Our system as hard as it tries, is limited to one form of Justice. A form of justice that is only retributive in nature. The only space it offers the victim is that of a key witness. In the fight to provide justice, healing is often pushed aside. We equate justice and healing and assume that a conviction also means the victim has healed from the harm caused. This assumption also fails to seek accountability from the offender. Often, he/she does not fully understand the impact or extent of the harm they have caused. And as people working in the system, we fail to ask the most important question: can anything be done to fix the harm that has been caused. Restorative Justice looks at the questions of who caused harm, what harm was caused, how can that harm be fixed and tries to address them. It involves working with both the person who had been harmed (the victim) and the person who has caused the harm (the offender), to come to a stage where the victims voice can be heard and their needs, arisen from the harm, can be met.
For the last year or so I have been working with children who have caused harm. If you were to meet them on the street, they would not stand out, you would probably pass by them without giving them a second glance. When I sit down to hear their stories, they have often not processed their actions.
When I first sat down with Tarun*, I did not expect him to share with me what he had done. I was hoping to get a vague idea from him and see if we could provide him a strong support system to talk about what he had done and a rehabilitation plan for him post his release. Tarun walked into the room with his gaze lowered. I asked him how he was doing, he told me he wasn’t doing too well and that he needed to share his story with me. He went on to narrate his story and why he was in the observation home. While helping in cleaning an old woman’s house, he noticed a few valuable items and was tempted to steal them. When he attempted to steal them, she noticed him, and they got into an altercation. He pushed her, she fell and became unconscious. He picked up the items and ran home. He had just given his class 9 exams and was awaiting his results. When the police came to his house that evening, he told them everything and handed over the stolen goods. It was at this moment that he was informed that the old woman had passed away and that he was being held for her murder. Tarun asked me if I could help him apologise to the woman’s family and if there was any way he could help ease the pain that they were going through. The next time he met me, he also shared about the old woman, and how she was a wonderful person, always kind to him. He feels deeply remorseful and would like to plead guilty to the Juvenile board.
We hope that someday he will be able to hear the victim’s family and be able to work towards repairing the harm he has caused. For now we hope to have him write a letter to the victim’s family, apologising for his actions, which will hopefully help them in their healing process.
*names have been changed to protect the identity of the child.
By Debbie Patel