Protests are raging in Delhi over the release of the youngest of the convicts in the gang-rape case of December 2015 who was a minor at the time of commitment of the crime. The Delhi Women’s Commission has approached the Supreme Court demanding that the juvenile, now a man, should be held beyond the period of his sentence by the Juvenile Justice Board.
The Commission either does not know the law or ignoring it. People can be punished only according to the law that was in force at the time of commitment of the crime and a prisoner has a right to be free on completing his sentence. It should be a matter of concern that the Women’s Commission, which is a statutory body, does not appreciate these fundamentals. The Commission should be concerned not only about women’s rights but also about child rights. India’s juvenile justice law is one drafted keeping international covenants on child rights in view.
One of the arguments is that boys in these days are mature enough at the 16 years. If this to be accepted, it has to be established through proper studies. An amendment of the law without such studies, and on the basis of a popular upsurge, will be a grave injustice to children. Even if the law is amended they cannot be enforced retrospectively.
An argument advanced by the Commission and others is that out in the open, the convict would be a threat to the society. He could be, or he may be on the path of being reformed. (Is not the release of every goonda or murderer give rise to such a risk? A bigger risk could be persons with criminal backgrounds in our legislatures!) If he had been radicalised in reform facility as reported, is not the system or the authorities at fault?
If we look at the mater more closely, one can see that more than the boy in question, the government and the society is responsible for what has happened. The boy is son of a mentally sick father. Apparently, he did not get school education which was his right. Instead, he was apparently forced to seek work. It is not surprising that he could find work only in a bus that was routinely breaking the law with the connivance of authorities. He landed among people who had criminal tendencies and attitudes. (One of their attitudes was one of moral policing even while being in the wrong side of the law. But this is an attitude that some of those close to the ruling class is now trying to perpetuate.) Under these circumstances, it was only natural that he grew up to be a criminal.
What happened in Delhi would not have occurred if the government had enforced motor vehicles rules strictly. How come that an underage is employed in a bus? How could the bus operator break rules? These should be bigger concern than the release of a single prisoner. The released prisoner may be a threat to society, but bigger threats are looming elsewhere.
(Update: The Supreme Court has rejected the Women’s Commission plea.)