Should we punish murderers by murdering them?

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On Tuesday, six men were found guilty of the horrific gang rape of an Indian woman on a bus in Delhi, which led to her death. Today they’ll be sentenced.

Activists have taken to the streets, calling for the four (one defendant hanged himself in his cell, another was tried in a juvenile court) to receive the death penalty.

This rape and murder – not an isolated case, it happens more often than many realise – of a young woman was horrendous. It’s absolutely inexcusable. But will the death of those four men stop this from happening again?

I’m fervently anti the death penalty and this is why: in a culture where hiding women away, denying them access to an education, beating them, forcing them to marry, raping them within marriages, preventing them from working, forcing them to sell their bodies and setting fire to them for pre-marital contact with a man is the norm, how do men and women learn about equality? About right and wrong?

Young men are growing up being told that they have power over women; they control women. Men dress as they like, women have to cover their bodies; they’re seen as seductresses and if they’re not covered up they’ll cause unwitting desire in men.

And so women mostly do cover up, and do oblige. But men already have the notion instilled in them that they own women’s bodies.

When those men attacked that innocent young student on a bus in Delhi, they must’ve known – at some level – that what they were doing was wrong. Seeing a woman screaming out in pain is not right. But they continued because they believed they owned that woman’s body – that it was theirs to do what they liked with.

Those men should be jailed for life. They stole a life and, in doing so, forfeited their own. But should they be killed for behaving in a manner that has been, until now, deemed by some as excusable and normal?

Hanging them might prevent other men from doing the same thing. But it might not. Think of all the executions that have been carried out in the past, has that stopped people raping and murdering?

What needs to happen (and what is happening) is for the power balance between men and women to shift; to even out. Women in India need to be granted the same human rights as men. They need to be educated, to be allowed to work, to be allowed to dress however they like, to choose their own relationships.

There are religious and cultural beliefs about the role of women and men in society – and people are entitled to their beliefs, and their faith – but NO ONE is entitled to claim ownership over someone else’s body. Our bodies are the one thing, without exception, that belong to us.

Men can choose their faith and how they want to live, as can women, but can’t choose how others live.

Another recent – and outrageous – story relating to the affects of a patriarchal society that teaches men to rape and abuse is that of the 8-year-old ‘bride’ in Yemen.

This young girl was forced to marry a man four (or five – there’ve been varying reports) times her age and died on her wedding night from internal injuries – the result of being raped by her ‘husband’.

Again, this man has been taught that choosing a child for a bride is culturally and socially acceptable. And that she becomes his property to abuse as he pleases. In the eyes of society, this is apparently just what happens.

I hope the four men in Delhi are sentenced to life for what they did to that student. And I hope the man who raped an 8-year-old girl is too. As I said, there must’ve been something in all those men telling them that what they were doing was wrong. But they carried on regardless, because so many people have got away with it before them.

Locking them up for life will send out a message: rape and murder is wrong. But killing them will send out the message that when someone does something wrong (remember: in some cultures adultery is a sin, as is dressing the wrong way) they should be killed. We need to get away from the idea that any behaviour is punishable by death.

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