Five men were officially charged today with the rape and murder of Jyoti Singh Pandey, the 23-year-old student from Delhi. The charges brought against the five men — the sixth attacker is 17 years old and will be charged separately as a minor — could get them the death penalty. And it should.
The case has sparked protests across India, calling for more protections for women and justice for Jyoti. The country and the world will be watching the trial closely to see if their cries have been heard.
India’s problem with keeping women safe, which has become glaringly clear since this gang rape, will not be solved by either public outcry or harsh punishment. There needs to be change from the bottom up — parents teaching their sons how to treat women, people working on a grassroots level to change attitudes toward women — as well as from the top down — increased police presence and swift and harsh punishment of offenders. The change will not come easily or quickly and it will require a unified commitment of the people and government of India.
The outcome of this trial will determine whether the movement to keep women in India safe will gain momentum and make real change, or fizzle out after the initial burst of outrage. How better to mark the beginning of a new era of taking violence against women seriously than to send the message that perpetrators will pay the ultimate price?
I’m aware that there are lots of people who believe that the death penalty is morally wrong; that no matter what the crime, it’s not worth taking a human life. But as I see it, someone who would brutally beat and rape a woman so badly that her intestines were destroyed and had to be removed, who would terrorize her for hours and then leave her by the side of the road to die, doesn’t count as a human life.
My only hesitation regarding the death penalty is the possibility of false conviction. But if someone is truly guilty of a crime such as this one, I feel less than zero concern for whether they get to keep breathing, keep feeling sunshine on their faces like their victim never will again.
Life in prison is certainly a harsh punishment, but even in prison there’s the possibility of fleeting moments of peace, or even enjoyment, and that’s something these monsters don’t deserve.