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Growing up in a volatile household which is constantly under the shadow of domestic violence can weigh heavily on a child. 13-year-old Bipin has grown up with a violent and an alcoholic father who would frequently assault his wife, Bipin’s mother, brutally. The assaults would often render her bed-ridden for months.
“When I was six, my father beat my mother so badly that she was bed-ridden for months. I had to take care of her, get her food and even help her with her ablutions.” From a very young age, Bipin developed a strong sense of responsibility towards protecting his mother. “Another time, a few years later, she was bleeding profusely after my father hit her. It was the middle of the night and I had no money and ran to a neighbour, borrowed money and took her to the doctor”, recalls Bipin.
Bipin took on small jobs to help out his mother as the father would not support the family financially. With a deep desire to fulfil his mother’s wishes, with his own earnings, Bipin would buy his mother bangles and earrings, something she longed for but never could afford. Despite his best efforts to stop his father’s violent behaviour, Bipin failed.
One day, frustrated and deeply concerned, Bipin resorted to something unthinkable for a 13-year-old. He wanted to run away with his mother to a safer place and start a new life, so that he, his mother and two siblings would be safe. However, he first needed money to be able to follow through his plan. Inspired by a popular crime series on television, Bipin along with a friend of his hatched a plan to kidnap a child and demand ransom. Things however went horribly wrong when a physical altercation between them and the child led to the child being harmed. Bipin was immediately arrested and put into an observation home (a correctional facility).
CSJ met Bipin while he was in the observation home. In our first conversation with him, he acknowledged the wrong he had done. However, he couldn’t get himself to tell his mother about the plan he had made to kidnap the child; he continued to maintain that the harm caused was purely accidental and didn’t speak about the kidnapping plan. Over a period of six months through individual sessions and circle processes, we helped him reflect on his actions and their impact. We talked to him about the prospect of having a restorative dialogue with his mother. He agreed and began preparing for how he would speak to his mother and tell her the truth.
After Bipin’s exit from the observation home, CSJ enabled Bipin to have a structured conversation with his mother. For the first time, Bipin spoke about the entire incident in front of his mother. His mother was shocked at how her child could have been involved in such an incident. She condemned his actions in strong and unequivocal terms. She was emphatic about how it is never justifiable to use wrong actions to respond to wrongs inflicted on one. She spoke at length about her husband’s behaviour and acknowledged that while it had harmed the family grievously, it was no excuse for justifying Bipin’s actions. Amidst her anger at Bipin, she added how he had always taken care of her and had never been able to witness her pain.
Together, they made a plan for the future. Bipin’s mother said she needed to rebuild her trust in him and spoke of a few tangible ways in which he could do this. He agreed to everything she asked of him. While this conversation between the mother and the son was a small step in the journey towards accountability, it was an important one. Acknowledgment of one’s actions lays the foundation for being accountable for the wrong done, to heal and to move forward in life. Individuals, especially children who have committed harm, need a space where they can reflect on their actions and understand the impact, not only on the victim but also on their own families.
CSJ’s work with Bipin has been an instance of enabling a child to acknowledge his actions and understanding the impact of his actions. Rather than institutionalizing children, such processes offer more hope for helping children to never repeat such actions, but to offer them the scope and tools to grow into responsible and conscientious citizens. Working towards building a just and equitable society which believes in the redeeming process of a restorative justice system, and recognizing that children’s actions are often the result of the social injustices that are inflicted on them (as in Bipin’s case), is the only way that we can hope to implement true justice, and true justice that heals.