The decision of the Juvenile Justice Board to try the 16-year-old accused in the case of the murder of little Pradyuman Thakur at the Ryan International School of Gurugram as an adult is a watershed judgment. It is among the first verdicts following the Justice JS Verma Committee’s recommendations that were necessitated by the incident of brutal gang-rape, mutilation and murder of a woman on 16 December 2012. In that so-called Nirbhaya or Damini case, the most gruesome of the crimes was committed reportedly by a teenager who went on to be declared a juvenile on the basis of a questionable certificate from a school of Uttar Pradesh, a State not known for foolproof academic records. For reasons known best to the mandarins of the country’s criminal justice system, the youngest accused was not subjected to a biological test to determine his real age. In the Ryan case, on the contrary, the accused was interrogated, wherein his aggression and criminal bent of mind came to the fore. Thus found a danger to society, he will be, if convicted, sent to a prison for adults for reformation of his personality beyond what a correction home could muster. The Social Investigation Report and the Psychological Report of the juvenile and the amendments carried out in the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, which has been in effect since 15 January 2016, led to the decision of the board this 20 December. Notably, Justice Verma had ruled out capital punishment or a lifetime incarceration for such convicts. The late, reputed judge must be commended for not getting provoked for extreme legal retribution even under tremendous societal pressure at that juncture about five years ago.
Some questions about the establishment of the guilt remain, however. When the focus of suspicion moved from the bus conductor to the student of the 11th grade, one was still not convinced that, first, merely the urge to create a reason for postponement of exams could push a teen to murdering a child and, second, that a crowded school could not notice blood stains on the clothes of the accused after the commission of the crime, and raise an alarm. If the accused had indeed plotted the murder — as the Central Bureau of Investigation holds — would he be so sure to be able to zero in on a victim in a washroom, that too within minutes of the child’s arrival in school? The spine-chilling acts of molestation and rape of little girls in the GD Birla and MP Birla schools of Kolkata were suspected to have been committed by teachers. Couldn’t staff members of the Ryan school be involved in the crime — more so as the principal acted in a dubious manner in the Gurugram school as well, and two other officials of the school were arrested in connection of the murder.
As investigations into the crime continue in the backdrop of acquittals of the accused in several cases of different natures, it is time to overhaul the country’s criminal justice system. In one case after another, the much-maligned CBI gets access to the spot of crime long after the incident after the evidence has been tampered with, after witnesses have changed their versions of the story and after the local police have botched the investigation up. This is not to say that all cases must go straight to the central agency. Instead, the police have to smarten up for the kind of crimes happening in this era where the powerful and the rich get away with murder by bribing the system to work in their favour. Now that 19 States are being governed by one political party that had come to power promising widespread reforms — and police is a State subject — the IPS Prakash Singh-inspired order by the Supreme Court must be implemented at the earliest to spare the country from further horrors of murderers going scot-free.