Special: Not many cheers for death penalty

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Aubrey Menen, the well known writer with roots in Kerala, once noted that the famous ‘Tryst with Destiny’ speech of Jawaharlal Nehru over the All India Radio on the midnight of August 14, 1947 was heard by less than a 1,000 people.
But nobody can say this about the special court judgment on the Delhi rape case delivered on Friday as every detail was beamed into homes by cameras of 24/7 television news channels across the country.
The tri-colour wielding crowd yelling for the maximum punishment for the culprits outside the fast track court in Saketh, Delhi, received due attention too. But whether all of this signals a change in society’s attitude to women is far from clear.
DC asks a cross section of women and students from various colleges in Kerala and outside for their views on the death penalty awarded to the four accused by the fast track court and  whether the whole affair  has become a media circus and a transient spectacle  to be soon replaced by another.
The hype surrounding the Delhi rape and the court verdict reminds Dr M.G. Mallika, a faculty member of the Department of Economics, Guruvayoorappan College, Kozhik­ode, of the Society of Spectacle referred to by Guy Debord.
“How can one take pride in a judgment that condemns to death a few individuals who have already ceased to be alive long ago? I am afraid that the social and economic conditions that engender criminality are being forgotten in the exuberance over the judgment,” she said.
In her view all the hype over the judgement is reminiscent of the  five principle features of Debord’s Society of Spectacle  characterised by the combined effects of “incessant technological renewal, integration of state and economy, generalised secrecy, unanswerable lies and an eternal present.”    
Taking a more optimistic stance, Dr Jesica Sudhir, assistant professor of English literature at Nenmara College, says the judgment will have a salutory impact on society. “The important thing in the Delhi rape case is the swiftness with which the government and judiciary responded to it,” she observed.
Echoing her sentiments, Rajwa K, a second year BA English literature student of the Governm­ent Arts College, Kozhikode, says the verdict has broken the silence of the judiciary on such crimes.
“The Delhi incident has become a symbol of the  every day dangers women face in our country where a rape is reported  every 21 minutes. The verdict might not completely eradicate such crimes in our country but it will at least instill fear in the minds of those who indulge in them,” she said.
“As a girl this is one of the happiest days in my life,” exulted Aiswarya Sudhakar, a second year degree student of the Women’s College, Thiruvananthapuaram. But she wants the judiciary and the government to take a similar fast track approach to the thousands of other cases of crimes against women piling up in courts across the country.     
To Raniyal Niyada, a fourth semester LLB student at the Gove­rnment Law College, Kozhikode  the verdict is not very encouraging, as  it will only help  perpetuate an attitude of retribution, in her view. She underlines that the judiciary must adopt a more serious app­roach to issues like the Delhi rape instead of focusing on a particular incident. 
Saranya T, a research fellow at Bengaluru University, too stresses that the issue of violence against woman goes beyond crime and punishment. “Violence against women is linked to the entire oppressive apparatus prevailing in society and resisting it needs long term strategies and a conscious effort to respect the dignity of a woman as an individual,” she noted.
“The punishment itself won’t make a difference to the mounting cases of rape in our country,” agreed Agish­ma, an MA literature student at the Calicut University. A change of attitude is crucial for  ending such crimes, she believes. “But the judiciary is acting at the right time and I hope it will help in changing the reputation of India as a country unsafe for women,” she added.
The fight against sexual violence needs to be linked with the battle against other forms of oppression, asserts Maya John, a researcher at the Department of History, University of Delhi.
“If our civilisation wants to overcome the conditions that foster sexual violence and oppression, and if we truly desire a sexual revolution, then our efforts should be aimed at building socialism– a transformation, which alongside the struggle against oppression stemming from various identities (gender, caste, religion, tribe etc) also requires the intensification of the struggle against class stratification,” she wrote in an essay titled Class Societies and Sexual Violence: Towards a Marxist Understanding of Rape.
To Bhavya Mohan, a student of Women’s College doing her final year MA (English literature), the decision of the Delhi Saketh court to give the accused a death penalty is a brave one. “The court has to be congratulated for  the speedy trial . Women are likely to be more ass­ertive and courageous in reacting to such incidents,” she maintained.
Chairperson of the Government Women’s College, Thiruvananthap­uram, Arya Meher, perhaps echoed the sentiments of many when she said, “This was one verdict we wanted. We have been waiting for this. However, it should be ensured that the verdict does not remain only on paper. It should be  translated into reality.”

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