How much lower can juvenile trial age go down to? Nandita Das

How much lower can juvenile trial age go down to? Nandita Das

Actress and social activist Nandita Das says there is need to re-examine the lowering of age for juveniles accused of heinous crimes to be tried under laws for adults.

"I fully support your very valid concern. Because how much lower in age can you go? You have to define it. One aberration should not make the law," she said responding to a question posed to her on the second day at the Gymkhana Literature Festival here, that began on February 12.

The Juvenile Justice Act, which allows children above 16 years of age to be tried as adults if they are accused of heinous crimes like gangrape, murder and acid attack, came into force recently.

The December 16, 2012, gangrape had provided the immediate impetus for the legislation.

The actor was in conversation with lawyer Vandana Shah and feminist-publisher Urvashi Butalia, discussing changes in society with regard to women.

Shah, who had worked on the amendment to the Juvenile Justice Bill, said, "16 years to 18 years may be a crucial age. There is a psychological board in the Juvenile Justice Board which assesses the psychological profile of a person and then decides whether he can be tried as an adult or not.

"The Juvenile Justice Act...is not changing the narrative in a major way but it is giving support to people," she said.

The lawyer, who has created a support group for divorcees said to be the biggest in the country, referred to the matter of allegations of sexual misconduct against RK Pachauri of The Energy and Resources Institute and said it is an indication of changed times.

"I fairly believe that women are speaking up. If something like a Pachuri case would have come up a few years ago, the women would have been told to keep quiet because such things happen," Shah said. 

Meanwhile Das, who has written, directed and acted in a play 'Between the Lines', which deals with gender inequality, said despite efforts by women's movements in the country, there still exists "a bit of a gap" in society in terms of education.

"I think it is the failure of the women's movement because they have not really worked with men.

"But a lot of work has been done. Women have begun to question the status quo, they have begun to challenge, they have begun to vocalise, work, and enter the so-called male domain and, therefore, they have entered spaces where earlier there were not many women," she said.

Das had in 'Bawandar' played the role of Bhanwari Devi, a low-caste woman from a village in Rajasthan who was allegedly gangraped in 1992. "Bhawari Devi still has not got justice... She is now an activist and she now fights for literacy and every now and then there are people who break down poles which provide her with electricity, she was not allowed to draw water from the village well and so she built her own well," Das said.

The actor spoke about the need to impart "real education" because in society "very educated, well appointed people are found to abuse their domestic helps, treat children badly, abuse their wives, etc".

"Makes me wonder what kind of education are we imparting?" she said adding, "We are a land of contradictions; no easy answers to this." 

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