One morning in December of 2012, I read a clipping in my morning newspaper that turned my world upside down. A girl went out with her friend to watch a movie and never returned.
She was found struggling for her life by the roadside, stripped naked, raped, and disemboweled. Like most middle class people, my initial reaction was that of utter disbelief. Can people be so cruel and heartless? My instant reaction was to blame the girl. Why was she out so late? Why did she not take a cab instead of the bus? My reaction was no different from any other middle class men and women whose daughters have to go out to work and can meet the same fate. Yet we are helpless in protecting them. It is easy to pass the blame onto the victim, than shine a mirror on our own inability.
Over the next few days, it emerged that six men had lured the girl (who was christened by the press media as Nirbhaya) and her friend into the bus. They had raped her repeatedly and disemboweled her with an iron rod. They stripped her naked and threw her on the road in the cold of the night. Attempt was also made to tamper evidence by killing her – running the bus over her. And if it was not for her friend, she would have died that very night. Her friend who was also critically injured, moved her just in time as the bus was going to run over her, saving her life. The hapless victim struggled for a fortnight because of her courage and ultimately passed away due to severe internal injuries.
The outraged nation protested spontaneously and demanded strict punishment. People poured out into the streets and protested, which resulted in quick arrest of the accused, responsible for committing a heinous crime. Government also acted and revised their existing laws and decided to try the case in a fast track court. During the course of interrogation, it was revealed that one of the accused, who was also the most brutal of the lot, was just seventeen and half years old on the day the crime was committed. As a result, since he was considered a juvenile, he was to be tried in the juvenile court.
Nine months after the crime, the juvenile court recently announced its verdict on the criminal. The court convicted the juvenile on most of the charges that police slapped on him, but the boy will serve a total of three years in a reformatory, minus the number of months already served. How does one tell the mother whose only daughter was brutally raped and tortured to death, that Indian justice system cannot give her justice? How can one explain a distraught father, who sold his land to educate his only daughter that the killer of his daughter will be out in precisely two years and four months? How do you explain the brothers, whose guiding light, that is, their elder sister is no more, but her killer will go scot-free in the next two and a half years? I cannot and I do not see justice in this verdict at all!
It has been argued by the highly erudite and scholarly citizens on how it is important to reform people that take to crime at an early age. They argue very rightly stating that children are our future. It has also been pointed out that the depraved childhood is the cause why many juvenile lack the difference between good and evil. Children are influenced by adults and may not understand what they are doing. It is important kids coming from such disadvantageous background get a second chance in life. I have no problem with that, provided the magnitude of crime is not this brutal. I may think of giving a second opportunity to a thief, or to a robber. But, giving a second chance to a monster who had every intention of killing the victim is a total rebuttal. I mean, are we serious?
Many other aspects of the incident like the gory details have not yet reached the public domain. What I deduced from reading the papers and watching the television was that police and the people at the hospital shuddered when they saw the state of the girl. Such a person to be spared of the gallows, just because he was only six months short of legal adulthood, is a travesty of justice itself! If the boy could do everything to harm the girl like an adult, then why cannot he face the punishment for the same, like any other adult?
Many have argued in favor of death penalty for rapists. Some have suggested chemical castration. Some have argued in favor of lowering the legal age for being considered a juvenile, that is, from present eighteen years to sixteen years. I think instead of killing a person, we should lock him up for rest of his life without parole. This might instill fear into the minds of criminals, next time they think of committing a crime. I think speed and certainty of penalty should be good enough deterrents. However, a person should be judged by the magnitude and gravity of his crime and not by his age. In democracies like US and UK, for heinous crimes, juvenile criminals do not get any special consideration on account of their age.
In India, we are different. We do not have enough resources to take care of general population, but we want to reform such hardened criminals? Do we have the expertise, resource, and the intent to take up such a task? Look at the state of our juvenile houses? Given tremendous human capacity of deceit and our scant resource and expertise, how do we ensure that the person has actually reformed?
Finally, I think the system should have looked into the possibility of increasing the sentence of the juvenile. In this case, the juvenile has been accused of rape, assault, attempt to murder and robbery. Considering the gravity of the crime, this juvenile should be in the reformatory for at least ten years, which might reform him and again that is only an uncertainty. However, it appears that our system complies by the law strictly by the books and not by the spirit. If we cannot assess the magnitude of the problem and go strictly by the book, we might as well ask a robot, programmed by the Indian Penal Code, to pass judgement in the future. It may save time, money, effort and may remove all the pending cases which strive to see the light of the day.