Who is the Real Criminal? Questions after the Punishment
By Bolan Gangapadhyay
The announcement of capital punishment to the perpetrators of the heinous Delhi gang rape on 16 December, 2012 has been widely hailed in India and there can be no denying the fact such heinous crimes have to be penalized in exemplary fashion, and yet the question remains, is penology enough or does death penalty to the perpetrators arrives at a closure of such crimes? Or, after such punishments, larger questions about the rationality of such punishments remain unexplored? While one needs to reiterate that the Delhi crime deserves the severest possible punishment to prevent future occurrences of such crimes against women, a study of the background of those perpetrators is absolutely necessary before we arrive at any conclusion about the ultimate forms of punishment or the right age for giving capital punishment. Having read about the juvenile boy, who was one of the perpetrators of the Delhi crime, I started to think of Ramua, a homeless orphan whom I met in a Delhi night-shelter for the homeless. Such shelters are run by NGOs and are generally crowded with pavement dwellers and orphans.
Ramua, a homeless boy of 13-14 years had a blurred memory of his father and his little sister, but he could barely remember anything of his mother. He even fails to remember when exactly he left home and how did he arrive here in Delhi. He had bright dark eyes and he is called by all as only ‘Ramua’, who had no idea about his surname or family roots. Ramua had nothing in his possession, barring some tit-bits like a comb, a broken flute, a torn money bag (that he picked up from the road), and a broken police baton which he chanced upon accidentally, when he was caught between a police-public scuffle some days back.
Ramua walks up the roads of Delhi every morning in search of works, either in garages, tea shops, road side hotels, and if luck smiles, he gets 30-40 Rs a day for his survival. If he fails to get any work, he goes to the railway station in search of food, and there is certainly no guaranty that he gets his sustenance every day.
NGO workers would tell you of thousand such Ramuas in Delhi alone and many of whom are drug addicts. One cannot even be sure how many numbers of homeless people are there in Delhi alone, the numbers are huge as everyday new entrants are pouring in Delhi in search of works and livelihood. The quest of such livelihood brought in both the family of Nirvaya (the victim of the Delhi gang rape) as well as the perpetrators of the crime to Delhi. In one way, there is a commonality for both the victim and the perpetrators, both were migrants to Delhi in search of livelihood. People from all over India sometimes sell their lands or homes to flock to Delhi/other metros in search of better lives and once they are in the mega cities, they start living in sub-human conditions as they do in the capital of India.
The consequences of such sub-human living are well known but few bother to consider such reality checks. Why does crime happen in our metros? Why the “criminals” resort to such brute force and barbaric behaviors? Punishments are necessary, but mere punishment fails to answer these questions. Why does a juvenile boy ravage a young girl with such barbarity? Can we, the members of this society escape or evade such questions? Does any form of punishment take away such questions or facilitate any answer?
A boy of 15-17 years, force-sent to our metros by poverty, commits the rarest of the rare crimes and we clamor for death punishment, and while the legitimacy of punishment demands cannot be questioned, should we not ponder what we as society have done with such poor juvenile boys who are robbed off their childhood and are thrown in hostile and sub-human conditions by adverse circumstances and extreme forms of poverty? Should we, the advocates of capital punishment ask ourselves what kind of healthy and humane condition could be given to such hapless members of society, who roam around in the metros homeless, unfed, untutored, unnurtured? Would it be fair on our part to expect civilized norms and conducts from a juvenile, who is left alone to grow in the most pathetically inhuman conditions of our metros? In other words, are we promoting criminal atmospheres and simultaneously crying out to see its consequences? If we hang this juvenile “criminal” or execute him by other means, are we safe forever? Does the story end there? Would we not explore why a boy of 16 years brutalizes a girl in such a fashion? Why does he get fun in mercilessly raping and killing a girl? Who is responsible for such demonization? Only the perpetrator? Why does such a boy define fun only through such crimes? Why is his mindscape constituted/structured in such barbaric fashion? Who is ultimately responsible for this?
We may evade such disturbing questions, but one needs to find answer to such questions if we want to ensure a better future.
Bolan Gangapadhyaya is a columnist and a very well known social activist in West Bengal, India. The present piece was translated from one of her Bengali pieces on this issue.
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