The Supreme Court of India has asked the Parliament to ponder over offering chemical castration as the punishment for criminals convicted in child rape cases. Calling such incidents as “atrocious and inconceivable,” Justices Deepak Misra and N V Ramana said that though the court is in favor of stricter laws, changing them for harsher punishment are up to the Parliament. The Court was hearing a plea by the Supreme Court Women Lawyers Association on the issue.
The demand for chemical castration came with a renewed vigor after the Nirbhaya rape case of 2012. The Justice Verma Committee too in its draft report, proposed the same as punishment in rare cases. Prominent leaders like BJP’s Venkaiah Naidu were among its supporters.
Clinically the process involves reducing the testosterone levels in offenders and lowering the sex drive with the help of drugs. In fact it has been adopted as a punitive measure in special sexual offending cases in countries like UK, Germany, South Korea, Poland, and Indonesia, the Nordic and Scandinavian countries, and states in the US such as Florida, California and Louisiana.
In ‘Encyclopaedia of Rape,’ Merill D. Smith observes that castration was an “eye-to-eye style punishment” in Rome and had historically been used in India as a sentence for rape and adultery and also notes that castration in the religious context is “fairly common.” According to him, the rationale behind using castration as punishment for sex offenders in the contemporary context is that reduced testosterone would lead to reduced libido and therefore reduced ‘deviant sexual activity’.
There is no dearth of different opinions on the issue with supporters arguing that the recidivism rate in sex crimes is high. Perhaps, one of the most effective ways is chemical castration and that it is good enough reason for the punishment to exist. Also unlike surgical castration, it is non-invasive and reversible and at the same time tackles the problem of sexual urges leading to sex crimes.
However critics argue that chemical castration is effective only when it is viewed through the lens of biology. And such a punishment is rooted in the limiting framework of rape that links it only to a sexual act and ignores the ideas backed by many experts on gender and criminology that rape is indeed about domination and in most cases, rape is a physical manifestation of anger, humiliation and degradation. Questions are also raised against the efficacy of the drugs administered.