In a new turn to the case of burning of a minor Dalit girl in the district, the accused persons whom the police arrested and sent to jail as major, have been found to be juveniles.
Claiming that his son was innocent, Ratneswar Das, the father of Ekadashi Das, one of the accused said, “My son was born on 20.3.1996. He is a juvenile. He is falsely implicated in the case.”
Alapana Das, Headmistress of Kharinashi primary school, where Ekadasi had studied, also confirmed that he is a minor. She said his date of birth as claimed by Ratneswar matches with school admission register.
Eakadashi was 17 years, four months and nine days on July 28 when the crime was committed.
The other accused, Pradip Das, is also a minor as he was born on 12.3.1996 as per the admission register of Kharinashi high school where he studied. The headmaster of the school Himanshu Das confirmed it after referring to the admission register.
Ekadashi and Pradip had allegedly set fire to a 15-year-old girl in Kharinashi village on July 28. The girl succumbed to serious burn injuries on August 8.
Since both the accused are 17-year-old, they deserve a chance of reformation instead of punishment, said Bipin Barik, member of district Juvenile Justice Board (JJB) in Kendrapara. The Board will take up the case soon, he added.
Section 15 (g) of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act mandates that if a juvenile is convicted in any case, he can be sent to a special home for a period of three years at the maximum and thereafter, released on probation. However, section 16 of the Act also provides that a juvenile can only be kept at the special home till he attains 18 years of age and cannot be sent to jail thereafter, which in effect will result in his release, added Barik.
“As per Section-2(K) of Juvenile Justice Act, 2000, a ‘Juvenile’ or ‘child’ means a person who has not completed 18 years of age. The police have violated the Human Rights Act and Juvenile Justice Act, 2000 by arresting both juveniles and lodging them in jail. A child cannot be lodged in jail, police lock-ups and hazat. Police should arrest the police officials who arrested both the children without verifying their age,” said Binayak Swain, a human rights activist.
Santanu Kumar Padhi, SDPO, Human Rights Protection Cell (HRPC) said, “We will investigate whether both the accused are minor or not. The police are also verifying school records to ascertain their age. Till date, nobody has stated before the police about the minor status of the accused.”