Gandhian Methodology of Handling Delinquency in Kashmir

If we act as mute spectators for the delinquent acts of our children we are committing a crime
A panoramic view of Kashmir's old city. [Image for representational purpose only]
A panoramic view of Kashmir's old city. [Image for representational purpose only] Haseeb Ibn Hameed for Greater Kashmir


The real difficulty is that people have no idea of what education truly is. We assess the value of education in the same manner as we assess the value of land, or shares in the stock market. We are addressing the economic dimension of education only. We hardly give any thought to the improvement of character of our children. We are nurtured in a cocoon of self centeredness marked with statistical thinking.

Education has to free us from the bondage of material lust and shift our thinking to other-centeredness. We have to evolve ourselves by thinking and acting above the statistical plane of profit and loss. We have to respect human sensitivities. We shall share few case studies based on Gandhian methodology of retributive justice which will give us the road map how to deal with the delinquents.

If we act as mute spectators for the delinquent acts of our children and allow this failure to settle and announce the declaration of our defeat, we are committing a crime against our children.

At Tolstoy farm Gandhiji took the responsibility of teaching street boys with the objective to inculcate their inner resources. He set on the journey of spiritual training of the youth. Initially he made them to recite hymns and moral lessons. But it did not satisfy him.

As he came in close contact with these boys he discovered a beautiful innocent soul hidden behind their brute outward behavior. It is through the cultivation of inner spirit, real transformation will take place which will result in evolution of responsible and enlightened citizens of tomorrow. It is possible only when there is coherence between what teacher preaches and what lies in his heart. It would be idle for me if I am a liar to teach boys to tell the truth. A cowardly teacher would never succeed in making his boys valiant.

Gandhiji says he  learnt tolerance and discipline while dealing with these street children. One of the students of Gandhiji was unruly and given to lying and quarrelsome. On one occasion he entered the class with a big bang. His expression was violent. He was a habitual offender. At one occasion Gandhiji lost his temper and hit him with a stick. Back home Gandhiji was sorry for his violent behavior. He says that he exhibited that day not the spirit but the brute in him.

He confessed that he targeted the child not his problem behavior. On that day he realised that delinquency should be treated as a symptom of a curable disease. He could not sleep for the whole night, next day he called that aggressive boy and handed him the stick and told him to hit him back as he has failed in brining a desirable behavioral modification in that boy, while handing the stick his hands were trembling and there were tears in his eyes.

This incident pricked the conscience of that boy, he fell on Gandhiji feet and begged pardon, from that day he was most dedicated and was assigned the monitorial duty. Let us share another case study. It was at Tolstoy Farm that Mr. Kallenbach drew Gandhiji attention to a problem that had never before struck him. Some of the boys at the Farm were bad and unruly. With these Gandhiji’s three boys came in daily contact, as also did other children of the same type as his own sons.

This troubled Mr. Kallenbach, but his attention was centered on the impropriety of keeping Gandhiji’s boys with these unruly youngsters.  One day he spoke out to Gandhiji: ‘Your way of mixing your own boys with the bad ones does not appeal to me. It can have only one result. They will become demoralised through this bad company. Gandhiji said, “‘How can I distinguish between my boys and the loafers? I am equally responsible for both.

The youngsters have come because I invited them. If I were to dismiss them with some money, they would immediately run off to Johannesburg and fall back into their old ways. Their guardians have placed unpunctuated faith in me and I cannot deceive them by shying away from my responsibility. But my duty is clear. I must have them here, and therefore my boys also must  live with them. And surely you do not want me to teach my boys to feel from today that they are superior to other boys.

To put that sense of superiority into their heads would be to lead them astray. This association with other boys will be a good discipline for them. They will, of their own accord, learn to discriminate between good and evil. Why should we not believe that, if there is really anything good in them? it is bound to react on their companions? However that may be, I cannot help keeping them here, and if that means some risk, we must run it.” Mr. Kallenbach shook his head.

The result, I think, cannot be said to have been bad. I do not consider my sons were any the worse for the experiment. On the contrary I can see that they gained something. If there was the slightest trace of superiority in them, it was destroyed and they learnt to mix with all kinds of children. They were tested and disciplined.

This and similar experiments prove that if good children are taught together with bad ones and thrown into their company, they will lose nothing, provided the experiment is conducted under the watchful care of their parents and guardians.

Children wrapped up in cotton wool are not always immune against all temptation or contamination. It is true, however, that when boys and girls of all kinds of upbringing are kept and taught together, the parents and the teachers are put to the severest litmus test.

They have constantly to be on the alert. The true textbook for the pupil is his teacher. Gandhiji wrote in 1914, that a child should learn that, in the struggle of life, it can easily conquer hate by love, untruth by truth, violence by self-sacrifice. As there were no servants in the farm, all the work from cooking to scavenging was done by the inmates. And also they had to dig pits, lift loads. All this work gave them ample exercise and they did not generally need any other exercise or games. The physical labour had helped the children so much that there were scarcely any illnesses on the Farm.

Compare this situation with today, if a teacher asks a student to do some manual work in school, he complains it to his parents, it is put on social media, an inquiry is constituted and teacher is attached or his increment is withdrawn. Once an Inspector of Schools visited the school. The teacher dictated some English words. Gandhi  had miss-spelt the word ‘Kettle’.

The teacher noticed this, and made signs to the boy to correct it by copying from his neighbor. But Gandhi did not do so. He also felt that the same teacher, who had taught him that copying was bad, was not right in prompting him to do so. Still, the respect he had for his teacher did not grow less. Punishment is the standard response to crime, but punishment to the delinquent does not necessarily translate into justice for the victim.

Focus on punitive approaches deepens the gulf instead of bridging the gap. Justice lies in repairing the loss, making the victim regain his lost sense of security. Restorative justice encourages the Gandhian values of Ahimsa and Satyagraha. Adopting non-violent and peaceful methods of conflict resolution and looking for the truth because only truth will sustain.

We have detailed rules regarding apprehension, trial and punishment of delinquents, whereas the victim’s role is that of a mere witness. The victim has no say in sentencing or pardoning. The victim feels alienated and frustrated at not being a part of the very process that is supposedly meant to avenge the wrong done. In fact, lack of compassion within the system reinforces victimhood.

The sole focus of the system is on finding someone to place the blame upon and then punishing that person. There is another party affected that the criminal justice system doesn’t take note of - the delinquents family. Restorative justice is based on the Gandhian premise that forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.

The focus of the system is to heal. Here apology does not mean that you are right or I am wrong, it simply means we value our relations more than our inflated egos. Towards this end, questions are asked, answers sought, problems solved, conflicts resolved and the harm caused is repaired. Under restorative justice, crimes are perceived as wrongs against the victim as well as the community.

The delinquent is made to accept responsibility for the wrong done by him and is required to make amends by repairing the harm resulting from his deeds. The one affected by the crime i.e., the victim, plays a key role and has a significant say in restitution.

The main stumbling block to restorative justice is that victims usually have hard feelings against offenders. They may not want to meet the offender, then it is very difficult to make them talk. Some interface between the offender as well as the victim is essential to restorative justice. Next, come deliberations. The process needs time, experts and facilitators.

Restorative justice facilitates victim’s rights in more ways than one. Once the accused apologizes, there is some solace given, even if the victim doesn’t accept the apology. A new trend of unveiling the criminals  on social media and giving it wide circulation by sharing these posts gives him a permanent label; tomorrow who is going to accept him in society or marry his children. This social stigtimitisation will haunt him even after his death. 

When the system punishes an individual, it decimates his existence in more ways than one. For example, a delinquent is imprisoned for one year but blacklisted for his entire lifetime. He becomes ineligible for government jobs or applying for a passport. Restorative justice is an empowering process, where both the offender as well as the victim gets an opportunity at putting a bad episode behind them and moving on with their lives.

It gives the delinquent an opportunity to repent, make amends, rectify their wrongs and expiate. It attempts to heal through a process of reconciliation leading to delinquents’ acknowledgement of guilt coupled with the willingness to repair and reform; satisfaction to the victim that they have been heard and avenged; and restoration of harmonious relationships within the community.

Restorative justice focuses on building true relationships. One feels greater shame in the presence of those whom he loves or values. So if we can work on that dimension of a delinquent’s personality, there are greater chances of his reform than one could expect while imprisoning him with other hard core offenders, which has higher chances of hardening him.

The magical ingredient is building relationships that can reduce crimes and recidivism. As Gandhi said, “Hate the sin, not the sinner”, restorative justice is all about embracing the power of ‘accepting and letting go’.

Dr Showkat Rashid Wani, Senior Coordinator, Institute of Correspondence Education University of Kashmir

Mr  Zahier Nissar, Station House Officer (SHO), SR Gunj Police Station

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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