By Shruti Kesavan:
The Nirbhaya case has brought into light issues and loopholes in our laws, the clear apathy of politicians towards the issue, insensitivity of the police, juvenile laws and how they have been misused in more ways than possible. As one slowly comes to terms with her death, there is a dire need to reconsider the laws pertaining to punishment of the perpetrators of rape in particular and laws with respect to juvenile crimes.
One of the accused in the case happens to be a minor because of which the maximum punishment he may be slapped with would be three years in reform facility. The other factor which favours him would be that he is also entitled to get bail the minute the chargesheet is filed. The current situation breathes into being a very important question of whether the juvenile laws are being misused and if it is time to bring about reforms in the law rather than send the minor to a reform facility.
The six accused were Ram Singh (driver), Mukesh (brother of Ram Singh), Vinay Sharma (gym instructor) Pawan Gupta (fruit seller), Akshay Thakur (cleaner) and Muhammad Afroz (Raju) who was the minor. Even as the five accused are charged for murder and abduction, Raju’s name seems to be missing from the chargesheet simply because he is a minor. According to the police, he was the most brutal and afflicted the most amount of harm to the girl. He not only raped her twice which includes once when she was unconscious but also brutally pulled out her intestines. He further suggested she be thrown out of the moving bus naked and be run over by the same bus in which she was abducted and raped.
The age of the minor is unclear as his matriculate certificate suggests that he was born on July 20th 1996 (Government High School, Naushehra Cheema, Taran), but during the interrogation he said he was born in 1991 and his village certificate says he was born on July 5th 1993. Since there is a huge controversy about his age he will now be subjected to ossification which is a ‘bone test‘ which has been conducted to ascertain his age. If he is proved to be a minor in this test he will not even spend a night at Tihar Jail even though he rightly deserves to be there or even worse.
To add to the shame is his mother who is neither willing to tell the police his age nor the number of years of her marriage after which he was conceived. Not only is she saving a criminal but also saving someone who could become a major threat with his psychopathic tendencies.
This brings to us to an important question: what is the definition of juvenile and can there be amendments made with respect to the rules and laws regarding it? A boy who has not yet attained the age of 16 or a girl who is not yet 18 come under the juvenile law. This was then amended in 2000, by the United Nations Rules and then changed to 18 for both boys and girls.
Vikas Pahua who is an advocate states that “the objective of the Juvenile Justice Act is to reform the child because it is possible that he may have committed the act under influence”. The one thing he fails to understand is there is a huge difference between being a child and being a pre-mature perverted adult. According to the doctors, only five percent of Nirbhaya’s intestines were inside her body, clearly not something a child would do. Vikas then continues to say, “A juvenile has got some constitutional protections and therefore he has to be treated separately”. Why is it that a juvenile criminal is subjected to protection and not an innocent woman? This is a question which resonates in the back of my head.
The 1850 Apprentice Act which is provided for children states that children between the ages of 10-18 years, when convicted in courts will be provided by vocational training which is intended for their future rehabilitation. Isn’t it high time that a crime be punished on the basis of severity and brutality than the age of the accused? This was not the first time Raju was arrested, as he was also arrested previous to this in Amritsar while allegedly waiting for someone to hand him two kilograms of heroin. Would he still be considered innocent and would justice be served by just sending him to a reform facility?
Taking advantage of this loophole in the laws was also Ajmal Kasab (the first foreigner to be hung on Indian soil) who said he was a minor too, but was then subjected to the bone test and the result proved he was 21 years of age and hence not considered under the Juvenile Justice Board.
In 2009, 346 cases were reported under the Juvenile Justice Board in Lucknow, which has jurisdiction in Rae Bareli and Barabanki besides the state capital. Out of the cases reported, 35 were for rape and 20 for murder. Juvenile crimes initially consisted only of minor crimes like chain snatching and theft but now they have escalated to murder and rape, only pointing out to the need for an amendment of laws apt for the crimes performed irrespective of the age of the accused.
64% of juvenile crimes are committed in the age bracket of 16-18 years which also includes the minor accused in the brutal Delhi Rape Case. According to a statistic provided, there has been a 34% rise in rape by juveniles between 2010 and 2011. According to statistics provided by The Times of India, only 5.7% of the juvenile are homeless, stating that the absence of family or moral guidance provided by parents is not a factor. To add to it, 57% of the juvenile criminals belong to poor families indicating poverty may play an important role. There has also been a 188% rise in rape cases by juveniles since 2001 followed by abduction of women and robbery.
Some of the other recent cases are, Zeeshan, a minor, who belongs to a business family, who under the influence of drinks and along with five friends abducted a 13-year-old house maid, raped her in the car and then threw her in the outskirts. Shashi, a 17-year-old son of a service man was convicted of raping a 10-year-old in Rae Bareli. The police also confiscated porn videos and obscene magazines from his hostel room, thus pointing out to the fact of how pornography not only kills the innocence of a child but can also instigate them to commit such heinous crimes. (Names of accused and victims have been subjected to change.)
As Raju may breathe a sigh of relief with his brief encounter with death, the victim’s friend has finally gathered some courage to talk to a news channel in which he revealed that “when he met his friend in the hospital, she said she didn’t want the six accused to hang, but be burnt alive.” This not only can be considered her last wish but also points to the fact she wanted all six to face the same punishment. It is high time we change laws which have loopholes and in which criminals find a safe hiding place and grant them their well deserved place and send them to the guillotine. Ironically the only one who can be ‘nirbhaya’ without the amendment of laws would be these people who not only commit crimes but also get away with the consent of the government.