The reference to the Nirbhaya case comes up almost every day. It is used as a reference to the sum total of most gender based crimes, including a very different issue: marital rape.
The case has come up for reference in Parliament, where the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill 2014 was passed in the Lok Sabha on May 7, 2015. It will now be discussed in the Rajya Sabha before it hopefully becomes a law. There is a lot in the bill, but at its heart is the provision to try juveniles in the 16-18 age group as adults, for heinous offences.
The Justice Verma Committee, appointed when the nation was in a seemingly endless state of shock and horror post Nirbhaya, made suggestions that have resulted in positive changes in the criminal laws. But the Committee did not favour the reduction of the age of juveniles from the prevailing 18 to 16.
Of the six accused in the most horrific rape and murder case that ever rocked India, one committed suicide in jail. Four were convicted and awarded death sentence, which they have challenged. “The most brutal” of the six, according to the chargesheet by the Delhi Police, was a 'juvenile', 17 plus but under 18. He will be out of a reformatory home, by end of next year.
The Juvenile Justice Board presented the age of the juvenile, based on the birth certificate and school documents adduced on his behalf. The board successfully opposed a bone ossification test to determine his age.
Women's groups may scream that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is guily of abandoning his wife Jasodaben. But they cannot say he did nothing by way of following up the Nirbhaya episode to the extent possible—though he too cannot guarantee women's safety at home or outside.
Encouraged by the report of an informal group of ministers to go into the subject, the ministry for women and child development put up a proposal before the cabinet, which unanimously approved the bill. In doing so, it brushed aside the report of a parliamentary standing committee, opposed to this reduction of age for the purposes of trying and punishing juveniles under 18.
Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh had a couple of years ago said “they are boys, mistakes do happen, we should forgive and forget”. But now most MPs would like the men (anyone who can rape cannot be a boy, can he?), who do what the juvenile did to Nirbhaya, punished. That is the scene that has emerged so far in Lok Sabha.
Among the 80,000 plus emails that were sent to the Justice Verma Committee's inbox was mine, favouring unsparing adult-like punishment to a rapist, regardless of age.
Why should the criminal law be the same for under 16-rapist as for a 36-year-old rapist?
Congress MP Shashi Tharoor appears to have answered the question when he spoke on the bill. Determination of age of a child is difficult. Lightly, he pointed to the fact that the minister of state for external affairs, general (retd.) V.K. Singh, would know as he had used a supposed wrong entry of his date of birth, as reason to seek an extra year as army chief! Tharoor's jibe is one of countless light moments in our Parliament, and it is totally parliamentary language.
But the important thing is the “juvenile” we are letting off the hook, may not be one. Anyway, he is a rapist. The Juvenile Justice Bill should become law to punish the likes of him.