Running with the wolves

In the latest issue of a popular weekly is an article about gang rape. I waited patiently for the said article to come on line before writing this post. I urge you to read this article as it differentiates between a gang rape and rape by a lone individual. The boys you see smiling in this picture are project why students from Okhla. They are great kids and yet if things went wrong they could turn into gang rapists. Why? Simply because children in India have been let down in every which way possible, all their rights usurped by one and all. The December gang rape got us out on the streets; we did get out of your stupor and broke our usual silence, just for the time we thought would be adequate before returning to our lives. I guess it was because the Delhi rape was too close for comfort and we seemed to pretended to be satisfied with a Commission, the efforts of which we must salute and the watered down ordinance that was promulgated in haste. We crawled back into our comfort zones completely oblivious to the innumerable rapes and gang rapes that happened with as much alacrity and impunity. Then some days back we woke up again or should I say paid attention without leaving our comfort zones to the gang rape of the young photo journalist in Mumbai. The death penalty we had so vehemently demanded for the Delhi gang rape was again heard.

In the nine months between the two gang rapes, the perpetrators of the first one are on the verge of receiving their sentence. One died in jail in. The other, a minor received the maximum sentence possible under the prevailing law of the land. The question of lowering the age of a minor for heinous crimes should certainly be debated and reviewed, but as it stand today, he has got the maximum punishment.

This blog is not meant to defend any one or any law. It is just meant to share my views on these issues given the fact that I have been working for the past 13 years with children who can, if not helped, turn into law breakers and even brutal rapist.

The article I quoted, and provide the link again, should be read carefully to understand why young people can turn to brutal predators in the social environment that they are forced to live in. According to a sociologist: One must separate rape from gang rape, a single person raping a single woman with a knife at her throat is one thing. But groups of boys getting together, for a 'boys' night out', and having fun at the expense of a lone wounded woman is something else. The phenomena exists world wide. These gang rapes are power games meant to display their manhood. The leader is often the most insecure but being in a pack, like wolves or dogs, makes him brave and fool hardy and often the most violent of the lot. The article also gives a wide range of other scientific reasons for such terrible cases and unless these reasons are not addressed, gang rapes will continue.

India is sitting on a huge tinder box that will blow at hour faces if we do not something, and do it quick.  Soon we will have over 706 million marginalised, restless young people on our hands as is aptly pointed out in an incisive article by Anuja Chauhan. I know there millions who are very angry at the fact that the juvenile rapist has 'got away' with three years in a remand home. I would just like to draw your attention on what his life  was and it should have been if things worked right. I am surprised at the fact that even educated people are reacting in this manner. I would want the boy hanged if someone told me it would put and end to rapes in India. But sadly it is not so. His is the story of thousands of young boys who flee or are sent to the 'big' city to earn a living as there was no hope left in their village. He had dropped out of school, his father was mentally ill and his mother earned barely enough to feed her 5 kids. Like many others he got a job in a eatery always on the look out for such children who are cheap labour. He sent money home and then silence. His mother thought he was dead. She only heard of him after the rape. In the past 7 years nothing has changed in his home. It is still as hopeless as when he left it. Like many other boys he got involved in a pack, and that was his downfall. On that fateful night he emerged as the most violent as he was probably the one with the lowest self esteem, the one who had to prove himself.

True he will be out in less than three years because he was a 'minor' on the day he ran with the wolves. Will the three years be able to reform him. Keeping in mind the state of our reform homes, I wonder if anything will change. A reform home cannot make up for the lost childhood and the years this boy had to survive in a big city.

So where have we gone wrong and who is responsible. In spite of the innumerable schemes and rights that exist on paper or at best are poorly implemented, children from poor homes do not get what is their due. Schools do not run or are not enabling spaces, but spaces where brutality and abuse are the order of the day. The quality of education is abysmal, the child goes from class to class without learning anything and if he does not drop out then he often gets a certificate with 33%. This does not give him access to any employment at all. I work with children from such homes. Our Okhla centre was opened in a garbage dump simply because we found out children from the slums tucked away in between factories were being used by local mafias to push drugs and steal from the goods trains that often stopped on the tracks behind the dump. Today 300 children study at our centre. They are all mainstreamed and doing very well. They also learn computers and love it. A few years ago, I was told that the leader of the local gang was looking for me and wanted to 'kill' me. His name was Aiyya. I was amused and said I wanted to meet him. Someone went looking for him and found him. My would be murdered was a young man with a broad smile. He looked gentle. When I asked him if he really wanted to kill me, he fell at my feet.

I spent a long time talking to this young lad who I know was and addict, a drug pusher and probably indulged in many more crimes, I saw a child whose dreams had been crushed by circumstances. I could not hold my tears when he said: I wish you were here when I was growing up. I asked him if there was anything I could do for him now and his reply was heartbreaking. he simply said: we are now used to easy money and the life that goes with it. We will not be able to earn an honest living but please make sure these children do! Aiyya may one night be part of a boys night out and run with wolves and land himself in trouble, or he may just continue his life of crime till he is caught. There is no hope for him. I just pray he remains safe.

What can be done you may ask. There is a solution or many, but does our Government have the will to do so. Schools have to be run properly, but we cannot even manage to do that in our capital city. And most of all skills need to be taught from class VII itself so that a child that graduates or even fails knows a skill that will give him a start. I am not a Narendra Modi fan but I cannot but agree with him when he says: "The nation's priority is skill development. We have 65 per cent youth in our country. They are hard working but they lack skills. They have certificates. The Central government thinks that a certificate by itself grants a person skills for employment, just like they believe that the Food Security legislation by itself can feed the nation". The question is whether these words are just political drama or whether he will walk the talk if need be.

Between 1971 and 2011 rape has grown by 873%! What has changed is the environment.Today the advent of contract workers has deprived migrants of any security. As Dipankar Gupta says:  They have no security, no roof over their head, no family support and as they are thrown together with each other by circumstance, they indulge in reckless behaviour and do not think about repercussions. They have no one to answer to and no one to go back to. It's an inflammable lot."

So will the kids in this picture grow up to be good citizens or will they run with the wolves. Only time will tell.