Fact-check: PM’s claim about expedited justice in crime against women

On January 30, Prime Minister Narendra Modi interacted with young professionals at the New India Youth Conclave in Surat during his day-long visit to Gujarat. Addressing the conclave, Modi claimed that after he entered office, for cases of rape, culprits have been sentenced within a month of the crime.

At 28:30 mins in the video posted by PMO India, Modi can be heard saying, “इस देश में बलात्कार पहले भी होते थे। समाज की इस बुराई, कलंक ऐसा है कि आज भी उस घटनाओं को सुनने को मिलता है। माथा शर्म से झुक जाता है, दर्द होता है लेकिन आज 3 दिन में फांसी, 7 दिन मे 11 दिन में फांसी, एक महीने में फांसी लगातार उन बेटियों को न्याय दिलाने के लिए एक के बाद एक कदम उठाए जा रहे हैं और नतीजे नजर आ रहे हैं। लेकिन देश का दुर्भाग्य है कि बलात्कार की घटना तो 7 दिन तक टीवी पर चलाई जाती है लेकिन फांसी की सजा की खबर आकर के चली जाती है।”

Translation: Earlier too, rapes were committed in the country. It is a social evil and such a stigma that we still hear about such incidents. (Our) heads hang in shame, it hurts, but today, death sentences (फांसी) in three days, in seven days, in eleven days, in a month. We are continuously taking steps to ensure justice for those daughters and the results are evident. It is unfortunate for the country that TV channels run news about incidents of rape for seven days, but news about death sentencenews about death sentence verdicts never gets prominence.

Misquoted by BJP & ANI

The official Twitter handle of BJP misquoted Modi’s statement by saying, “लेकिन आज अपराधियों को 3,7,11,30 दिन में फांसी होती है (But today culprits are being hanged in 3, 7, 11, 30 days -translated)”. As stated in the complete translation above, he was referring to the death sentences awarded within a month of the crime, and NOT the execution itself.

ANI has also misquoted the Prime Minister by stating, “Now, culprits are hanged within 3 days, 7days, 11 days & a month.” Reading the translation, it is evident that “Fansi” was translated to word “hanged”, whereas it should have been “death sentence” in context of the statement. A little later in his speech, PM Modi refers to Fansi ki sazaa (death sentence).

Fast-track sentencing in individual rape cases

Here, PM Modi was referring to the cases in which death sentence was pronounced in record timings by the local courts. A few such instances are presented below.

In August 2018, a local court in Madhya Pradesh had sentenced a man to life-imprisonment for raping a six-year-old girl. A report published by The Indian Express on August 8, 2018 stated, “Datia Additional Sessions Judge Hitendra Dwivedi awarded life sentence to Motilal Ahirwar (25) after convicting him under section 376 (A)(B) of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance 2018 introduced recently as well as provisions of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, prosecution officer Pushpendra Kumar Garg said”. The trial was completed in three working days.

Another local court in Indore, Madhya Pradesh had sentenced a man to death for raping and killing a three-month-old girl near Rajwada. An article published by The Times of India stated, “The death sentence will be executed after it is confirmed by the high court”. The accused was convicted within a record 21 days.

In July 2017, Rajkumar Kol, an autorickshaw driver was sentenced to death for raping a minor by a court in Katni, in Madhya Pradesh after a trail that lasted for five day.. “He was arrested on July 7. Police filed the chargesheet on June 12 and the hearing on the case started on June 23.”, stated a Times of India report published on July 27, 2018. Three months later, reports emerged that the Madhya Pradesh High Court had commuted the death sentence to rigorous imprisonment for 20 years. In two more individual rape cases from Rajasthan and Karnataka, culprits were awarded a death sentence within 22 days.

Hence, the statement made by Modi does not tally with the figures. However, he is not entirely off the mark in stating that death sentences have been pronounced within a month of the commitment of a crime of rape.

Death sentences in 2017

According to a IndiaSpend report, a total of 109 prisoners were sentenced with capital punishment in the year 2017, out of which 43 were sentenced to death for murder involving sexual offences, with the main offence being rape along with murder. It also stated, “This was up 79% from 24 persons who were awarded the death sentence for similar crimes in 2016.”

Photo credit: IndiaSpend and Amnesty International

Scenario of capital punishment in India in last 14 years

Considering the broad principle laid out by the Supreme Court in which only crimes related to the ‘rarest of the rare’ category qualify for capital punishment, the number of capital punishment cases across the country are few. Furthermore, the process from trial to execution is tedious. This is due to mercy petitions filed in several cases, which are at the discretion of the President.

Insofar as the execution of death sentence is concerned, only four convicts have been hanged to death since 2004, with the most recent case of Yakub Memon, sentenced for his role in the 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts case. The most recent instance of capital punishment for rape dates back to 2004, when Dhanonjay Chatterjee was hanged for the rape and murder of a teenage girl in Kolkata in 1990. Chatterjee’s trial had lasted nearly 14 years before he was finally sent to the gallows.

National Crime Record Bureau 2016

The last ‘Crime in India’ report published by the National Crime Record Bureau, an organisation under the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) was for the year, 2016. According to the ‘Crime in India’ for 2016, the number of cases reported in 2016 was 38,947 whereas cases pending for investigation from previous years was 16,124. The total number of cases under investigation for the year 2016 was 55,071. It also may be noted that 1,52,165 cases were awaiting trail. The latest NCRB statistics was published in 2016. Even if we assume that the number of rape cases have remained largely the same in the past 3 years, the prime minister’s conclusion that the state of criminal justice system has drastically improved is a stretch. PM Modi’s reasoning is based on only selected cases of expedited sentencing.

Narendra Modi’s suggestion that the justice system in India, especially for crime against women, has improved significantly based on the selective cases where rape accused have been sentenced in an expedited fashion, is grossly misleading. However, the Prime Minister had been misquoted by ANI and amusingly, by his own party. In his speech, he was referring to ‘death sentences’ and not ‘hangings’.

In the past, Alt News had published a detailed analysis by Dr Jaydip Sarkar, where he analysed if capital punishment is the solution to rising sexual crimes against women and concluded that it is not. Jaydip Sarkar has been involved in the assessment of certain high-profile criminal cases in India and previously trained in London handling cases with the New Scotland Yard. He has special clinical interest in the assessment and management of sex offenders, both in secure care as well as community with a range of external stakeholders.

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