Juvenile Bill: We want punishment, but no solutions

Last Updated: Wed, Dec 23, 2015 14:32 hrs

The Rajya Sabha (RS) in joining the Lok Sabha (LS) in passing the new Juvenile Justice Bill has shown how unthinking and populist our political processes are. Buckling under the mindless protests riding on the emotive, given that they were led by Jyoti Singh's mother, they have ensured that many more rapists will be produced in the years to come.

As usual, there was no reflection on the part of anyone. Even the Supreme Court threw out the National Commission for Women (NCW) petition only on the grounds that it was following the law, not because there were several reasons why the NCW's was a reprehensible demand. It seems democracy is not a habit of mind in this country. It is merely the topsoil, as Ambedkar pointed out. Below the surface, we are a bloodthirsty, feudal, patriarchal, trigger-happy and knee-jerk set of jerks.

The opponents, from the Left-liberals to the feminists, come up with absurd arguments about the frontal cortex of the brain in adolescents being undeveloped based on pseudo-scientific 'psychological studies.' Offensive, classist arguments about poor (low income) families, atypical families, childhood abuse and deprivation producing more under-developed brains follow.

The first of the real problems is that we do not understand or know how to deal with the figure of the child. According to one law, children can't understand anything about sexuality till they are 18 and are innocent babes in the woods. According to another, they can marry at 15 and according to a third, now, they are adults at 16. The BJP does not want them to have any sex education in school (that Bill remains blocked) yet now sees them as being fully conscious while committing heinous sexual crimes while at school. Though of course, conveniently, it is people who do not go to school who are more likely to commit these crimes.

The second of the problems is that we do not want to face that this is the middle class projecting its anxieties about its own children's sexualities onto the poor and working classes. The fact is that middle class children are as likely to commit these crimes and indeed do commit crimes as much as children of any other class. Middle class parents seem to forget their own adolescence and live in mortal fear of their children having a sexuality or sexual desires, let alone a sexual life. That is apparently only the case with damaged, poverty-ridden children. The middle class just does not want to deal with the question of young people's sexuality.

The third is denial about the very structure of the family and socialising institutions like schools which are rife with inequality and violence from which children learn these qualities very early. It is not, as the Left-liberals believe, just remand homes, juvenile homes and prisons that are structured by violence and power and crime that harden people. Family and school do an equally good job of it. But the family is a sacred cow and no one is allowed to breathe a negative word about it. School is where parents get rid of their children and hand over authority to a new set of authoritarians who are somehow assumed to know best. How many teachers and Principals in India are trained in how to deal with children?

The fourth is that we have no training at any level or in any institution – family, school, remand home, jail – in psychological care and development. That is limited to pesudo-scientific nonsense about frontal cortexes. Mental health as a form of social training and development in negotiating the violent, contradictory, oppressive apparatuses of culture and socialisation does not exist in this country and nor are we interested in developing it.

The fifth is the culture that produces violence all around us that the young are exposed to as much as the 'fully adult': cinematic cultures across the regions in which rape is normalised as 'romance,' music video cultures in which women are merely semi-naked props for consumption, advertising cultures where women are plucked and painted only for men to consume. This is the staple diet of any adolescent male. We produce a nation of rapists every day in this country as our politicians showed in their responses to the Verma Committee report and as the lawyers did in Leslee Udwin's India's Daughter.

But we fool ourselves, as Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi does, that just harsher punishments will deter the young from committing crimes and harsher punishments yield results. Her idea of 'results' is that more people reported rapes after harsher rape laws since 2013!

This is the age of quick fix solutions. We do not want to even engage with solutions that require hard, structural work, that take time, that involve the slow processes of educating people – young and old – into the habits of gender democracy which are not easy for any one at any age.

We do not dream of a culture without rape; only of one where rapists are punished severely no matter what their age.

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Ashley Tellis is an Associate Professor in Gender, Writing and Research at IMHST, BALM, Chennai

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