Editorial: From Delinquency to Antisocial Futures

Social engagement awaited to help reform juveniles in conflict with the law

News of juvenile crime is always disturbing. These are after all kids in age-groups when the most unruly of their excesses should be some experimentation that is the temptation of their age or some harmless pranks played on peers or elders. There has to be something inherently very wrong with the priorities of a society where innocence is lost so young that under-18 year olds are found in gangs of car accessory burglars, or prescription drugs pushers or moving in bands which loot public property by pilfering fibre-optic cables (this last form of theft on the wane now, though). All of these are frequently reported instances, and then there is the ever present nuisance of clothes and branded shoes being lifted from homes and rented accommodations, not to mention the string of unsolved daytime burglaries. While there is no condoning a society that drives people to commit crimes so young, one could still accept these as the curses of modernity if instances of juvenile crime were aberrations and not the norm. In Sikkim, however, instances of juveniles figuring in criminal misconduct are becoming disconcertingly frequent. What must also be borne in mind is that what ends up getting reported in newspapers are instances that get recorded by the cops; there are many instances where “cases” are settled before they are officially entered into the crime data and several more which either never get reported at police stations or never get solved. The police have a job to do and there are adequate laws and regulations in place to ensure that juveniles, even when picked up for cognizable offences, have a less traumatic run-in with the law. But the more important concern than how the police cracksdown on juvenile crime, is how the society at large responds to it. It is not enough to just get shocked if the shock does not lead to worry and worry does not initiate deliberations and then societal engagement to understand the reasons behind increasing juvenile crimes and then doing something about correcting the situation. What every person needs to bear in mind is that thefts and burglaries are the gateway crimes from which the delinquents could graduate to more serious felonies if not course-corrected in time. The sequence of crime and punishment does not resolve the situation and societal disinterest makes the situation worse - a society which refuses to be moved into involvement by the shock of juvenile crime ends up creating misanthropes out of delinquents. Even though Rakesh Rai, the notorious “Spiderman” of Sikkim, is an extreme example, he illustrates this process to some extent – he started off as a small-time burglar in his early teens; before he crossed 19, he had committed a double-murder and has been behind bars ever since. Too many of our youngsters are getting caught committing small misdemeanours or with substances of abuse. If the society does not get involved now, it will soon lose all moral authority to have a say in anything in the affairs of the young in the future. It will not be pleasant to realize later that the increasing hostile resentment in the young could have been avoided and assuaged.