It’s three years since the barbarous gangrape and murder of a physiotherapy student on a moving bus in Delhi, and the juvenile among the assailants—said to have been the most vicious—is due for release. The victim’s parents vehemently oppose this, for understandable emotional reasons. Also, their line that a brutal sexual offender remains a threat—one whose face no one has seen at that, owing to juvenile trial laws—is backed by many activists, although there’s an equally strong voicing of a more liberal view, across a range of gradations.
The law, as it stands passed by the Lok Sabha in May this year, allows the prosecution of juveniles in the 16-18 group as adults if they are found involved in heinous crimes. Passed despite opposition of some of its provisions by many MPs and the reservations expressed by a parliamentary committee, it is yet to be cleared by the Rajya Sabha. Setting aside clear-cut definitions of what constitutes heinous—a parlous terrain if there was one, where even case-by-case assessments can difficult to decide—there is no denying that juvenile crime has been on the rise. And, in a reflection of a changing society, many of these law-breakers are indeed involved in crimes that involve extreme violence.