What is Justice?
What is justice? For all the countless years we have been around and formed societies, meting out justice to the people who wrong others has become the way of life. For some people and some crimes, justice is forgiveness while to some others it is punishment to the point of realization. However, in the most extreme cases, some crimes demand death as the punishment. Release of the juvenile in Nirbhaya’s case fell in a debatable category.
So, who decides what punishment is to be given for what crime? How is the degree of the crime decided and on what basis is the punishment scaled? Are there other factors that influence the punishment and it’s severity?
All these questions must have definitely flashed in the minds of almost everyone in India and across the world too when it was in the news that the juvenile convict in the Nirbhaya case was soon to be released.
His crime? He was involved in the violation of a 23-year-old woman on 16 December 2012 in which she was assaulted and brutally raped by a gang of 6 people on a bus while she was on her way back home. It eventually led to her death. For those of you who are not familiar with the case (I sincerely pray that the number is negligent) here is the actual deal:
That brings us back to the kid. Wait a second. Let us all take a moment to process it. Somebody (and, believe me, I just called him a kid) who was 17 did something only irrational and crazy people do. Of course, reports suggest that he was the most brutal of all those creatures (please forgive me, I can’t bring myself to call them people anymore). While reading this report, any sane person will feel their blood boiling and rising to their face. But one should also understand that the report could be blown out. It could have (please see the emphasis) been exaggerated.
However, no amount of exaggeration is enough to cancel out the despicable act he committed. He sinned gravely and he deserved punishment. And so, like all criminals he was taken to a court. They found him guilty and sentenced him to…. wait-for-it….3 years in a juvenile home!
Wait. Just wait a second. You might ask why was he sentenced to only three years in prison while the others were hanged to their deaths? Where is the justice in that? Turns out, the answer is pretty simple. So simple that you wonder what the hell went wrong. Oh, he got off because he was 17 when he committed the crime (Juvenile seems like a title now, eh?). Technically he was still a minor and apparently you will be put behind bars for a day to three days if you drive without license or drink at that age, but you’ll be released in 3 years if you molest somebody. Relatively speaking, that is a bargain. And so legally he was being punished.
Before we go blasting the courts, we should understand that they could only punish a convict with the law of the time. They very obviously could not create a law then and there just to punish him, and according to the Reformative Theory of Justice (yeah, it exists), generally using corrective measures on the convicts is far more effective than punishing them. There are many issues that could have caused them to commit a violent act (sociopathy, psychopathy and such stuff) and punishing won’t help them change. Also, there are statistics to prove that it works and so one cannot complain about it.
At this point, people were outraged. They protested and finally the government introduced the Juvenile Justice bill amendment 2015 according to which children in the age group of 16 to 18 could be considered as adults if the crime they committed is heinous enough. This way, there would be fewer cases like the one at hand. However, since a change in law cannot be applied in retrospect, people who are already sentenced will not be affected by the new law.
Fast forward to the week of release
Times have changed, and so did the government. They now not only give him a choice of either going back to his house or to an NGO (of course, security they say) but also give him an additional sewing machine and Rs. 10,000. In case you were wondering, it is just like what they say on the internet- “it is like encouraging kids to commit crimes to get a damn sewing machine and some money.” Due to the new law the only thing they are going to get is death in all probability and they deserve it. In this case, we can all agree that letting him walk itself was a great act of nobility! He even chose to go to an NGO, why bother giving those ‘rehabilitation presents’? Because the government felt that this is a great step in letting the ‘kid’ start fresh after learning his mistake.
So, what assurance do we have that this kid will not forget the fact that society will go into a blood rage when it learns of his identity and to cope with that he’d commit more crime because he has no other go?
To deter juveniles and delinquents from going along that path, as already mentioned above, a new bill has been introduced.
The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Amendment Bill 2015
This law was introduced as a bill in the parliament after the Nirbhaya case sparked an outrage of a huge magnitude because the minor offender was not tried equally as the adult counterparts as he was only a few months short of 18, the legal age at which a minor becomes a major.
According to the new amendment, all children belonging to the age group 16-18 would be treated as adults in case they committed heinous crimes (tantamount to rape and murder) depending on the degree of the crime. However, it is not as simple as it seems. This bill can be unduly taken advantage of and be potentially used to target kids. This directly goes against child rights which is regarded as a serious issue by the UN of which India is a part of.
To ensure that the action is not taken indiscriminately, the accused will be taken to a Juvenile Justice Board that will be presided over by one Magistrate and two social workers who will determine if the kid is to be punished as an adult or not. In case he/she is not, then they will be sent to juvenile houses for correction and reformative purpose. On the chance that the accused is to be tried as an adult, they will be sent to an adult prison once they are of age 21. Since they were arrested and tried as minors, even when they are released, rehabilitation will be provided to the convicts.
While the new amendment looks at curbing most of the threat, there is still a fierce ongoing debate regarding the violation of the rights of children and many activists arrive at the conclusion that this amendment was passed to pacify the riled emotions of the public and seemed draconian to treat kids like adults.
Faizan Mustafa, the vice Chancellor of NALSAR went on to say that this amendment made it look like the card of women was used to play against children. Also, it is a cause of worry that if kids are treated as adults, what chances are there of them not forming contacts with other possibly nastier inmates?
While all these questions can only be addressed with the passage of time, it is quite evident that people will not forget this for a long time to come. This case and the subsequent release of the convict struck a deep chord in the minds of almost everyone to the extent that even the blood family of the convict demands punishment for him and is against his release.
Recent statistics shows that there has been a 66.3% crime rate in the juvenile age bracket of 16-18, according to the National Crime Records Bureau. While this is undeniably a very large number, we can only hope that this number reduces, possibly to zero percent. And with the new law in place, it can only be further hoped that more crimes like this can be deterred, and a better society for kids and women, in general, is paved.