For the past year, the two Shakti Mills convictshave been held at a facility in Nashik which is run like a prison. This is in clear violation of the Juvenile Justice Act
meals, there are scheduled slots for study and play, as well as vocational training till 5:30 pm, when juveniles are sent back to their barracks, where they have access to a television set.As in prison, inmates are given rotating night-watch duty. Meetings with parents are also scheduled like a mulaqat, for not more than 15 minutes through an iron mesh. A source also says that disciplinary action can take the form of solitary confinement. Dr Mukundan adds that the prison guards supervising children is a clear violation of juvenile laws.

With the JJ Act amendment of 2000, Borstal schools have gotten neglected. A staff member at the Borstal explains, “The prison IG has the power to send inmates between 18-21 to a Borstal School but most are unaware about this provision.This requires the consent of the convict. Convicts too do not want to be sent there.“ An official from the consultation in April says, “It’s believed that those being sent to the Borstals will not get remission of their terms, though that is not correct. The other reason could be that while there is access to tobacco in prisons, it is strictly prohibited in the Borstal.“

Previously, inmates used to be employed in carpentry, printing, wiring and sewing, but industries have shut down and technical staff has been shifted out. Currently, in-house training on mobile repair and basic wiring is periodically offered. Till a few years ago, there would be regular enrollment at the nationally recognised Indian Technical Institute, which has a branch seven km away, and guarantees jobs for juveniles on their release. “For over four years, there have been no juveniles who are sent to ITI. We have approached the authorities to reserve seats but have got no response. It is difficult for these boys to compete with the competitive marks of the other students,“ says Baksar Mulani, the vice-principal of the School.

A staff member recalls how a few years ago, a 17-year old had been the only one to be enrolled in ITI. “He would be accompanied by a prison guard to the institute and back. He would constantly feel out of place and the other students would not mingle with him. As a teenager, he would feel his confidence dipping when that happened.He requested he be sent alone, but we could not allow that. If more boys were sent in a group, maybe they would be less self-conscious.“

It’s not as if the situation is entirely bleak. Staff members said that when a juvenile is first says to the Borstal, they prepare an individual plan for him, based on his term and his educa tional background. “The maximum children we receive are ones who have never gone to school and cannot read and write. They are enrolled in the literacy programme and are made to attend daily classes taken by the teachers in the School,“ says Mulani.It takes anywhere between one-two years for the literacy programme to end and for the child to be enrolled into school. If a child has dropped out of school or was enrolled in one before being sent to the School, they are tutored at their level.

“Currently, we have six students who will be appearing for their Class 10 exams next year through open schooling,“ Mulani added. Though there is a provision for counsellors, home supervisors fill the role, since no counsellors have been appointed.“Many of the boys who come here are teenagers have never been guided in their lives. We counsel them, we speak to them about their issues. They cannot be looked at only through their past offences,“ Mulani said.

Speaking about the boys convicted of the Shakti Mills gang rape, a staff member says, “When they were brought here from Mumbai over a year ago, they had been under constant media scrutiny for their crimes.No matter how big the case is, we ensure that once here, they are treated as one among the rest. That is important for them instead of constantly being referred to as `those’ juveniles.“

“One of them who was a drop-out, has completed his Class 10 exams. The other had never been to school.He has also taken to studying.“

A home supervisor, MS Koshekar, who has been in the Borstal for almost two decades, said, “Many juveniles who were here, are wellsettled with good jobs across the state. Some of them come to meet us many years later to tell us that they managed to break out of the criminal activities that they were in for.“

“There is a need to counsel boys who are brought here, no matter what offence they have committed.We sit with them, discuss their previous lives and how they have the chance to make amends. We have given these two boys the opportunity to become monitors to instill a sense of responsibility in them. They are in-charge of the inmates and are given remuneration for their work with which they can buy things from the canteen,“ says a staff member.

Even though the institution of the Borstal is misunderstood and misused, with no coordination between the Prison Department and the JJ Board, the staff is deeply involved in the rehabilitation of the children that are committed here.

As a staff member says, “We have no control over how they will behave once they are released. But, society too needs to give them some acceptance when they try to turn a new leaf. If they are always doubted, they will only find it difficult to break through their criminal past.“