Minor act, major blunder
Is it my imagination or has the number of crime cases involving juvenile accused really gone up since one of the arrested in the 16 December Delhi gang rape case was found to be a juvenile? Open the pages of any newspaper and you have bold, big headlines screaming ‘Minor held….’. Rapes, thefts, careless driving, physical assaults, murders or attempts thereof, these monster kids seem to have their fingers in every crime pie. And this week, a minor girl was held after she took her 28-year-old boyfriend to take a pot-shot at her 17-year-old friend, after being slapped by her. Isn’t breaking the evening curfew hour, smoking and boozing on the sly or being involved in a forbidden relationship enough adrenaline rush for this generation?
Excuse my flippant tone. The gravity of the situation is not lost on me. But I am yet unable to make up my mind whether we are indeed fostering an increasing number of young delinquents among us, or are we simply taking better note of their lapses since it was splashed in the media that the most brutal and ruthless of all the accused in the 16 December case is a juvenile and might therefore get away with far less punishment than he deserves. If it is the former, then it is a cause of worry indeed. But if that one shock has made us take better note of ground realities, so that every big and small warp is now glaringly visible, it is an encouraging trend. In which case, the question arises, what do we do now that we know that an increasing number of under-18 Indians are not the honest, innocent citizens that we would like them to be.
The dictionary definition of juvenile is being ‘childish or immature’. In the legal parlance, it refers to a person who is ‘below the age at which ordinary criminal prosecution is possible (18 in most countries)’. In the wake of the 16 December gang rape case, there have been calls to lower the age bar for juveniles. On 17 July, the Supreme Court turned down a plea to reduce the age bar for a juvenile from 18 to 16 years, and said those accused in crimes, but below the age of 18, will continue to be tried by the Juvenile Justice Board. Meanwhile, on 5 August, the Juvenile Justice Board deferred till 19 August judgment in the 16 December gang rape case, as the Supreme Court asked it not to pronounce its verdict till it decides a petition concerning redefining the term ‘juvenile’. Janata Dal president Subramanian Swamy, in a petition has sought that the ‘mental and intellectual’ age of the offender be taken into consideration rather than the age limit of 18.
Swamy’s plea makes more sense than a blanket lowering of the age bar. Some of the minors involved in thefts, physical assaults and rapes have been found to be as young as 14 or younger. One can’t blindly lower the age limit for criminal prosecution to solve the problem. Taking in to account the mental maturity of the offender is a step forward.
But clearly that’s not enough. For someone mature enough to knowingly commit a crime, is also aware of the repercussions of being caught, but is not deterred by them. The solution may lie in backtracking to investigating the motivation behind the crime. Enough has been said on the need for responsible guardianship (both at home and school) and making parents socially aware in order to set an example for the children to follow. Both of which are important. As is accepting the role of a responsible media (don’t sensationalise or titillate while presenting news and don’t present criminals in a romantic halo so that those already teetering on the border of right and wrong, make a model out of the anti-hero).
But what is more important perhaps is establishing a bond of trust between the young and their society. We can continue to blame the Western influence for all social ills. But it’s impossible today to try and shut out the world and like an ostrich bury our heads into centuries-old traditions. We can censor movies, monitor books and magazines and put a curb on young boys and girls meeting at parks. But no one can escape the reach of the world wide net. For a teen or tween-ager balancing the world of easy exchange between sexes, childhood romance and different lifestyles that the Internet gives him a peek into and his own more conventional routine might become difficult. The answer lies not in banning exposure to alternate lifestyles and making them doubt their own desires or turning them into rebels, but answering the child’s questions, at the same time ingraining in the child the knowledge that freedom comes with responsibility. Introduce sex education at home and school, encourage the child to have his first drink at home, rather than on the sly with friends and most importantly, give the child the confidence that he can share anything that’s on his mind without the fear of rebuke or punishment.
Better to bend the rules a little, than to bind a growing mind so hard that it explodes and in exploding, injures other innocent souls around.
Poulomi Banerjee is
senior assistant editor at