We may endlessly debate on ‘lowering’ or ‘not lowering’ the age of juvenile accused in heinous crimes (here we define them as murder, rape and arson) but we all would concur to this point – that unless and until our policymakers are forced by intense public pressure, they don’t believe in doing something unorthodox – that they don’t want to disturb the status-quo.
And it takes a massive public expression of anger that ‘disturbs’ their ‘this’ attitude.
As it happened in the case of passing amendments in the Juvenile Justice Act in the Parliament to promulgate a stricter law.
Though we cannot say what the proposed amendments will achieve, something that is time (and tide) dependent, we can say it has been a logical step on a tedious journey that should have begun much earlier than December 16, 2012 when the Delhi gang rape took place. Rape and other criminal incidents against women had become social evils and horrible curses much before it in our patriarchal society.
Rape and other crimes against women are a mindset problem and we cannot expect to control them by merely passing a law.
It needs mindset change.
And that requires time and consistency in efforts.
Tougher laws like the one passed in the Rajya Sabha today or in the wake of the national outrage after the December 16 gang rape, the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 (or Nirbhaya Act), put into effect in April 2013, are vital reflections on how we are progressing.
Such steps, whenever they arrive, irrespective of what they can or cannot do, give a sense of satisfaction that the society has advanced one step ahead in this mindset change battle.
Because this is a tough battle to win – with loads of frustrating moments.
This very case is a burning example.
Somehow, our conscious was stirred to the level that the brutal gang rape of a paramedic student on December 16 in 2012 became precursor to a national outrage and global headlines. We can say the political attitude was not well received initially with brutal crackdown by the Delhi Police on protesters. But later on, intense public pressure and media scrutiny caused some sense to prevail and we saw the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act coming into force in just four months of the incident.
And though politicians had promised a very swift, ‘within months judgement’ (some say even two or three months), the nation accepted the judgement delivered by the lower court in September 2013 – in the 10th month after the incident.
A parallel track to this was the demand for comprehensive amendments in the Juvenile Justice Act because one of the accused, who was also the most brutal one, was a minor (17+ but not yet 18) and was sentenced to just three years in a correctional home. So while four others were sentenced to death (the main accused committed suicide in jail), the minor accused, who was most brutal in committing this crime, was just sentenced to three years and was to get his records expunged after his three years were over.
After December 16 incident in 2016, we saw spurt in rapes and other crimes against women but it was basically because the heightened sense of insecurity and the increased access to information sources led more cases to be reported. We also saw a spurt in reporting of such heinous crimes by juveniles, especially in 16-18 age-group.
So, this parallel track of demand for stricter laws for juveniles in 16-18 age-group was a legitimate one – apt for the senses prevailing in the society. And the demand never died down.
The ‘unnecessarily delayed’ Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill, 2015 that was passed today showed us that again. Our political class took three years after the December 2012 incident to pass the Bill and that too came after a trigger that again generated intense sentiment mobilization and could well herald a new mass movement if the Bill was delayed further. The Nirbhaya Act was promulgated in April 2013 but then politicians failed to reach on any conclusion on the Juvenile Justice Act for the next 30 months.
The trigger this time obviously was the release of the minor rapist in the case who walked free on December 20 after completing his three years in a correctional home in Delhi. Public opinion had started galvanizing much before it with themed media campaigns.
And the political class when saw this, it had no other option but to bow to the incoming public outrage. Yes, the fear of another massive public outrage forced them to pass the Bill this time with the ‘juvenile convict release’ trigger. What else can we say about their sensitivities and priorities again given the fact the Lok Sabha had passed the Bill in May 2015 but it took another six months for the Rajya Sabha to act on it.
Passage of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill, 2015 is important for this reason – that will of public prevailed over the policymaking class. What qualitative changes this amendment can bring is something that only future will tell.
©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/