There were so many emotions running through my head after 16th December 2012. Rage, frustration, humiliation, despair and misery that such brutality could be inflicted on another human being, simply because she was a woman. Another brutal gang rape in my city and the rape of Nirbhaya compeled me to take action. I actively campaigned for safer public spaces for women in Gurgaon together with other concerned citizens.
After a long wait, I miraculously became pregnant. We were hoping for a girl. We had so many hopes for her, so many dreams attached to this little life. Unfortunately, the acts of violence on women and young girls in my neighbourhood remained engraved in my mind. I feared the safety of my little child. What if something happened to her? Something unfathomable like rape? My first instinct I admit was to tear apart the people who had done this, with my bare hands. Each and every one of them!
And then began the media frenzy. There were graphic accounts of the violence perpetrated on Nirbhaya (which I began avoiding). It came to my knowledge that one of the rapists was a juvenile and he was illustrated as being the most brutal and vicious of the rapists. There was public outrage and demands for for his castration and capital punishment. Conversations on social media revealed anger towards the youth and their contribution to a destructive society. The media too continued to direct blame towards the youth, their access to pornography leading to increasing violence amongst them.
This got me thinking. How could this be true? Were we blaming the media for its pernicious influence on us and at the same time lapping up sensational news they threw at us? What are the real facts? According to a recent article by an expert, juvenile crimes has been a mere “1.0% to 1.2% in the last three years. Approximately 65% of juveniles were apprehended for property-related offences such as theft and burglary. As opposed to this, only 5%-8% were apprehended for crimes such as rape and murder.” And this, incidentally, is a far lower rate than the USA having far more stringent juvenile justice laws than in India. In fact, another recent article, which quoted several reliable studies has illustrated how juvenile crime rates have actually fallen in the US with more liberal laws that focus on understanding the juvenile and correction as opposed to incarceration.
What remains unknown to most of us is that in the Nirbhaya case, the police had actually withdrawn their observation that the juvenile was the most brutal of the accused. This was a matter of court record. This however, was never highlighted by the media because, hey, it’s not really, you know “breaking news!”. Isn’t it much more interesting to play on the emotions of unsuspecting people and stir up a witch-hunt against all juveniles?
And that pushes me to ask think: Why do juveniles commit crimes? Is it because they are deprived of family and state support, guidance and a conducive environment that they are unable to grow into responsible adults? If we as a society, were more careful to keep children off the streets, ensure quality education and fill in for the gaps in their life we would surely see a drastic reduction in juvenile crime! It’s very easy to put a 17-year-old behind bars and demand a change in the law. But it isn’t as easy to blame ourselves collectively as a society and ask, “Why was the 17-year-old living on the streets for several years?”
As I write this, I know that my daughter will probably get far more nurturing and guidance than the accused juvenile did. But there is always a “what if”. What if she experiments with drugs with friends? Will I want her tried in an adult prison and thrown into jail with hardened criminals?
What happened to Nirbhaya was wrong. There’s almost no debate on that. But another wrong we’re about to take responsibility for – calling for a law that tries juveniles as adults.
Do the right thing. Sign the petition: https://www.change.org/p/narendra-modi-no-prison-for-children
And if you’re still not convinced, read here: http://www.noprisonforchildren.com/