The Foundation’s Community Volunteer programme at the Adharshila Observation Home for Boys in conflict with law, kicked off on the 4th of September with Theatre and Art workshops.
Our new volunteers Avik Roy and Shaman Marya starting theatre workshops with the boys, with the intent to understand their stories about how they ended up here and to trace the journey of their dreams and where they go after their stay at the home.
Their group, which comprises of 12 boys between the ages of 16-18 years, worked each day for two weeks on an intensive programme to bring out these stories through a small play.
On the 17th, they performed in front of all the other inmates of the home, the result being an engaging performance which gave the other inmates something to think about and aspire to and the performers a great sense of pride!
As part of the workshops we also talked about characters and masks, and we asked each boy to make a mask to show what they see themselves as on the outside, and what they feel they are on the inside. Here are some of the masks they came up with.
When I first met Veeru ( name changed) at the de-addiction centre for juvenile delinquents in Sewa Kutir- SPYM Sahyog, I was struck by his concentration level and his love for colours. Thoroughly enjoying the vibrancy of colours while painting match boxes, he started telling me about his family and lifestyle. Veeru’s father was an alcoholic and he passed away when he was very young. His mother got married to someone else and left him.
“I was in dire need of money. Hence I had to do what I did”, says Veeru.
The need for survival is the biggest need that drives any species. Faced with a choice between survival and landing up in the delinquent centre, what else could a fifteen year old Veeru have done?
Eighteen year old Nawas ( name changed) has a happy family of mother, father and siblings at home. He was studying in class ten before coming to the centre and his mother wanted him to be a lawyer.
“My friends told me it was cigarette. I did not know what was inside the roll. When I started enjoying it, I needed more of it”, says Nawas.
Psychologists suggest that late teens are an age when there are extensive hormonal changes in boys and girls. There is a need for thrill and excitement. Such is the age when the activities of the peer group always appeal more than those of elders or other family members. When this peer pressure leads to drug abuse, there begins a vicious cycle. Drug consumption leads to a need for more drugs and this leads to illegal activities to obtain the means to get more drugs. In the process, the teenager might end up selling drugs to other teenagers.
Kamal ( name changed) is eighteen years old and he lives with parents too. Enthusiastic and full of life, he aspires to work very hard once he goes out.
“My girlfriend had left me. Drugs gave me a lot of comfort”, says Kamal .
We live in a society and culture where there is an obsession with finding ‘love’. The movies we watch, the songs we listen to and the books we read, all seem to reinforce this belief in a need for a partner. The need becomes all the more strong when we see our friends indulging in ‘love’. In such a situation, when a relationship fails, there is almost a sense of guilt and shame and also an urgency to prove one’s heroism. If not a relationship, then perhaps there are other ways to fit in to the peer group.
The dazzling eyes of twelve year old Raam(name changed) had caught my attention the very first day that I had stepped into the centre. His agility and chirpiness had literally won my heart. Experimentation, peer pressure, these are traits associated with boys and girls in their mid teens. What could have led a boy who has not even stepped into his teens to substance abuse? It is possible that we are exposing our kids to too much television and media influence. Research suggests that children are most prone to being affected by what they see on the television screen. It is also possible that there is an excessive companionship and dependency on older boys in the peer group who become role models for the younger ones.
Delinquency is not just a social problem; it is the root of a much bigger social problem. Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory suggests that an individual’s personality is mostly established at the stage of early childhood. Early experiences have a large role to play in the development of personality and continue to affect the individual’s behaviour in later years. It is essential that children go through a healthy development during the early years of their lives. The rise in energy levels that takes place during the adolescent years should be directed towards productive activities. Keeping them engaged in art, music, dance, drama, sports and so on, gives them a proper outlet for the aggression within, as well as helps in their personality development. Furthermore, this aggression needs to be kept in control through parental check and disciplinary measures. Most importantly, children need to be given an ‘I can make a difference’ boost. If they are constantly reminded that their actions will make a difference to society then they will be more prone to indulge in activities which are beneficial to them.
However, the biggest problem arises when children do not have the means to ensure that the above mentioned suggestions are enforced. Poverty or absence of parents and teachers as role models is the bigger problems that lead to delinquency since they are extremely difficult to solve. In such a situation, it is imperative that the state and society steps in to ensure that the children are not left to rot. After all, the kids are the responsibility of the society as a whole and their actions will affect the society as a whole too. It is our responsibility to make sure that every Veeru, Nawas, Kamal or Raam grows up to be an ideal role model for generations to come.
Adrija Roychowdhury is a Masters student studying History from Delhi University. With a keen interest in theatre, adventure and human stories; she aspires to become a journalist in the future. She is currently, also volunteering at the Foundation to write about different narratives of human motivation, social justice and human rights.
Sanya is a Masters student who has been volunteering with us for a month. Her feedback from her first session at SPYM Sahyog de addcition home.
Entering the gates of Sahyog campus triggered a series of emotions in me. Was it anxiety or fear or anger or compassion or curiosity, I don’t know! I entered the campus with an empty mind. I tried not to have any presumed notions about these juvenile offenders. The term ‘juvenile’ is used for person below the age of 18, accused in any crime. Having worked with children before, I believe these children were a little different. However, they were and they did behave like any other child of their age group would have.
Freud’s Psychoanalytic theory suggests that personality is mostly established by the age of five. Early experiences play a large role in personality development and continue to influence behaviour later in life. If these psychosexual stages are completed successfully, the result is a healthy personality. If certain issues are not resolved at the appropriate stage, fixation can occur. Perhaps, this issue makes them different from other children. Dysfunctional family, certain incidents, addiction, poverty, illiteracy, lack of guidance affects them.
Consequently, I was there to grasp and learn all I could, therefore I did not want to talk or do anything. I did not want to interrupt their activities. I just wanted to observe. Observe their actions, reactions.
I was amazed to learn how they had perceived of me as their ‘female’ volunteer, my clothes and my gestures. I was shot at with vulgar comments momentarily. They excelled at playing and twisting my words, so as to change its meaning completely. To their surprise, I was good at dodging them. With my presence, I was determined to bridge the gap. Their constant gaze at me confirmed the urgency of the same. We shook hands, talked, and laughed.
We started with the workshop, with over 30 boys. We worked on painting and decorating matchboxes.
I was happy to see the positive reaction towards the workshop. I took as a sign of acceptance. There were moments of vexation. However, my aim was to read into their minds, rather than sit back out of disappointment. Matchbox was just a medium. Whether they painted it or not, didn’t really matter. Small dusty hands, with chewed nails, scribbling black and white stripes, and then painted it all black, when almost a beautiful unpredictable design was going to come out. Some chose to keep quiet and observe, while some found it impossible to be quiet. I was amused to overhear a myriad of comments.
It was perhaps because of lack of interaction with the other sex. Their curiosity about the other sex is incomplete. Coming from dysfunctional families, the very idea of one’s mother, sister or a friend was still hazy. Most of them come from backgrounds where a casual friendly relation with the opposite sex is stigmatized. There was a tendency in them to emulate all ”film stars” and bollywood actors.
Bruise and cuts on their wrists and arms were enough for me to understand their extent of extreme feelings.
With my presence, I hope to abridge the gap between ‘us’ and ‘them’. They are disheartened and some have lost hope of coming back on track. I don’t want to be an idealist to them, but just wish to expose them to the normalcy of life, be it towards women, elders or law. Their expression in the form of art can be our path into their minds.
Recent events with regards to escalating gender violence have dragged us out of the comfort of our safe homes, shaken us, as a people, from our deep apathetic slumber. This particular brand of Machiavellian brutality and apparent amorality cuts across different socio-economic classes, deeply entrenched in our society.
He couldn’t stop staring at the walls, laden with drawings and pictures of national flags, ice creams and tree houses, made by countless others before him. Abdul ( name changed) had never held a crayon in his hand. He sat in front of me, drawing on bookmarks, all the while doubting whether these will ever see the light of day. All of 16 years old, he had gone to school till 4th grade. I asked him, “ Phir school kyun choda ?”. He replied “ Padhai mein man nahi lagta tha. Aur waise bhi ladke buri aadaton mein daal dete mujhe. Teacher ne mujhe thappad mara ek din, bas phir kya, kabhi waapis nahin gaya”. And that was that.
When the much anticipated first verdict in the 16th December Delhi gang rape case was pronounced on National News, there was no celebration, just complete outrage. “ Found guilty of the gang rape and murder of a student on a bus in December, the teenager – one of six accused – was sentenced to three years in a juvenile home, sparking anger and debate over whether India is ‘too soft’ on its young offenders”. At a time where multiple PIL’s are being filed in the courts by opposition parties, the entire populace enraged, with a harsh spotlight on juvenile laws, the unanimous demand is clear – the severity of the punishment must increase, laws must become more punitive, with the understanding that current laws make it easier for ‘culprits’ to evade the system, get away scot-free, without really ‘paying their dues’.
JUVENILES : IN CONFLICT WITH LAW
Under the Juvenile Justice Act (Protection and Care) Act 2000 (Amendment 2006), the terms used to describe the ‘accused’, the ‘victim’ and other legal nuances of the case are different from cases of crime by adult persons. Here, a child involved in crime is not called an ‘accused’ but referred to as a “Juvenile in Conflict with Law (JCL)”.
The National Crime Records Bureau data for 2010 records 30,303 juvenile offenders across the country. 95% of these offenders are boys, with about 63% percent of the boys in the 16–18 age group.
That week, we’d been working on the theme of ‘female role models from one’s family’ in the neighbouring de-addiction and rehab centre for juveniles, “Sahyog”. I decided to extend the same, to the boys at the “Waiting Room”, a place where the juveniles wait for their bai plea to be heard by the magistrate. Crayon in hand, he kept staring at the blank sheet. I asked him ‘ Kya hua ? Arreh tumhari family mein jo bhi aurat, aapki ma, behen, dadi …. jis se bhi aapney kuch seekha hain ..uski drawing banao na !” He confessed later that his mother passed away due to T.B. when he was four. They were unable to get the medicines last minute. His father remarried soon and Abdul ran away from home at the age of 9. Befriended by a ragpicker, Sonu, he started living under the pull, near Jahingirpuri.
MAKE IT 16, NOT 18: EXPERTS ARGUE
Legal experts and child rights activists have said that the demand for reducing the age of juvenility from 18 to 16 will be highly counterproductive. Removing minors involved in heinous crimes from the ambit of the Juvenile Justice Act, purely on the basis of the Delhi gang-rape case, will be a “knee-jerk reaction”. Dire consequences apart, will it ever be a deterrent?
Are we ready to amend an entire law on the basis of one particular case? According to Bharti Ali of ‘HAQ’ centre for child rights, “Such amendments under public pressure based on one incident will have long-term dangerous consequences on the plight of lakhs of other juveniles.”
It is easier to be an armchair intellectual, and to raise slogans about the ‘honest’ taxpayer’s money and how it must not be used to feed hardened criminals like these juveniles. But when will we, as a nation, as a community, take the time to understand the horrific journey that a child must take in order to commit a crime so heinous?
According to Lawyer and juvenile justice expert Anant Asthana, “the best way to ensure that juveniles do not get involved in horrific crimes like the Delhi gang rape and murder case is by effective enforcement of various provisions of the act and creating an effective system to deal with children in need of care and protection. A child does not turn into a monster on his own in a day. It takes years of apathy and abandonment to make a child go astray in life”.
Ved Kumari, an expert on juvenile justice law and ex-chairperson of the Delhi judicial academy, said: “While condemning the ghastly gang rape, I want to focus on the child involved in the offence. This boy was all of 13 years when he left home. Why did he leave? What was his home like? What happened to him in the last five years? What all has been responsible for turning him into this beast? Why did the juvenile justice system in place in our country not reach out to him and prevented him from being what he has become today?”
The question remains, is the existent Juvenile Law being implemented as it looks in theory on paper? Or do we find a gap between a reformative law and the system which lies underneath it ? I can never coherently explain the disgust and anger that I felt, when on 16th December a girl was brutally gang raped by 5 men and a boy. Or the shame that I feel when any woman, child, man is raped and abused, in any part of our country. But retributive justice, and vying for blood can be a tricky business. In this case, the juvenile ceases to have any rights, in fact he forfeits his right to be treated like a juvenile when he took part in this heinous crime. That just doesn’t sound right. What’s to say that similar demands will not be made for several other offences committed by juveniles considered serious in nature?
Earlier this year, these experts had written to the Former CJI JS Verma, who had headed a panel which suggested changes in the anti-rape law, against making any changes in The Juvenile Justice Act , and approach towards juveniles. The Former CJI had clearly said that “even though the boy has been found responsible for participating in a terrible act, there should be every effort at the rehabilitation and the eventual reintegration of the child as a constructive member of society”. That instead of being motivated by views on punishments and retribution; it is rehabilitation that we should look into.
Abdul’s life with Sonu was always on the run. He started smoking ganja, and making small thefts here and there. “Kabhi ghar jaane ke baarey mein nahin socha?” I asked. “ Woh toh bahut peeche chor diya tha.” He started working at a chai stall. The other time he would pick garbage. That soon traversed into small thefts here and there.
Rather than changing the law, we must look at the profile of juvenile offenders – many tend to be from poor households, have little access to education and opportunities and are often abused. We should give them the chance to reform, rather than punishing them blindly. Will changing a law make us take responsibility for lakhs of children that go astray from their families at an extremely young and vulnerable age? Juveniles are not born with innate dispositions towards crime. They’re born like any other child into a household, like you or me. What is the difference ? Luck. Chance. Privilege. It is only incidental that I was born into an English speaking upper middle class family, where I was fed, clothed and given the comforts of the world. My alcoholic father didn’t beat my mother. I was not orphaned at a young age, having to roam the streets, picking up on scraps here and there. I didn’t have to steal, beg and adapt to a world that was hell bent on crushing me, my spirit.
Abdul’s drawing stood before me like an image in the sand. He had drawn the national flag in one corner, with small family standing next it- a man, a woman and a small boy. “ Hum yahaan Nasha Mukti Kendra mein bacchon ko alag alag type ki cheezein sikhatey hain- painting, computers, motor mechanic , natak . Tumney kabhi kuch seekhney ke baare mein socha hain ?”, I asked. “ Aap mujhe sikhaogey ?”, he asked.
An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.
- Nida Ansari
Why don’t you teach normal kids who are poor? Why children who commit crime and get away with it easily? They are not kids as you’d say,they are adults with masks of being juveniles, these are some of the questions I faced when I told my friends about the Threads of Humanity programme. People generally don’t want to waste taxpayers money on some children who don’t contribute in any way to the society. In the end its all about Darwin’s laws that applies.
But its important to realize that we are continuously redefining how should humans behave to make this world a better place to live in. Threads of Humanity is a step forward when we acknowledge that we all need more than one chance to do what is right, especially kids who have their whole lives ahead and if they are not given another chance its going to cost us more in future .
I believe in art therapy but I am not sure in its efficiency for serving the purpose we are looking for:
Here I have few suggestions as follows :
1.Aspirations of the kids should be analyzed.
2. Workshops should be skill based. with a result oriented approach.
3.Duration of workshop should be increased.
4.There should be follow-up of kids going out after serving their term
5.Counsel parents of kids and collaborate with them.
When I see kids learning, a small change brings smile which really makes my day.
Thank you Bhanu, Subhadra and Paras for believing in yourself and making others believe you.
- Tarun Panwar