Crime and punishment


December 22, 2015

Protests erupted on the streets as the juvenile rapist in the Delhi case was freed by courts. The victim’s parents joined the protests. But would an extended time in jail help him reform?

India has been witness to the sad spectacle of the parents of the victim of the Delhi gangrape hitting the streets of the national capital seeking a harsher punishment for one of the perpetrators of the crime. Three years ago that incident shook the nation when protests erupted against the way women were treated in society.

Sad, because the parents have gone through a trauma that many other parents may have gone through and others could be going through every few minutes as the clock ticks to a record 93 rapes every 24 hours in the country. Statistics have, forever, remained numbers and certainly do not record the experience of the near and dear ones of victims of this grotesque crime.

It was that pain and suffering that made Asha Devi defy the legal norm of not revealing the names of victims of rape so that society does not shun them. Yet, she told a crowd in the presence of national television networks that her daughter’s name was Jyoti Singh. Her statement that 'there is no need for us to feel any shame. It is the perpetrators of heinous crimes who must feel ashamed of themselves' did make many get a lump in their throat.

But, it was sad to see Asha Devi and her brave husband, Badrinath Singh, physically joining the protests against the release of the juvenile member of the gang that had raped their daughter in a moving bus on December 16, 2012, and being led away by the police along with other protestors. It would certainly be difficult to assuage the feelings of the couple after what they went through and the impact that the ghastly incident has had on their lives.

Yet, it was odd because this was a couple which had marked its presence in a kind of public life it was catapulted into with such dignity despite all that it had gone through. What brought them to the streets was the release of the youngest member of the gang who was a juvenile when the crime was committed. He was being released because he had completed his sentence as per the laws governing juvenile justice. The Delhi High Court and, subsequently, the Supreme Court rejected petitions seeking an extension of his prison term.

It, certainly, cannot be anybody’s case that for a crime of such a nature, punishment has to be severe. But, the law of the land has adopted the reformative approach because retributive justice could be counter-productive. In the case of this juvenile-now-turned-adult, the possibility of his being reformed during the course of his incarceration could be higher than he being put behind bars. Now that he has turned an adult, it would mean that he be put in the same prison as other adults, many of whom could be hardened criminals.

Indeed, this is what the Delhi Women’s Commission argued before the Supreme Court that he should be treated as an adult for the nature of the crime he has committed and, therefore, should not be released. Historically, it has been proved, largely according to studies in the US, that when a juvenile is sent to an adult prison, there were more possibilities of his returning to commit similar crimes. In other words, he would become a hardened criminal which is quite the opposite of what the reformative system that India has adopted has to offer.

But, protesters as well as some sections of the media took the stand that the courts were wrong in not stopping his release despite the convict having violated the victim when the fact was that court documents do not show any evidence against him. It is quite possible, as some lawyers committed to stringent punishment for rapists have pointed out, that the law would also have to take into account the kind of life that the juvenile has faced. It is fairly known that he had a terrible childhood with an elderly mother and mentally disturbed father and two sisters. That he was forced to leave school at the age of 12 because of corporal punishment before he started working at a roadside eating joint. Reformation could well change life for the better for this young man. And, most importantly, it was also a question of his human rights. He could not be held behind bars without a law as the government was told by the Supreme Court.

The strange part of it was that the protesters took the stand that if the Rajya Sabha had passed the amendment to the Juvenile Justice Law, the convict could have remained in prison. And, because of the current logjam between the opposition Congress and the government, there was a long delay in the passage of the new Juvenile Justice Bill. The bill was passed by the Rajya Sabha only on Tuesday evening after a nationwide outrage that followed the release of the youngest convict in the Delhi gang-rape case. It is obvious that many did not realise that the amendment cannot be with retrospective effect because the crime was committed when the convict was a juvenile.

In fact, even this amendment requires a re-look because it seeks to consider those in the age group of 16-18 committing heinous crimes as ‘adults’. The move seems to be an act of non-application of mind because it is well known that such lowering of age is against the very law of nature. It is well established that the human brain gets fully developed only around the age of 25 or even 30 years.The development of the frontal portion of the brain that helps in the risk-averse behaviour happens only at that age. The other aspect is that the lesson from the US for the world is that extension of punishment, invariably, leads to recidivism or relapse into criminal behaviour.

In short, any government would need to apply its mind carefully to improve the juvenile justice system from a socio-economic-legal perspective. Certainly not indulge in populist measures while dealing with adolescent lives. The effort should start, literally, at the street level where lakhs of vulnerable children are at the intersection of a normal life and crime.

Have a heart, it’s SRK

It is now time to revisit a personality that we had discussed last week because of the simple advise he had given corporate leaders at a premier management institute. Shahrukh Khan aka King Khan because of his stature in Bollywood had come in for severe criticism last month from right-wing organisations for saying that “religious intolerance and not being secular is the worst kind of crime that you can do as a patriot”. But, a day before his movie Dilwale, Hindi for bighearted, was to be released, the King Khan changed tack.

He went on to say quite the contrary. He did not think there was intolerance and “I never meant it is happening now. I don’t think. I will be very clear... everything is very nice in our country. God bless India, long live us, long live us Indians”. And, that he was a patriot and a nationalist and that he was sorry if anyone had misunderstood him. Clearly, the country’s top actor was indulging in damage control unlike the other Khan, Aamir, who stood his ground when his movie went through a similar situation.

Aamir Khan’s movie PK had come in for severe criticism amid protests before cinema halls because he had exposed the hypocrisy of society so far as religious practices were concerned. But, the movie grossed record collections just out of curiosity as to why the right wingers were protesting. Not that Shahrukh’s movie didn’t. Despite protests and his reversal in stand, Shahrukh Khan’s Dilwale grossed over R1bn (RO5.81mn) in the first three days of the release. Obviously, more the protests, more the people want to see what the noisy protests are all about. But, there were also many who wanted to see the movie because ‘nobody can tell us what we should see and should not see’, as one young woman put it.

 

Tailpiece

Just a few years ago, doctors had one piece of advise and it would come in combo format: Please stop consuming ghee. Consume only certain varieties of oil. Please eat only white of egg. Don’t eat the yolk. Fat is not good for health etc etc. In the last two years or even less, the advisory seems to have drastically changed. Not just changed but there is a complete reversal of that advice to the point that the doctors advise patients and others to ‘certainly eat the yolk of the egg’ or ‘consuming some amount of ghee is good for health’ etc etc. Of course, it is not some fancy that the doctors have picked up for the egg yolk or the ghee. It is clearly based on research studies which have proved to be advantageous to many people. The ghee, of course, in small quantities.

Those who adhered to the doctor’s advice a few years ago may appear confused. Of course, the doctor’s will find something else that would also be banned from the dining table as the research goes on. The only advice to such people would be: Please live with the times.

[The views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Muscat Daily or Apex Press & Publishing]