Is shariah then the right thing for rapists?
Throughout history, crime and punishment have gone hand in hand. Protesters in Delhi, infuriated by a grotesque gang rape of a 23-year-old girl, have demanded the death penalty for such offenders, which was first publicly raised by BJP leader LK Advani many years ago.
To me, such a demand sounded astonishing because it seemed a call for a shariah-like punishment by another name.
At a time when, generally, there has been a drift away from death penalties in liberal democracies and vehement denouncement of shariah, calls for a greater degree of application of the ultimate punishment proves that when horrendous crimes jolt a society’s collective conscience, people want serious punishments meted out.
The punishment for rape in Islam is same as that for zina, or sex outside marriage, which is death by stoning if the offender is married, and 100 lashes if he is not. Modern death penalties may not be handed out as drastically as stoning, but whatever the means, the goal of a death penalty is death.
Shariah duties are broadly divided into those that a believer owes to Allah and those that relates to behaviour in society. It is the latter set of duties that constitutes the domain of modern law.
The objectives of shariah punishment are both reform (as in the case of 100 lashes) and retribution (as in death penalty). Deterrence is the third dimension. I am neither suggesting taking a leaf out of shariah nor suggesting that death penalty will be a guaranteed deterrent for potential rapists.
A state of law and order requires both respect and fear of law. Delhi has neither. Perhaps, it is because of legacies of a feudal society. Perhaps, it is the result of largescale migration from other states. Whatever the case, the brazenness of some recent crimes suggests some drastic measures in selective cases are required. A greater application of the death penalty may be one of them. None of this is to discount the role of crime prevention, which to a large extent, is singularly a policing function.