in the "rarest of rare cases".
The verdict is not yet final, the defense lawyers want to appeal. The case could go through two more instances, then an appeal for clemency to the president is also possible.
The death penalty was imposed 78 times in India last year, according to human rights organization Amnesty International. Hundreds of people are currently on the death list. However, executions are hardly ever carried out, most recently in 1995, 2004 and 2012 and 2013.
One of the perpetrators of the 16. December was found hanged in his prison cell. Whether it was murder or suicide is not yet clear. Also involved was a youth who received the maximum sentence of three years of juvenile detention at the end of August.
In the courtroom, the four men from poor backgrounds were unable to follow the trial for long stretches because they did not speak English and were not provided with a translator, which is not unusual in India. The request of the defense lawyers to have the more than 1000-page indictment translated into Hindi had been rejected. The victim's family also complained about the language problem: "We don't understand what is going on at all."
The four men worked as cab drivers, assistant conductors, gym employees and fruit vendors before their arrests. Most of them had moved to the capital, living together in a slum. Judge Khanna stated in the ruling that he also wanted to send a signal to others. "In these times when more and more crimes are being committed against women, the penalties must act as a great deterrent to these offenders."Courts should not look the other way in the case of such cruel crimes.
The Asian Centre for Human Rights ACHR, however, does not believe the verdict could deter other offenders. Although a man from the state of West Bengal was hanged in 2004 for the rape and murder of a girl, the number of assaults on women increased thereafter, he said.