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When Udit (name changed) and his friends stepped out one evening to catch up, as friends often do, they had no idea that their lives were about to change forever, and not for the better. Through a series of unfortunate events, Udit found himself being involved in a criminal offence which led to the death of an adult. A case was registered against Udit, and he was put into a correctional facility or an observation home for juveniles in Delhi.
CSJ met Udit during a “circle” process. A circle process is a format for structured dialogue where each participant speaks in turn. Circles can be used to get to know one-another, to build relationships and to address harm. In the observation home, we begin talking circles with a set of games and child-friendly mindfulness. We often create space for children to share memories from their childhood, a way to connect and bond with each other. Circles also allow for deep conversation and reflection, and we’ve held circles with children on the themes of empathy, anger and apology. In the first circle, Udit spoke about how he had been unable to think beyond the victim’s family and if they were alright. He said that he was aware they had lost their sole breadwinner and was cognizant of the emotional loss they were going through. “I want to save up Rs. 2 lakh for his family. I also want to apologize to my family for the deep grief I have brought them”, said Udit.
Currently, Udit is with his family while his case is ongoing in court. However, it took his family a long time to come to resume their communication with Udit. When Udit was put into the correctional facility, they did not come to see him until after two months had gone by. Initially, they were so angry with Udit they wanted him to be in the facility for three years – which is the maximum time a juvenile can be housed in an observation home for children who are in conflict with law. After a lot of persistent effort by a counselor, his family finally came to visit him. Udit was ecstatic on seeing them. Not being a very expressive child, and with the burden of guilt weighing heavy over him, he was unable to communicate much with them, saying little. This further enraged his family and they misunderstood his silence for a lack of remorse. They couldn’t have been farther from the truth.
Udit is a very sensitive and quiet child and found it difficult at that moment to come to terms with what he was feeling and was unable to tell his family what they would have liked to hear. While he felt sorry about what had happened, it took him time to take ownership of his actions. Through our work with him, we posed questions which helped him reflect and understand that his role too had a bearing on the unfortunate incident. It was only when he could accept the harm he had done, would he be able to move towards making amends and healing. This took five months of intense work with Udit. However, it did happen and he moved a step closer to healing through accepting his role and feeling true remorse for his actions. It took equally long for his family to believe that the child was indeed remorseful and his only chance at a successful rehabilitation was being back with his family and feeling supported. Udit wishes to resume his education and wants to join the armed forces to serve his country when he grows up.
Sometimes, children fall through the safety net and commit actions that cause harm to others and themselves. While it is important to ensure accountability for these actions, it is more important to give these children a real chance at reformation and rehabilitation. A retributive approach can never help these children who have caused harm to reflect in a healthy manner on their actions and stop them from re-offending. Restorative justice can give children like Udit an honest chance at being better, at being more than their mistakes in life.
While we have made a lot of progress in this case, we continue to work with Udit and his family to ensure a successful re-integration for the child within the family and the society, to ensure the child does not come into conflict with law again.
We hope that you can join us in our endeavors to bring true justice to more children like Udit, and also children who have survived sexual violence. Your donation enables us to do the work we do. Help us bring healing to these children, please donate.
Written by: Shreeradha Mishra
Shreeradha is a social justice worker currently collaborating with CSJ to create their True Justice Heals campaign.