Delhi gangrape: The juvenile,at home

The now 18-year-old juvenile has come to terms with his fate,and is learning to read and write.

Written by Prawesh Lama | Published: September 8, 2013 3:05:06 am

He requested his welfare officers to help him meet his family members—he hadn’t met them in five years. He told one official he had lost his mobile phone a year ago because of which he had lost touch with his family… Contrary to news reports that his penniless mother had not met him since his arrest,the official said that around three months ago,she came to see him at the home

The teenager who will forever remain the “juvenile” convict in one of India’s most horrific gangrape cases is now a Class III student—the same standard he was in when sent away by his mother to earn a living at the age of six,10-11 years ago. In a Special Home for Boys in North Delhi,he has spent the eight months since his arrest for the Delhi bus gangrape to learn to read and write. He pores over the Hindi newspaper provided to him,as well as tries to follow the ticker running on the screen in Hindi news channels,though that’s a struggle as he is still a slow reader. Now 18,he is particularly interested in news regarding the case.

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On August 31,the day he was sentenced to three years,say officials,he was calm.

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When he was shifted to the observation centre—inside which is the home for boys—a few days after the December 16 gangrape,he came with the reputation of having been the most brutal of the assaulters. (The Delhi Police withdrew this observation prior to the verdict in his case). Amid the national outrage over the gangrape,when the accused were booed and jeered on their way to courtrooms,the “juvenile” was scared,say officials.

Related: Juvenile held guilty of rape and murder,sentenced to 3 years

In the early weeks of his stay,he refused to step out of his room or talk to others,feared for his life and interacted only with his welfare officer. Officials say he developed health issues because of the anxiety. There were reports,never confirmed,that he had been assaulted inside the correction centre where he was kept before he was brought here. A few weeks after he was moved,fellow accused Ram Singh,considered the main culprit,was found hanging in his cell in Tihar Jail.

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Last month,when a few juveniles went on a rampage in this North Delhi observation house,the gangrape convict was immediately taken away by officials from his room. They escorted him through a back door to the administration building,where he spent the night in one of the offices. “It is not that anyone was trying to attack him,but the safety of the juvenile convict is our prime responsibility,” says an official.

The observation home has three wings,housing different categories of juveniles. The ‘Place of Safety’ building has those juveniles who have attained maturity and are facing trial under the Juvenile Justice Act. Convicted juveniles like the teenager are kept at the Special Home for Boys. The third wing houses the Observation Home for Boys Annexe,where undertrial juveniles and repeat offenders are kept.

Amid the rampage last month,locks on all the three buildings were broken.

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During the early weeks,there were also visible signs of the then 17-year-old slipping into depression. He requested his welfare officers to help him meet his family members—he hadn’t met his parents and five siblings in five years. He told one official he had lost his mobile phone a year ago because of which he had lost touch with his family,including his uncle who had brought him to the Capital.

However,when officials did manage to find the uncle’s number,the latter refused point blank to meet the juvenile. “His uncle did not come despite our requests. After more than a month of persuasion,he gave us the phone number of someone in their native village who had a mobile phone. We called that person,who then helped us talk to the boy’s mother. We also sent a letter to the family,” says an official who refused to be named.

Contrary to news reports that his mother,penniless and with five young children and a mentally disabled husband to support,had not met him since his arrest,the official said that around three months ago,“she came to the home and visited the juvenile”.

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At the observation home housing around 16 juveniles convicted or facing trial for various crimes,in-house counsellors try to understand the interests of the inmates to decide the special skills they can be trained in,so that they can make a fresh start after serving their time. They can learn cooking,tailoring,music,hair-cutting or take a course in beauty and make-up. A short-term course in applying mehndi is also taught by the volunteers of an NGO,the Shubhashika Educational Society.

A few weeks before his conviction by the Juvenile Justice Board,counsellors had started interacting with him to understand his area of interest. After days of counselling,the teenager told officials he was interested in learning cooking and tailoring. Since the day of his conviction,these two classes have begun. While the teacher who visits the home for the tailoring class has been ill since the first class,the cooking classes are on. In the next one,he will learn how to make street food such as bhalle-papri and gol-gappe. The National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) gives a certificate if an inmate completes a course.

Interestingly,when he first arrived as a boy in Delhi,the teenager was employed in a dhaba in Old Kondli,East Delhi. He left after four years,vowing never to wash dirty dishes again.

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An official says that some weeks ago,when he saw the other kids playing chess and ludo at the home,he requested officials to teach him to play chess. Days after trying to learn the game,he returned the chessboard. While he refused to enrol for music classes,recently he expressed a desire to learn to play the guitar. After practice,the guitar is taken back from him each evening. Officials are trying to adjust the timings of the guitar teacher to help him learn the instrument separately.

In his reading and writing lessons,the teenager is enrolled as a “beginner”,having forgotten to write even his own name in the long gap since the formal education he had had at home,in a village in western Uttar Pradesh. Shubhashika Educational Society volunteers come two hours everyday at the home to hold these lessons. Given the scare over his safety,the teenager is taught separately.

Recently,when he “graduated” to Class III,officials say,he was very excited.

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Before his arrest,the homeless teenager slept most nights inside the bus the main gangrape accused,Ram Singh,drove. Before that,he would spend nights inside a similar bus at Bhajanpura in North-East Delhi,in which he worked as a conductor. Now,given the security concerns,he has a room to himself at the home,unlike the other juveniles who either share a room or stay in a dormitory. As per the rules,he is allowed cable TV and a desert cooler. Officials say he can watch the channels of his choice except for some which have been blocked for “distorting impressionable minds”.

At the home,the inmates get up around 6 am daily. This is followed by a customary wash and then hour-long meditation. Breakfast is served at exactly 8 am. By 10 am,the teenager is given a newspaper and advised to watch the news,especially to learn about “national issues”.

After an hour or two of reading or watching television,he is asked to step out of his room and interact with the other inmates in the presence of officials. They usually play indoor games around this time or “huddle around sharing their stories”,says an official. Lunch is usually served at 1 pm.

Saturdays are considered “special” days,when the inmates are given chhole-bhature for breakfast,can have puris at meals and are served paneer for dinner. While an effort is made to serve them sweets with every meal,kheer and halwa are an added attraction on Saturdays.

“This is not a place where inmates are punished. Our job is to ensure they reform… Small things such as this go a long way,” says an official. The stress being on reform,no manual labour is expected of the inmates.

Post lunch,the classes begin,with volunteers,teachers,trainers,counsellors coming in. Every juvenile is engaged in either his classes or in learning vocational courses at this time.

Classes usually end by 5.30-6 pm,after which the inmates are allowed to take a break till dinner,which is served at 8 pm. By 10-10.30 pm,they are expected to be in bed.

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Although the teenager does not talk much about the case,sources say he had confessed to officials about the December night he “made a mistake” and “joined the others” in the gangrape.

The conviction hadn’t come as a surprise to him,they add. He will serve 28 months,eight months being deducted for the time he has already spent as an undertrial. Despite the frenzy as he was produced in court with an orange towel wrapped around his face,with police personnel enclosing him tightly in a circle,the sentencing may have even calmed him down. “These days he has become more comfortable with his surroundings. He is eager to go for meditation every morning before breakfast. He is confident while speaking to the other inmates and the guards inside the house. We will slowly get him to interact more frequently with the other kids,” says an official.

Sources say he had also asked for his mother to be present during the sentencing.

An official who has been working with him is optimistic that if he works hard,during his time here,he can reach the level of Class VIII. “The NIOS conducts exams for Class VIII at the home. The students who are qualified to take the exam for Class X even go out and write the exams at a centre,” the official says.

Once he clears his Class III,the NIOS will give him a ‘Level A’ certificate.

While there have been protests over the “light sentence” given to the “juvenile”,even calls that he deserved death,officials say they are focused on their job,which is to ensure that the teenager returns to society a reformed man. “Mahatma Gandhi said: ‘Hate the sin,not the sinner’,” says an official.

He points to a painting hanging in the office of the superintendent inside the complex. The teenager gifted it to the superintendent in March when he was just learning to write his name,and it hangs among the works by the other juveniles at the home.

It is a painting in crayon depicting Holi,with scribbled initials in English at the bottom for signature. Sent away from home at the age of six,the teenager has drawn three people: a young,happy child and his parents,enjoying the festival.

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