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May 17, 2017 @ 04:48 PM

Punishment in Nirbhaya case gave a wrong message to society

Published : Wednesday, 06 January, 2016 08:15 AM

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Leaving the juvenile without severe punishment in Nirbhaya case has given a wrong message to society

History is replete with moments which have stirred the collective consciousness of the society and forced it to come out of its stupor to make itself heard. The December 16 rape case, which came to be known as the Nirbhaya case, is one such instance which evoked a deep sense of outrage across all sections of society, even compelling people to come out on the streets to protest and demand action. Three years after the brutal incident, in which the victim lost her life, one of the persons responsible for the incident is being allowed to walk free, because he was a juvenile at the time of committing the crime. This has shocked the public at large and raised questions on the judicial system of the country.

A. The gruesomeness of the crime makes it a rarest of rare case which aroused extreme indignation of the community. In such instances, the highest courts of India have taken recourse to capital punishment. While four convicts were sentenced to death by hanging and one died in police custody, the sixth convict, a juvenile, also described by the police officers as the ‘most brutal’ got away with a milder punishment of three years in a correction facility, the maximum punishment provided in the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act.

B. In this case, not only is the juvenile being freed but he is also being rehabilitated by the authorities so that he is able to start life afresh. This seems to send a wrong message to the society. While the victim who suffered at the hands of the juvenile passed away, the person responsible for her fate is being given another chance. Won’t this encourage other people in similar situation to commit heinous crimes as they know that they will be let off by the Indian courts due to their age? Should age be the criteria while deciding the quantum of punishment for heinous crimes? Shouldn’t law be equally severe on anyone who commits heinous crimes irrespective of age?

C. I agree. The boy who is being called a juvenile just because he was a few months shy of being 18 years old at the time of the crime, deserves stricter punishment for his crime, something that sets an example for the society that such acts have no place in our civilised society.

D. Today, children are being exposed to all sorts of influences from a very early age. Therefore, to say that the mind of a 16 year old is not developed and law should be lenient for them if they commit ghastly crimes is a fallacy. The mind of a 16 year old is capable of differentiating between right and wrong. Mental growth, criminal conduct, capacity to understand criminal responsibility should be the factors to be weighed in while dealing with juvenile offenders rather than age.

E. This brings into focus the nature of justice and the laws that are perhaps outdated and need revision to be in sync with the complex realities of the contemporary world. As a result of the outrage, the Parliament passed the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Amendment Bill 2015, which allows for juveniles 16 years or older to be tried as adults for heinous crimes like rape and murder.

F. However, one instance cannot be the basis of modifying the laws pertaining to the age or penalty for grave offences. The United Nation Child Rights Convention, of which India is a signatory, has fixed the age of a juvenile at 18 years and says that best interests of the child shall be paramount. Isolated cases cannot be the basis for assuming that all children are not innocent and offenders should be dealt with strictly.

G. True. The larger question that the society needs to answer is what made the child adopt a path of criminality? Isn’t it the failure of the State to look after the welfare of innocent children who are deprived of a family and a normal childhood? Before jumping to conclusions, we need to consider the background of the juvenile offender and make all attempts to reform the child. The demands of humanity, which is much bigger than justice, will be met only then.         

H. I do feel that the nature of the crime committed by the juvenile left no scope for any sympathies with him. By letting him walk free and giving him another chance, we are taking a big risk. Instead of deterring others from committing a crime, this might remove the fear of law from the minds of wayward juveniles and also portray India as a society which tolerates such heinous crimes.

The judiciary needs to tread a fine line between setting exemplary punishments for heinous crimes irrespective of the age of the convict on one hand. On the other, not trampling on the childhood of juveniles and giving them a chance to reform as deemed fit.

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