Don't let them off this easily

The protests in Delhi has the Government reeling back in shock. Once again we see the extent of disconnect between the people and our leaders. They had no idea how much rage was simmering among the people. They never fathomed such a reaction. Hence they never took to solving the problem seriously.

Now it is in their face and they do not know what to do. So instead they have found a quick fix yet again: Increase the severity of the punishment. The Government now plans to quickly pass a new amendment to appease the public and claim that they responded swiftly to the situation when they beg for votes next year. It is disappointing that they may get away with it.

The demand for an increase in punishment for rapists has been gaining momentum for a while now. Many prominent leaders, both in the government and outside it, have been debating in its favour. This would be a mistake. Why are we obsessed with the idea of killing the rapist or giving him a life sentence? Why are we discussing how to make his life more miserable after he gets caught, when the chances are he won't? In our thirst for a quick solution and instant revenge has anyone realised that we might be encouraging murder?

Let us be straight here; we have no reason to believe that the problem is leniency of the punishment. We have plenty of reasons to believe it is the lack of enforcement. The all India conviction rate for rapes stands at 26.4%. Effectively, 1 in 4 victims who dared to report the crime get justice. The cases which are not reported? That is a whole different story.

It is not like the nuisance, that is our justice system, is not covered, but it is not given the spot light it deserves. This is the only way forward. We need a combination of judicial and police reforms that will permit a higher conviction rate of rapists and give confidence to the people that they shall receive justice. Instead we are adovacating a solution not completely thought through with major side effects.

Assume we punish rapists with capital punishment and think this scenario through: A man stands over a girl after violating her. She is lying incapacitated after the ordeal completely at his mercy. This man now contemplates his choices: He could kill her effortlessly in her current state, thus eliminating the only person who could recognise him. If caught, he would get the death penalty. On the other hand, if he left her alive it would increase the chances of being convicted substantially, on which he would be killed anyway. What will he do?

I am fully aware of how cold my logic may sound, but this is simple game theory. The dominant strategy for the rapist will always be to murder the victim and increase his chances of survival. What we hoped would deter rape, could potentially just increase rape and murder. Furthermore, it could also reduce the conviction rate due to lack of evidence!

The fault lines have existed for ages, and the recent gang rape just gave it the impetus it needed to reveal the extent to which the anger had festered. This is an excellent opportunity to demand action from the Government, but we should not be satisfied by a half thought out amendment. The Government will give it to us and wash their hands off the whole situation. We should instead fight for deeper structural reforms. Let's not allow them to divert the focus from the main issue. Don't give them a choice. Ask for reforms. Ask for results.