*Why can’t we just hang someone who has committed a rape?
*Will a child be punished if he starts working before the age of 14 to help supplement the family’s income?
*There are boys who say bad things and follow us when we walk down the road, what can we do?
These were just a few questions Delhi government students raised during sessions on legal awareness conducted by the Delhi State Legal Services Authority (DLSA) last week. Judges, lawyers and para legal volunteers visited at least 1000 government schools as part of a new initiative to impart basic legal awareness for students of classes 9-12 as part of the Mass Legal Literacy Campaign (MLLC), conducted by the DSLSA and the Directorate of education.
The students were asked to fill a short questionnaire, which included a discussion on what they feel is the “most disturbing behaviors/act or omission in public places”. An analysis of the answers given by the students shows that Delhi’s girls see harassment and “eve teasing” on the city’s roads as the “most disturbing behavior” in the Capital, while boys are more concerned about traffic jams, smoking and drinking in public places, and “misbehaviour” by police.
Reactions from students also differed depending on which part of Delhi the school was in. If it was child marriage, stalking and harassment by boys in semi-rural schools near the Delhi-Gurgaon border, in stark contrast, girls in GGSS Tilak Nagar and GGSS Uttam nagar, both densely populated urban areas in west Delhi, raised issued of misbehaviour by government officials and inaction by police to complaints filed by the public.
For students at the Government Boys Senior Secondary School (GBSS) Chirag Delhi, near the posh Panchsheel enclave drugs use and alcohol were their primary concerns while students at BGSS Mehrauli said public intoxication needed to be dealt with.
In GBSS Khyala in west Delhi and GBSS Burari (north Delhi), which are relatively poorer areas populated by migrant workers, child labor laws and protection of workers from exploitation were a talking point for the boys. Boys in Sultanpuri GBSS and Rohini in North West Delhi also mentioned incidents of Police personnel “beating up” boys who had been caught driving bikes and asked for information about Juvenile justice laws and protection from police.
Resource persons conducting the session also say that “boys in general” do not raise issues of harassment and sexual exploitation. “They don’t see it very much because they think it doesn’t affect them directly,” said advocate Sanny Garg, who has been working with the West Delhi District Legal Services Authority. “Many issues come to light after these campaigns. We have held sessions like these since 2014, and we also hold monthly legal literacy sessions in many schools. Children often discuss problems, and bring it to us for help,” says DSLSA Member Secretary Dharmesh Sharma.
While hearing a PIL on the issue of safety of women in the capital in 2014, the Delhi high court had suggested that a “sociological study” of the crime prone areas should be done to assess the reasons behind the rising crimes against women and children. while the study has not yet been conducted, the responses of the children from various areas shine a light on the deep rooted malaise.
In some of the schools visited by the Indian Express reporters, children unaware of laws related to domestic violence and child sexual abuse, while other students spoke about the “threats from people” if “anyone spoke out against injustice and crime” in society. In another area, which was on the list of the “high crime zones” prepared by the Police, the students brought up the issue of “protection” given to “children of rich families” by the criminal justice system. “Children of rich families get bail and get away but people from poor families are thrown in jail. why is the system like that,” asked a student.
Teachers and Principals of the schools also said that since many of the students in the government schools belonged to financially backward families, there was “pressure” on them to start working early.
“We have had instances where our teachers or the principal would go to the houses of the student to check if they missed classes. In families where parents are illiterate and work as temporary labourers, the education of the child is not a high priority,” said a teacher at Mandi village. She also said that many of the girls are married off while still in school.
Advocate Rajiv Kumar, with the south Delhi DLSA, says that many of the boys blamed “peer pressure” and “social acceptance” when they admit to various activities such as eve teasing and driving vehicles without license or helmets.
“We got a case once where a girl said her family was pressuring her to get into a relationship with a man because he would pay them money. In one school a girl told us that her stepfather was doing ‘bad things’ to her. We have to call families for counselling and approach police in these situations but we can only step in if we are informed about it,” says Deepika Saxena, who works with the West Delhi DLSA.
With inputs from Sanket Jain