Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, are, at least in Australia, the contemporary faces of the anti death penalty campaign. Repentant, reformed and rehabilitated, they are role models to fellow prisoners, have inspired collective goodwill in the Australia community and have gained the respect and trust of prison staff. Their stories make the job of campaigners much easier.
At the same time, in India, Mukesh Singh, one of the six men convicted of the gang rape and murder of an Indian woman in 2012 has, through a recently released documentary, spoken of his actions. Singh presents an opposing account to the remorseful Chan and Sukumaran, completely and utterly unrepentant, unable to display the even slightest amount of sorrow for the fate of his victim. In fact, Singh views his actions as being in the right and if there is any blame to be had, it lays with his victim. A ‘girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy’ he states and he believes that women should not ‘resist’ if they are raped. Singh offers no apology to the young woman’s family or the wider Indian community.
Unsurprisingly, Singh’s comments caused a wave of outrage across India, with some people even calling for his execution, by hanging, to be bought forward.
What Mukesh Singh and his fellow perpetrators, Vinay Sharma, Akshay Thakur and Pawan Gupta, carried out was a horrible crime, one which deserves severe punishment and one that requires no further detailing here, after its worldwide media attention. Despite the viciousness of their crimes, their warped views on violence against women and adamant stance, none of Singh, Sharma, Thakur or Gupta deserves to die. Yet the defence of their lives seems a taboo subject.
The case of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran has galvanised widespread support from campaigners against the death penalty and attracted new converts to the cause. However, their case sits at the easier end of the spectrum. The pair has famously rehabilitated, with one finding God and the other, serenity in painting. Their crime, of attempted drug smuggling, is significantly lesser, when held alongside the gang rape and murder committed by Mukesh Singh. Finally, both Chan and Sukumaran possess strong support from their families, large sections of the public and their national government. Singh and co. can boast little in comparison. Their crimes, broadcast across a shocked globe, were met with unanimous condemnation and unprecedented protests in India.
Mukesh Singh’s example sits awkwardly, at the difficult end of the anti death penalty scale. It is uncomfortable to argue for him, to defend the right to life of a man who carried out such a shocking crime, shows no remorse for his actions, no consideration for his victim and importantly, possesses no basic understanding that his actions were wrong. Yet this is precisely what anyone must do, who believes that the death penalty is wrong. If we cannot argue for Mukesh Singh and defend his right to life, despite his abhorrent crimes, then it undermines our argument for Chan, Sukumaran and every other person on death row.
Singh is no longer a threat to Indian society and its most vulnerable members. He cannot harm any more women or girls while locked behind prison walls. Singh’s death will not make India any safer, his incarceration satisfies that desire. Currently, a rape is reported in India every 20 minutes, showing the problem is far greater than Mukesh Singh. Furthermore, his death by hanging will not act as a deterrent. India’s latest gang rape shock, that of a 70 year old nun has stunned the nation once again, yet the threat of capital punishment did not deter those men from committing their crimes. Singh himself warns that, ‘The death penalty will make things more dangerous for girls. Now when they rape, they won’t leave the girl like we did. They will kill her. Before, they would rape and say, “Leave her, she won’t tell anyone.” Now when they rape, especially the criminal types, they will just kill the girl. Death.’
Singh does not deserve his freedom and reassuringly, it will never be granted. However, he does not deserve to die. His execution would be an act of cold blooded, state sanctioned murder, as it would be for Chan and Sukumaran.
Indian society is undergoing enormous social change, with women’s rights, specifically the right to agency over their own body, no longer considered a novel, foreign notion. Mukesh Singh has, ironically, played a large role in this movement. Ultimately, he would be a far more powerful symbol, if, like Chan and Sukumaran he could be rehabilitated. The solution to India’s rape problem is to be found in the education of men. Men with views like Singh need to be understood and what is learnt, used to reshape Indian men’s treatment of women and girls. A rehabilitated Singh, able to understand the wrong he committed, publicly repent for his actions and educate others would be a far more powerful symbol and weapon than his lifeless, hooded body hanging at the end of a rope.