ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Unjustified Haste

Was the juvenile justice law changed in response to manufactured pressure?

In the end the lawmakers gave in to the “mood of the public.” By passing the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Amendment Bill, 2014 on 22 December, the Rajya Sabha demonstrated how public pressure and the fear of going against this so-called “public sentiment” is erasing the space for reasoned debate. Such a debate was essential before this law— which goes against the advice of the parliamentary standing committee as well as the Justice J S Verma Committee—was passed. It stipulates that anyone between the ages of 16 and 18 years, charged with a crime for which the sentence is seven years or more, can be tried under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) instead of the Juvenile Justice Act. By doing this, the law not only contradicts other laws pertaining to children that accept 18 years as the age defining a juvenile, including the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child that India has signed, but it rejects the belief that reform and rehabilitation is the best course to follow while dealing with children and adolescents who fall foul of the law.

Unlike the demonstrations that followed the dastardly gang rape and subsequent death of Jyoti Singh on 16 December 2012, the demonstrations demanding changes in the law were not spontaneous. They coincided with the release of the youngest convict who was released after the mandatory three years, and the emotional appeal by Asha Devi to the government to stall his release. The very visible presence of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP)—student wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and linked to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party—at the public demonstrations could not be a mere coincidence. So was a mother’s genuine sadness manipulated to build up pressure on parliamentarians?

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