Is our criminal law faulty and discriminatory? I think it is.
Let’s consider the following situations.
If a grown up man with medically sound mind commits a crime, say for example, one or more murders, with prior intention to kill, he gets life imprisonment, which is 14 years in India. If the cruelty committed goes beyond common man’s, or more importantly, the judge’s, imagination, it is considered as the ‘rarest of rare’ cases and the culprit is awarded the death sentence. It is, however, left to the judge to decide if it was one of the ‘rarest of rare’ cases or just a ‘rarer than normal’, ‘rare’, or ‘normal’ case.
If, however, the crime had been an accident or from sudden provocation, then the punishment awarded is less. So, sudden provocation or immediate flare-up is taken as less serious and criminal than a pre-planned and intentional crime.
If, however, the culprit can produce a medical certificate proving that he was of unsound mind, he is even let off. This rule is also applicable if the culprit is able to prove that he was of unsound state of mind at the time of committing the crime, or that he was unable to control his mind at the particular moment when he shot or stabbed somebody repeatedly or when he inserted an iron road into the body of a woman!
So, in all the situations mentioned above, it is the momentary, temporary or permanent state of the culprit’s mind that is taken as the basis for acquitting or punishing him, and deciding on the quantum of punishment. The intention or provocation to commit the crime, or the manner in which it was committed is considered after he was proved to be of sound mind at the time of committing the crime. His age or social, economic or cultural status is not taken into account. His mental state is the basis. [I am talking of the most ideal situation and not of situations where those with high political and/or bureaucratic influence manage to get away, regardless of the nature of their crime. That is a separate story altogether.]
But if a man below the age of 18 years commits even the most heinous of crimes in the cruelest manner and with intention and pre-planning, suddenly his physical age comes into play. His mental soundness, his mental growth, or his intention or pre-plan to commit the crime, or the manner in which it was committed, are not given any consideration at all. Everything hides behind his ‘tender’ age!
If in the first situation the culprit’s state of mind, and not age, is considered as the basis for punishment, or the quantum of it, why is the same yardstick not applied in the second case? If he is a juvenile, he is let off with a ‘warning’ not to commit such crimes again. And this happens even though he commits crimes repeatedly while being a juvenile.
This is meaningless and dangerous.
Our elders, who framed our laws, must have taken such matters into consideration and must have discussed those in the deepest and broadest manner possible before finalizing the laws. But one thing they might not have anticipated could be the drastic changes that might influence our society in the coming years. They might not have foreseen the influence that the infiltration of the Western culture by way of advancement in information technology would have on the minds of our people, especially the younger generation. They may not have had any idea about the impending infiltration of hundreds of TV channels with all kinds of programmes, and the invincible Internet, with unlimited access to pornographic and violent material. Both have good and bad influence on people of all walks of life, less of the former and more of the latter.
And think of what is going to come in future when the Internet is going to be replaced soon by a technology that is several hundred times more powerful and faster! Such kind of technological advances, once introduced, can never be discontinued or even slowed down. These are high speed one-way passages with no return or even turn. And with the achievement of each milestone it will zoom ahead faster and faster without anyone or anything challenging it.
They probably could not have thought of juveniles committing even ghastlier crimes than adults. For them, crimes by juveniles would have been very few and far between and committed either unknowingly or unwittingly. So they naturally thought it was enough to strictly warn or reprimand them or award a very small punishment and they would then be the most ideal citizens ever after. But we now realize that they have been proved wrong. There have been a large number of juvenile criminals in our society and they constitute a considerable proportion of total criminals.
What is the solution?
Well, the most ideal solution would be to educate our young generation and enable them to distinguish between good and bad things and adapt only good things from the vast universe of knowledge. [I admit ‘good’ and ‘bad’, like every other quality, are merely comparative and not absolute terms. ‘Good’ for one person may be ‘bad’ for another.] But these things are easier said or written than done.
The immediate practical solution would be to consider the intensity and nature of the crime committed by juveniles using the same yardstick as that of adults – the state and growth of mind of the offender rather than physical age. Laws need to be amended and drastically changed immediately considering the increase in the number of crimes and their manner and intensity. This will also help to do away with discrimination of the basis of consideration between adults and juveniles.
We need to do this immediately.