Published : Times of India
The past week has seen an upsurge of anger over one of the most ghastly rape cases in the recent past in this country.News channels competed with each other in police bashing and offering quick-fix solutions ranging from death sentence to chemical castration.Whereas anger is fully justified and essential to shake the authorities and strengthen the criminal justice system,sound public policies rarely emanate from such knee-jerk reactions and emotional outbursts.
This,however,offers an opportunity to debate and draft a stringent policy considering all aspects like public expectations,deterrence and prevalent international practices,identity loopholes in existing laws and procedures and plug them.Exemplary punishment can act as a deterrent and also be a catalyst to expedite change in mindset.Whether imprisonment or hanging,it has to follow due process of law i.e.prosecution in court,appeals,reviews and finally mercy petitions.While the demands for Taliban-type punishments grow louder,one point being missed is that tougher the punishment,lesser the chances of it being awarded and longer it will take to execute.Justice is delivered faster in the US due to provisions like plea-bargaining which avoid protracted trials.On the contrary,the so-called tougher punishments in India exist only on paper as it takes a painfully long time to reach their logical end.Its not the toughness of punishment but certainty of punishment which is more important.Certainty cannot be ensured unless it’s delivered in a fast-track mode.
While the cacophony for death sentence for the accused grows louder,most of us ignore the fact that the main accused in this crime is a juvenile.Forget about the death penalty,he cannot be jailed in a regular prison even for a day.Nor can he be tried in a regular court of law.This case should provoke a rethinking about our juvenile justice laws.
A century ago,US policy makers decided to divert juvenile offenders from punishment in criminal courts and shifted the focus to rehabilitation.Faced with public protests due to an alarming rise in juvenile offences,policy makers there in the past three decades have lowered the age of judicial waiver and enacted mandatory minimum sentences for juveniles in certain violent offences.
In India,no offender less than 18 years can be sent to jail because,howsoever ghastly the crime,its presumed he is unaware of the consequences of his action.Surprisingly,the same people lowered the age of voting to 18 years and driving to 16 years on the grounds that a citizen at this age is matured to elect their representatives as well as drive safely.
In 2009,844 murders,603 attempt to murder and 798 rapes were committed by juveniles in India.While the country debates imposition of death sentence for the offence of rape,it’s worthwhile to debate segregation of violent crime from ordinary ones for invoking juvenile justice law.
(The writer is ADGP,police computing wing. These are his personal views)
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