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The rise of the suburban punks

india Updated: Sep 05, 2013 23:44 IST

In the Eighties cult classic Repo Man — in what is regarded as a telling comment on Los Angeles' street life — a dying Bud declared, "I know a life of crime has led me to this sorry fate, and yet, I blame society. Society made me what I am". His partner on the streets and in crime, Otto Maddox, snapped back, "That's bullshit. You're a white suburban punk just like me".

India's most infamous suburban punk, the minor who was involved in the December 16 gang rape case, has been sentenced to a three-year stay in a special home because he was a minor (17-and-a-half-years-old) when he committed the crime. This is an extraordinary moment for jurisprudence, just as it is for our civil life and society.

India realised that there was a lacunae in the Juvenile Justice Act a few weeks after the gang rape. While some pointed out the flaws in the law, others felt such behaviour is a result of society's neglect of its own. It's much like how Bud tried to justify his wasted life.

But this prognosis — the responsibility of society — is wrong. From the panchayats to the upmarket areas, the menace of the 21st century equivalent of LA punks is spreading. Prowling for a fight, flesh or fancying something fashionable, poor or posh boys are indulging in a life of crime that is adult, deliberate and despicable.

But it is not society that has made them this way, and neither can society cure them of this ailment. The problems stem from the family and can only be cured by that institution.

Neglected, or overly indulged, boys are going off line in larger numbers than ever before. Crime graphs and traffic accidents are the best indicators of this trend. Parents are giving underage boys motorcycles. Or the boys steal them.

Others find different indulgences. So there has been an extraordinary increase in sex crimes and traffic accidents, even as there has been a decrease in a number of other serious categories.

The truth is that spoilt and neglected boys get wired differently thanks to little parental guidance and control during their growing years.

A stint at a correctional facility will not change the mindset of a differently wired juvenile, especially one who has committed an adult crime. The December 16 juvenile offender should have been kept in for a period that befits an adult crime.

Moreover, the law must be changed to enable citizens to know the criminal. In the case of a juvenile offender, the person's head is covered in public and his name is not made public.

But this practice is archaic because there is every chance that the juvenile after coming out of correctional facilities may end up working with women, even though he has brutalized one.

It is a telling reflection of India's public life that the Supreme Court had to intervene to keep convicted citizens out of the legislature. What is even more significant is that MPs got together to amend the People's Representation Act so that convicted persons can become enter the House.

Surprisingly, the same Parliament did not show any interest in seeking amendments to the Juvenile Justice Act to ensure that such monsters are kept off the streets. In about seven years, this juvenile will be eligible to contest an election to the Parliament that seeks to enable him rather than keep him off the streets.

Manvendra Singh is a former BJP MP

The views expressed by the author are personal