By Sandeep Pandey
After spending three years in a child reform home, release of one of the culprits in the Nirbhaya rape case, who happened to be a juvenile at the time of crime, the public demonstrations in which parents of Nirbhayaalso participated forced the Parliament to change the Juvenile Justice Act. In the case of heinous crimes now the age for juvenile who can face trial as an adult has been reduced from 18 to 16 years. The prevalent feeling was that even though the accused may have been juvenile at the time of crime the nature of crime was such that he deserved a harsher punishment. Some people also argued that the punishment should be decided on the basis of whether the crime was committed with an adult mindset.
The Juvenile Justice Board will determine whether the crime was committed with an adult mentality. Upon being found guilty the youth will be kept in child reform home till he completes the age of 18 years. Such convicts will now have to spend 7 to 10 years in jail instead of merely 3 years. The amendment makes it possible for youth between the ages of 16 and 18 years to be even awarded death sentence in the rarest of rare cases of gruesome crime. The irony is that the particular culprit because of whom the law has been chaged will escape a more severe punishment but youth between 16 and 18 years of age commiting such crimes in future will get more stringent punishments.
The juvenile is not given harsh punishment because it is assumed that he committed the crime in ignorance and as he matures it is hoped that he’ll not commit such crime again. It is improper to change the Act in a fit of emotion. It is quite possible that the amendment in Act will become a cause of injustice for a number of children. The youth from rich families will have a better chance to escape harsh punishment because unfortunately justice in the Indian legal system depends on how well the case is argued in the court of law. Rich people can hire better lawyers by paying high fees. The Juvenile Justice Board in Lucknow took about a decade to determine that GauravShukla, accused in the Ashiana rape case and nephew of an influential person associated with the ruling party in U.P., was adult at the time of crime.
In case of any crime the scientific way to look at things would be to determine with the help of a psychologist and other experts whether the person who has committed the crime regrets doing so. If the culprit feels any remorse he should be given a chance to reform his life. It is only when no remorse is observed in the culprit that harsh punishments should be thought of as option.
We have to also deliberate over whether making the punishment harsher will deter the potential criminals. The experience so far shows that punishment doesn’t prevent crime. In 2004 DhananjayChaterjee was hanged for raping and murdering an 18 years old school girl. This implies that any rapist should be aware that he could possibly be hanged in India. But that hasn’t prevented rapes and worse, gang rapes, from taking place in our society. After the Nirbhaya incident for the first time in this country common people took to streets to participate in massive protests. These protests have increased the sensitivity of society in general towards incidents of violence against women, even though the incidents of sexual harrassment may not have stopped completely.
It is unbelievable that the Indian society which considers itself to be a peaceful one, and where examples of hardened criminals reforming themselves, like Valmiki and Angulimal, are present in its mythological history, is demanding hanging of the released Nibhaya case culprit. 103 countries in the world have banned death penalty and 50 other countries have not executed any convict for the last ten or more years. Except for Iran, Sudan, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, a youth below the age of 18 years cannot be hanged. Neither does the international law permit this. Thus by amending the Juvenile Justice Act and making it possible for even a youth of 16 years old to be given a death penalty we have joined the conglomeration of cruelest nations in the world.
Violence against women will only end when the patriarchal and sexist thinking of society will change. Sex education will have to be a necessary part of all school curricula and adolescents should be able to talk freely about the changes taking place in their bodies with the adult members of family, school and society. Instead of trying to cover up any incident of sexual harassment, which will only protect the culprit, we need to stand firmly with the victim. Recently when a student of Columbia Univeristy in New York complained about rape by a German fellow student, the university took the side of victim. One professor suggested to her to carry a mattress with her all the time as symbol of the burden she was carrying. The girl student carried a mattress wherever she went on campus including inside the classroom. The university authorities didn’t prevent her from taking it with her on stage when she went to receive her degree at the convocation. Her demand was that she would carry the mattress as a symbol of public protest until the male student was expelled from the University. The German student was not expelled and received his degree also at the same convocation as the female student but he had received so much bad publicity that he had great difficulty in getting a job. Such public actions will serve to deter sex related crimes against women.