On 20 March (Friday), four out of six accused – Akshay Thakur (31), Pawan Gupta (25), Vinay Sharma (26), and Mukesh Singh (32) – were hanged, seven years after they gang raped and murdered a medical student on a moving bus in Delhi in December 2012.
The fifth, a juvenile, walked free in December 2015 after serving three years in a juvenile home in Delhi. Here is what his counsellor told The Quint about his time in the reform home.
In December this year, the juvenile who was convicted in the brutal gangrape and murder of Nirbhaya on 16 December 2012 is set to walk free after three years at a juvenile home.
Has he been rehabilitated in the last three years? What has he learnt during his incarceration?
No Regret, No Reform
The Quint spoke to his counsellor, who, for legal reasons, cannot be identified. He says that he hasn’t observed any ‘positive change’ in him.
There was no regret on his face when I first met him after he was arrested. Nor is there any today. I didn’t have to grill him to make him confess his crime. He told me in detail about his role in the crime. He told me that he convinced Nirbhaya and her friend to board the bus and later about how the crime was committed by all five of them. He also told me that before Nirbhaya boarded the bus, he had tried to convince another girl who was alone, but that failed when she hailed an auto.Counsellor
The counsellor says that the juvenile convict does often acknowledge that his age saved his life, unlike the others who were given the death sentence (currently under appeal).
The counsellor says that he made an effort to find out whether the minor had a history of mental illness, but could find no evidence of a psychological disorder. He says that for the minor, the brutalising was all about proving his masculinity.
Three years on, if there are any changes in the minor’s psychological make-up, it isn’t very evident. Physically, however, the minor, who is 20 years old now, has changed, having put on 10 kgs.
Of course, his identity, as per the law, is a closely guarded secret.
Strict instructions have been given to the staffers of the juvenile home that nobody should leak a photograph of the juvenile convict. Because the government fears that something will happen to him when he steps out into society as a free man.Counsellor
A Solitary Existence
The Quint has also learnt that in the past three years, the minor’s mother has come to visit him only a couple of times. He doesn’t talk much about his family, the counsellor says, and adds that he does not seem to miss them.
A few months ago, a female staff member of the observation home was transferred because the administration suspected that she had favoured the minor. In protest of her transfer, he didn’t eat food for two days.
The juvenile convict has also been kept in isolation in order to shield him from any harm from other inmates in the home. He is not allowed to play with other boys or attend moral science classes. In fact, a teacher has been engaged to tutor him separately.
Another Juvenile Reform ‘Failure’
Could these tactics have been why the counsellor feels he hasn’t been rehabilitated? The police, for their part, are pretty clear on their assessment of the now-adult male, who they now say is ‘street-smart’.
It’s very unfortunate that the observation home failed to reform him into a better person. He has now become a street-smart person who knows how to use the system in his favour. That’s why he often places his demands before the court rather than before us because he knows that the court can agree to those requests which can be fulfilled legally.Senior Delhi Police Officer
The counsellor who The Quint spoke with also believes that everyone involved in reforming the then-minor boy has failed in their task. This is partly for structural reasons, and partly because the usual processes could not be followed in this particular case (solitary confinement because of perceived threat).
The basic aim of the Juvenile Justice Act is not to punish but to reform. But has it worked in this particular case?
Originally published in 31 October 2015.