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17 Nov 2006

The conviction of Santosh Singh by Delhi High Court for the rape and murder of Priyadarshni Mattoo is very welcome. Inspite of wait of ten long years justice has finaly been done with the overturning of Session's Court judgment acquiting Santosh Singh.

However the question remains – is it necessary to give Santosh Singh the death penalty? The most strident argument in favour of death penalty in this case is that it will function as a warning for those indulging in crimes against women. This is not the first time that this argument is being heard. It was heard in 2004 when Dhananjay Chatterjee was hung and much earlier when Ranga and Billa were given the deathsentence. However, the incidence of crimes against women has only increased.

It must be remembered that Priyadarshini’s death could have been avoided if the police had acted on her complaints of being stalked by Singh. It is not the harshness of the punishment in a one-off case that will deter crimes against women. Rather, a gender sensitive police force and judiciary, better investigation, speedy trials and a higher rate of convictions are the order of the day to deter violence against women.

In awarding the death sentence in this case the court seems to have been governed more by public sentiment and outrage, than the nature of the case itself. However Santosh Singh can hardly be made the scapegoat for the miscarriage of justice by the sessions court in this case and in the Jessica Lal case, or for the general phenomenon of those with contacts escaping justice. For the court to be governed by public sentiment is to let the lynch mob mentality prevail. In fact in awarding the death penalty to Santosh Singh the  judiciary is violating its own tenet of  ‘rarest of rare’. Ranga- Billa,  Dhananjay Chatterjee, and now Santosh Singh besides numerous other cases raises the question that how often does it take for a crime to cease to be rare and become common? 

PUDR demands that Santosh Singh's death sentence to be commuted to life imprisonment. 

Paramjeet Singh and Deepika Tandon

Secretaries, PUDR

[email protected]