Recently, Delhi was shaken by the Mercedes hit and run case, in which the crime was allegedly committed by a seventeen-year-old, a juvenile. After a celebration at the end of his class 12 exams, allegedly under the influence of alcohol, the boy drove rashly, caused an accident, and the tragic death of another youth. From reports it appears, that his parents consented to him driving underage, that the boy attempted to run away but surrendered subsequently, when the chauffeur (driver) withdrew his statement of admission. Again, the oddly familiar clamor for revenge, for him to be tried as an adult for his crime under the new juvenile justice law, took over. An important question needs to be asked. What happened to parental responsibility in this incident? What would have been the right thing for them to do? As hard as it would be for any parent, they should have stepped up to take full responsibility for their son’s actions. Influencing the family chauffeur (driver) into making a confession that he was driving the car, is not what they should have done. Neither, should they have tried to shield the child from facing the consequences of his actions. Presumably, the family who owned the Mercedes, is one of sound financial means and it can be assumed that they have had a reasonable amount of education. It was later discovered that during the last one year the teenager had been fined twice for speeding and once for a parking violation. Therefore, it would be fair to ask what his parents were doing when these offences were committed? Shouldn’t they be held accountable for their own inactions, and consequently, their son’s actions? Maybe this case is also about the unacceptable attitude of the wealthy who assume they are above the law. The ‘Mera beta kuch bhi kar sakta hai, (my son can do anything),’ attitude among the wealthier sections of society, which glorifies deviant behaviour, especially, that of male children, needs to be checked. Those who stay silent and allow it to prevail, are complicit in creating irresponsible young people. It is hoped that the boy and his parents will realize that they did, in many ways bring this unfortunate situation on themselves, that they show some remorse, and try their best to make good in some measure. It is an arduous path to tread, but would, in the long-term, be a better path. After all, the accident tragically snatched life of one, and has changed the lives of two families forever. Perhaps, a leaf from the story of Ram Kishore (name changed), a client of Leher, will serve as learning for parents who need to tread the long and difficult path. Ram Kishore sells battery operated emergency lights for a living. He earns an average of Rs.400/- day, and supports his family of four on that. He works hard to educate his children and just like any parent, he wants to give them the best. His youngest son, Suresh (name changed), 15 years of age, is a habitual drug and alcohol user. Suresh repeatedly steals petty items from peoples’ houses in an affluent colony near his house, and sells them to fund his addiction. Ram Kishore accepts that Suresh has a problem and that his family needs help. With his limited means, he is genuinely in search of a way to get Suresh help. In cases of petty theft, it is common that the police reprimand children at the police station and let them go. However, Ram Kishore has a number of times pleaded with the police to present Suresh before the juvenile justice board (JJB). Dealing with the police and juvenile justice system involves lengthy procedure, and costs him a day’s earnings each time the case comes up for hearing, or when he has to file applications or visit Suresh. Ram Kishore nevertheless persists. Seeing his son being taken into custody and put into the government facility for children, which does resemble a prison, breaks his heart each time, as it would do to any parent. Ram Kishore remains stoic. Once, it took him five days to gather Rs.5000/- to post bail for Suresh. He says that he needs to do whatever it takes to get Suresh’s life on track. Sometimes Ram Kishore feels beaten down by the system. One day he broke down and said, “When the same police who mercilessly beat children like my son, also allow criminals who sell drugs and other intoxicants to roam freely in our neighbourhood, sometimes that feeling of anger in me becomes too much to bear.” At the same time, he appreciates that the child protection and justice system has given Suresh a chance many times and he is prepared to go to any length. Currently, Suresh is under rehabilitation at a center of repute, which provides services to young persons with addictions. Recently, the juvenile justice system has been under the scanner and has been critiqued for having an ineffective system which does not effectively reform juveniles. While demands for improvement of the system will continue to ensure that cases of children like Suresh or the boy in the Mercedes case are addressed, before the offences committed become more serious, it needs also to be recognized that parents and families are also part of a system, and for a more effective and responsive system to evolve, society needs more parents like Ram Kishore. Parents who will take full responsibility. It means making time to address issues, not letting mistakes pass, not glorifying mistakes, accepting that a child needs help, going out to get it and even navigating through the juvenile justice system. The Mercedes hit and run case, should serve as a wake-up call. Especially, for parents who are wealthy, educated and for whom daily survival is not a challenge.
Maitri Dore aka dormai is an architect-cum-illustrator, based in Mumbai. This 27 year old uses her simple, child-like illustrations to evoke a sense of responsibility amongst adults, by showcasing the pale reality affecting children’s lives today. Works of this young artist offer a provocative message on age old issues plaguing their lives, weaved into contemporary stories that make news headlines today. Be it casteism, gender inequality, child labour or juvenile justice, Maitri never fails to react to these issues with her drawings. You can follow her @thedrawingroom @doremai
- Every 11th child is working in India (5-18 years) (CRY recent analysis of the Census 2011)
- Urban Child labour has grown by more than 50% (CRY recent analysis of the Census 2011)
- 20.7 % of working adolescents (aged 15 to 17) were employed in hazardous work (2007-13). This makes up 62.8 % of all child workers in India, which is one of the highest in the world (World Report on Child Labour: Paving the way for decent young people 2015)
- 47,064 cases of crimes against Dalits were registered in 2014, up from 39,408 in 2013 and 33,655 in 2012 (National Crime Records Bureau data)
- Dalits were prevented from entering the police station in 27.6% of villages (National Human Rights Commission Report on the Prevention and Atrocities against Scheduled Castes)
- More than 86.7 million children under the age of seven have spent their entire lives in conflict zones, putting their brain development at risk, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF)
- By the end of 2014, 59.5 million individuals were forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict, generalized violence, or human rights violations (World at War, UNHCR, Global trends, Forced displacement in 2014)
- Children constitute about 41 percent world’s forcibly displaced people and many spend their entire childhood far from home(World at War, UNHCR, Global trends, Forced displacement in 2014)
- About 16 million women 15–19 years old give birth each year, about 11% of all births worldwide (WHO)
- India and Bangladesh remain among the countries where a girl is extremely likely to be married before she is 18, and have a child while still a teenager a result (United Nations)
- Every year, over 7 million girls below the age of 18, including 2 million girls under the age of 14, give birth in the developing world. The overwhelming majority of these births – 90% – occur within marriage. At this rate, the number of adolescent mothers under the age of 15 could rise to 3 million a year in 2030 (UNFPA report The report – entitled ‘Motherhood in Childhood: the Challenges of Teenage Pregnancy’)
- Sexual orientation of parents has no bearing on children’s emotional, behavioural or psychosocial adjustment, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
- The myth of poor mental health by children of same sex parents has been debunked by an Australian study conducted at the University of Melborne and published in the journal BMC Public Health. Researchers found that children with LGBT parents had the same amount of self-esteem and spent as much family time with their parents compared to children of heterosexual parents. In fact, investigators found that children of gay and lesbian couples to be healthier and have a stronger family unit.
- The overall sex ratio in India is 940 females per 1000 males (Census 2011)
- Things get worse when we delve into statistics concerning infants and children. The child sex ratio (0-6 years) is 914 girls per 1000 boys, an alarming decline from 927 in 2001 (and 945 in 1991, and 962 in 1981) – the lowest recorded since Independence. States like Punjab and Haryana have child sex ration as low as 846 and 830, respectively (Satyameva Jayate, a TV show that discusses and provides possible solutions to address social issues in India)
- India recorded nearly 20.14 crore people belonging to Dalit castes (Census 2011)
- 45 percent of Dalits do not know read and write in India
- In 37.8% of villages in India, Dalit students are made to sit separately in government schools (National Confederation of Dalit Organisations (NACDOR))
- Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh are amongst the bottom five states in terms of literacy of Dalits (Oxfam)
- The literacy rate of female Dalits in Bihar is 38.5% in 2011. It is far behind India’s progress trend. It is still 30 years behind the India’s national literacy Rate which was 43.7 in 1981(Oxfam)
- In 2013, children constituted 1.1% (38756) of all persons arrested under IPC crimes (35,23,577) (NCRB 2013)
- In 2013, children constituted 3.09% (3304) of all persons arrested for rape and murder (1069282) (NCRB 2013)
- In 2013, 0.1% (3304) of all arrests made under IPC crimes (3523577) were children arrested for rape and murder
Juveniles are in the news once again, this time because of the tragic death of Sidharth Sharma by a rampaging car being driven by a juvenile. The emotional public response asking for the juvenile to be tried as an adult is unfortunate as it overlooks the systemic reasons for this accident and the errors of the Delhi police. Valay Singhrai highlights why we should not clamour for punishment and demand structural change for preventing such accidents in the future.
That law is to be applied equally to all is a basic tenet of a just government system and is presumably acceptable to all progressive people. There have also been calls for this rich and reckless teenager to be tried as an adult as in the case of juveniles involved in crimes like rape and murder. This, it is assumed, is because punishing juveniles as adults will stop cases of deadly accidents. This is the same emotional response to a structural problem of enforcement of traffic laws as in the case of crimes against women. Since the Nirbhaya rape case, these juveniles been demonised by the police, sections of the media and even the Minister of Women and Child Development, Maneka Gandhi, and have been portrayed as the largest threat to law and order and particularly women’s safety. This sustained campaign successfully culminated with the passage of the regressive and counter-productive JJ Act of 2015 which will send children to adult prisons when convicted in cases of crimes like rape, murder, drug-trafficking and robbery. It will also send those juveniles who have run away with their lovers or have had consensual sex as the law bans intercourse till the age of 18 years.
If we allow mob-justice and public pressure to influence laws and law-making then the day is not far when we will start trying all children as adults.
We need solutions not retribution. Siddharth’s family needs justice so that no more Siddharths lose their lives in such accidents. For that, we need to calm down and ask ourselves, “how do we prevent accidents?” and not “how can we punish the juvenile as an adult?” This boy has a history of reckless driving, and if the police had taken stricter action before, it is possible that Sidhant Sharma would still be alive.
Did the Delhi police provide any counselling to the boy’s father when he was caught earlier?
The apathy towards law is not the forte of only the rich and powerful, it is deeply embedded among us because we know that we can manipulate the system and the police with money and power The father of the 12th class boy whose joyride brought a tragic end to Siddharth’s life has tried every trick in the book to protect his son and himself from facing the law. First, he sent his driver to falsely admit that it was he who was driving the car at the time of the accident. It has also emerged that that the ‘Raja Beta’ was a repeat offender who was challaned thrice by Delhi traffic police last year for over-speeding and wrong parking. Sounds like a stereotypical Delhi brat who’s opening sentence is, “Tu jaanta hai mera baap kaun hai?”(Do you know who my father is?)
Did the Delhi police do anything to ensure that the spoilt son of a rich father was banned from driving till he had displayed responsible driving and road manners?
The Delhi police has charged the boy and his ‘sweetly supportive’ father of culpable homicide not amounting to murder and this is the harshest section under the existing law. The answers to these questions will perhaps be lost in the din of popular outcry calling for the juvenile to be punished as an adult. In this backdrop of a largely anti-juvenile police and media establishment, there is always a risk of causing permanent damage to both the idea of justice and moving backwards to a retributive justice model when real solutions lie in a holistic approach to both driving and parenting.