Saturday, December 16, 2006

Criminalisation by the Justice System

I received this message from my friend Enakshi, who is a member of HAQ - Centre for Child Rights, in New Delhi.

This is the story of two poor young boys from the slums of Delhi, the treatment meted out to them in the hands of the Police, and their journey in search of justice.

On the night of 5th December three police officials in uniform “picked” up two brothers, Surjeet[1] (17 years) and Manjeet[2] (15 years) from there home. When the mother Radha (name changed) asked where they were taking her children, she was simply told that they were being taken for questioning in relation to a case against a local ‘criminal’ named Chotu. They would be sent back “soon” she was promised.

When there was no sign of her children the next morning, Radha was frantic. She knew nothing of their whereabouts. That is when she approached HAQ: Centre for Child Rights, New Delhi. HAQ visited two local police stations and contacted a third, but could not locate the boys. With no news of her children for 24 hours, their mother was then forced to file a habeas corpus petition on 6th December in the Delhi High Court in order to find her sons. However, on 7th December when the matter appeared before the High Court, the court decided to grant the police three days to produce the boys instead of the standard 24 hours usually given to find a missing person, leaving the mother distraught and frightened for her children.

When the children were eventually found, it turned out that they had spent these days in a police lock-up for adults in direct contravention to the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Amendment Act 2006 which requires a juvenile in conflict with law is apprehended by police to be produced before the juvenile Board within a period of twenty-four hours of his/her apprehension. The law clearly states that in no case, a juvenile in conflict with law shall be placed in a police lock-up or lodged in a jail.[3]

And this was not all. In the course of the habeas corpus hearing it emerged that the same police officials have filed a false First Information Report (F.I.R) on December 6,2006, even while Surjeet was in their “safe custody”, claiming that he had been found lurking near Lady Sri Ram College, and was in illegal possession of a loaded country-made pistol. Based on this FIR he had been produced before the Metropolitan Magistrate on December and remanded to 20 days judicial custody, and was currently in Tihar Jail. The younger boy was let off with a warning. But not before he had seen the country made revolver being implanted on his brother after being taken from an adult man who was in the same lock-up, and in possession of the said revolver.

Confining itself strictly to the plea of habeas corpus, the Honourable High Court on 11th of December, chose to not to reprimand the police over their conduct in this case in which every act of theirs had been against the juvenile justice law. It also chose to keep silent on the matter of the illegal detention of the children and has not issued an order for Surjeet to be moved from Tihar Jail to an appropriate institution for children. The Judge asked the lawyers to move fresh applications on all these counts.

While the case was pending, the mother Radha was sent a warning that her enmity with the police “would be at her cost”. Members of the HAQ team have received visits from the police “requesting for withdrawal of the case”.

Surely, this incident raises serious questions about the whole justice system in this country? What is the purpose of having a comprehensive juvenile justice system laid out on paper if none of this is implemented in practice and police are given powers to do as they please? Such actions only marginalize and criminalise the poor –children such as Surjeet and Manjeet will grow up feeling disillusioned and disenfranchised by society and because of this. Can we blame them if they finally take recourse to a life of crime?

The message clearly is: “if you are poor, the system can beat you. There is no one to stand by you. And if someone dares to, they do so at their own peril. And if you fight for justice, the system will wear you, frighten you and beat you down…”

Is this a reality that we want our children to grow up with?
[1] Name changed to protect identity

[2] Name changed to protect identity

[3] Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Amendment Act, 2006, New Delhi, 23rd August 2006, section 9.

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