New Delhi, Aug. 31: The boy described as the “most brutal” among the December 16 gang-rape accused was today given the maximum three-year term allowed for juveniles, prompting an emotional outburst from the victim’s family who called for him to be punished stringently like an adult.
“We are shocked; we don’t accept this verdict. We want him hanged,” said the mother of the 23-year-old physiotherapist who was brutalised in a bus and died in hospital.
“He will begin his life again after three years but my daughter is gone forever. What’s the use of keeping him in a home (reformation centre) now? Just let him go,” she added, breaking down.
Her comments may lend ballast to a growing cry for treating under-18 perpetrators of heinous crimes as adults, which has led the Centre to start working on amendments to the Juvenile Justice Act.
“We will appeal in a higher court. What right does a juvenile have to destroy the life of an adult? I appeal to the government to punish him according to the crime and not his age,” the mother said.
Women’s and child rights activists, however, have cautioned against changes to the current law that limits punishment for juveniles to a three-year term, to be served out at a home and not a jail.
They argue that reforming young offenders is more important than punishing them, that harsh punishment doesn’t bring down juvenile crime rates, and that one-off cases shouldn’t prompt a change in law.
Ironically, the convict, whose school certificate shows him as 17 years, 6 months and 12 days old on the night of the crime, has already turned adult.
The Juvenile Justice Board here, which convicted him of rape and murder, said the three-year term should be counted from the time of his arrest and detention in a juvenile home eight months ago. The convict, therefore, has only 28 months left to serve.
He will be shifted from the juvenile home to a so-called “place of safety” for convicts who turn adults during trial or during their term, juvenile law expert Anant Kumar Asthana said.
“Since he is no longer a minor, he will not be allowed to stay with juvenile offenders lest he corrupt their minds. Now the focus will be mainly on his reformation and rehabilitation. Counsellors will let him talk freely about his troubled childhood and social workers will keep a tab on him,” Asthana said.
He said the juvenile board could extend the detention if it decided the convict needed more time to reform. “Had the boy been treated as an adult and sent to jail, he would for sure have returned to society as a hardened criminal.”
The prosecution had said the boy was the “most brutal” among the six accused and should be tried as an adult but the board didn’t agree.
After the sentence was pronounced in camera, the victim’s distraught younger brother tried to attack the convict in the courtroom, a PTI report said. The family had been let in to hear the verdict.
PTI quoted sources as saying the victim’s brother darted towards the convict and tried to slap him but was pulled away by lawyers and his parents.
The other four surviving accused are being tried in a fast-track court, and the prosecution has sought the death penalty. A sixth accused committed suicide in Tihar jail in April.
The juvenile convict was 11 when he fled from his village in Badaun, Uttar Pradesh, to Delhi. He is the eldest of six siblings. His father is mentally challenged and his mother raised the children by cultivating the family land.
A Delhi police officer said nobody from the convict’s family ever came to meet him since his arrest. None did today, either. “The family is very poor and cannot afford to travel to Delhi,” he said.
“If the court has awarded three years, that’s what my son deserved. What more can I say?” the convict’s mother told reporters in Badaun.
She said she had no complaints against anyone but added: “We have been facing the worst humiliation possible since the rape was reported.”