Indian Prosecutors Create ‘Legitimate Rape’ Exception to Death Penalty

NEW DELHI — The death sentences handed down for the four men convicted in last December’s lethal gang rape aboard a private bus helped bring closure to the victim’s family, who hope  the law will stem violence against women, which has run rampant in India for decades.

Others are more skeptical, including some  tasked with responding to the increasing number of reports of sexual violence in New Delhi, a city long known as the “rape capital of India.” They suggest that the court system has no right to weigh in on cases of “legitimate” rape, which, by definition are lawful.

Raj Kapur, a lawyer assigned to the new fast-track court designed to handle sexual assaults in the country, indicated that he has adopted this special designation of rape—a term with no established legal or medical validity—from a statement made by Former U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., during his unsuccessful bid for the Senate last year.

“As I understand it, if it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,”said Kapur. “The onus is on them. So instead of taxing and already overwhelmed judicial system, why not just mandate that women sign up for one of the many self-defense courses cropping up around the country and save us some trouble?”

Still, the intense public outcry that erupted following the December assult has pressured the government into reluctant action, as reports of rape in Delhi over the past eight months have doubled relative to the same period in 2011.

According to Kapur, “The government should tread cautiously before deciding that ‘no’ means ‘no,’ even in legitimate cases of benign ‘eve-teasing,’ another dismissive term used to describe acts of sexual harassment in India.

Like many in the country, including some of India’s most prominent women’s rights advocates, Kapur has decided that the death sentences would prove more of a distraction than a deterrent—and invite irreversible miscarriages of justice. One recent poll indicates that 40 percent of the population believes the death penalty should be abolished.

Kapur’s preferred course of action, however, has angered many progressives looking for a more systemic solution to the widespread problem. “As I see it,” said Kapur, “an all-male panel of landowners should make the decision as to whether the perpetrator’s actions constitute illegitimate rape, which, of course, should be punished. Anything else should fall under what I’m calling the ‘Akin Exception,’ and we should just look the other way—much as we’ve always done here.”