New Delhi, Apr 16 (PTI) Discarding demands for death penalty to rapists, a wide section of women and child rights activists today called for bridging gaps in implementation of the existing penal laws instead to curb the heinous offence.

The statement came days after Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi said her ministry was contemplating amending the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) to provide for death penalty in rape cases involving victims younger than 12 years. “With neither administrative will nor accountability enforced by the statutory bodies mandated to do so, we find that the duty bearers, including the police, are guilty of acts of both omission and commission,” said the activists, including lawyers and various civil society groups, in their joint statement.

“It is in this context of weak accountability and clear unwillingness on the part of authorities to provide adequate resource to agencies…. that the argument often made at the highest levels of society and government for rapists to be given capital punishment sounds hollow,” they said.

“We do not support the call for the death penalty. Instead, we need an urgent evaluation of where the gaps lie in the implementation of the Criminal (Amendment) Law, 2013 and POCSO, 2012,” the joint statement released today by 136 different groups and individuals said.

They said it was time to ask the ‘powers that be” if they sincerely believed enough was being done to prevent crimes such as the Unnao and Kathua rape cases.

Expressing shock and concern over the two incidents in Uttar Pradesh and J&K, the statement added, “While each of us is filled with distress and shame, we feel the time has come for us to ask all the powers that be if they believe enough is being done to prevent such dastardly acts on the most vulnerable and hapless categories of the population.” Referring to the Kathua rape case victim’s comments, the activists said her statements was a “poignant and heart-wrenching” testimony of total betrayal to society as a whole “by those obligated to protect and nurture young lives.” “This is best demonstrated by the fact that, despite a detailed FIR filed in the Kathua rape case and despite the victim and her family naming the perpetrators of the crime in Unnao case, every step taken thereafter by the authorities concerned has been at best casual or a wilful obfuscation and sidetracking of the heinous crimes in order to allow the alleged perpetrators to roam free,” the statement added.

“In the first case, there was even a concerted effort on the part of the local community to mobilize partisan support from political and legal forces to scuttle the rule of law,” it said. The statement condemned what it called the “widespread impunity” and “contempt and arrogance shown by those in power to the rule of law who lacked accountability towards the people whom they are supposed to serve.” “The Prime Minister’s condemnation of the rapists in both cases came far too late and did not address the endemic failures of the state governments ruled by his own party that allowed these crimes to take place.

“Let us not forget that such rapes, murders and other atrocities are a direct result of the hate-mongering and ‘othering’ of minorities, Dalits and tribals that is widespread in India today,” said the statement, entailing signatures of various prominent social activists.

Meanwhile, various civil society groups and social activists took out a candle light march in Ghaziabad to demand justice for the Kahuta and Unnao rape victims.

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.