Society should change for crimes to come down

Society should change for crimes to come down

Nandita Rao is a lawyer and activist, who has been practising at the Delhi High Court and Supreme Court since 1998. She has been associated with the Delhi High Court Legal Services Authority and NGOs, including CHILDLINE (a national helpline for children), Swanchetan ( an NGO that works on women’s mental health issues) and the Lawyers Collective ( Civil Liberties Unit, which has worked extensively on 2002 Gujarat genocide cases). The child rights activist is opposed to  amendments to the JJ ACT.  Nandita Rao spoke to Anil Sinha of Deccan Herald.

Excerpts.

Whether the amendment to the JJ Act is a well considered legal measure to curb heinous crimes like rape and murder or is it an act of populism?


We can never curb heinous crimes by minors till the government has a commitment to guarantee a secure life, free from brutality to all children, irrespective of their financial background and status.  From my experience as a legal aid lawyer, most crimes committed by those under 18 are either under the supervision of adults or due to being brutalised by others and not understanding their actions.

I doubt that fear of the law will affect their decision. I don’t think it is a well-considered move. First, childcare facilities and infrastructure should be improved.

The government is too adamant to move ahead despite the opposition from various women’s and rights organisations.

Frankly, the condition of juvenile justice homes is so terrible and inhuman, without any compassion or nurturing. They are no better than prisons. However, the government must ensure that teenagers are kept in separate barracks to avoid them being abused by other prisoners. 

The latest observation of the SC that “you can’t have a cut-off date for crime like you have for government jobs” in a way endorses the move.

I am not sure what this observation of the Supreme Court is indicating. In all crimes, there are mitigating circumstances. Crime is punished because you had criminal intent i.e mens rea. In several cases, the courts in the country have held that a person may have committed murder, but his mental state was such that the intention was not to kill.

It will be wiser for both the government and courts to set up a consultation with specialists and come to a scientific conclusion on the age at which a person has the maturity to understand the consequences of his actions. Else, there should be no cutoff age for marriage or voting either.

How do you see the role of media?


Media today is unfortunately corporate controlled and populist. Therefore, it doesn’t really play a consistent and rational role on any issue. It simply echoes the majority middle class view on issues.

Your views on argument on exposure of children to sex related information.

Rape is not sex, it’s violence. Sex is about love and romance, rape is about bitterness and
hatred. Rapid urbanisation has destroyed society and has led to increased isolation and brutalisation. Urban youth have no nurturing, there is a lot of insecurity and bitterness and this translates into crime.

Many rape perpetrators have themselves been raped and exploited by adults. They make the minors to think that it’s an act that is legitimate to do. Till we change society, you can send a 4-year-old to jail, you won’t reduce crime because that 4-year-old will be
replaced by more. Also, jails are already overcrowded and they won’t be able to accommodate more prisoners.

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