On December 16th, in New Dheli, India, an unimaginable crime transpired that would shake the foundations of life in the country. A 23 year old medical student, on her way home from a movie with a friend, was assaulted and gang raped in the back of a public bus. When the suspects were done, they threw the girl and her friend onto the side of the road. She laid there unconscious–naked and bleeding–while her friend called for help. The victim was eventually airlifted to a Singapore hospital in a last-ditch effort to save her life. Unfortunately, two weeks following the attack, she succumbed to her injuries and died.
The young woman’s death sparked outrage. Indian people (specifically women) took to the streets in widespread protests across the country (a country marred by a deeply misogynistic culture). All six suspects were arrested, charged, and fast-tracked towards trial. However, recent court documents have revealed that one of the six accused is a minor. This development has delayed the trial altogether. Five of the six accused–when formally charged–will face the death sentence (execution by hanging). While the juvenile, if proven to have been underage during the crime, will face a maximum of three years in a reform facility. Three years. No prison. What is most infuriating about this particular evasion of justice is that the alleged juvenile is reported to have been the most brutal of the attackers.
Full disclosure, I’m not a lawyer. In fact, I know very little about the law aside from what I’ve learned from listening to rap music. But this argument isn’t about the technicalities of the judicial system. It’s about stepping back and viewing this case through a completely objective lens. It should take no convincing on my part to persuade you that it is asinine to not charge a juvenile as an adult when the charges range from rape to murder. He not only willingly participated, he was allegedly more involved than anyone. Yet, due to the fact he was six months away from his 18th birthday, it circumvents any real retribution. Five other men will hang for these crimes. Why? Simply because they’re above the age of 18? It’s an egregious form of injustice.
The juvenile’s exact age has been difficult to verify, in particular, because it is common in India for children to be born at home and thus not receive birth certificates. School records obtained by the court suggest the juvenile is, in fact, a minor. However, the prosecution is now petitioning forensics for a bone test to prove he’s 18. While I appreciate the prosecution’s tenacious efforts to seek justice for a man who deserves it, I will say this for the justice system in general: that’s fucking ludicrous.
Not to be confused with “Ludacris”
I’m aware it’s the law of the land–a minor cannot be put to death–but this conviction defies logic. Even bone tests aren’t completely accurate and can be offset by 1-2 years. So they basically diverted their efforts away from observing school records (because it was too inaccurate) to observing bone matter which is equally inaccurate. Instead of actually convicting anyone, their focused more on finding the exact age of one suspect. Isn’t that besides the point? The other five suspects testified he was there. He’s guilty. A young woman’s life was snuffed out by rapists and murderers and yet due process has shifted towards this? A juvenile’s defense should only be invoked when deemed appropriate (e.g. A 12 year old accidently discharges a parent’s firearm, killing a younger sibling). That makes sense. However, the defense of a minor falls short when he’s a sexually active 17 year-old accused of rape and murder. I digress…
The earliest tenants of the law can be traced to Hammurabi’s Code. There is one specific law outlined in this ancient text that is perhaps most familiar to us: “An eye for an eye.” Essentially, it refers to the notion of reciprocity, which guides the moral compass of the judicial system. A punishment to fit the crime: take my eye and I’ll take yours. Simple. Luckily, civilization has evolved and we’re no longer an immoral world of nomadic barbarians, pillaging lands and poking eyes. But the phrase “an eye for an eye” is quintessential towards understanding the law at it’s core. It refers to the fine balance that underlies justice. Proper justice is both fair and reasonable. It is ‘give and take’. If you consciously take someone’s life, you deserve to be given the same fate, no matter what age.
That’s probably why Hammurabi never scribed: “An eye for an eye… unless you’re under 18.”
Damn you and your semantics, Hammurabi.