On 23 December 2015, four juvenile contract killers were apprehended at the Karkardooma district court in north-east Delhi for the attempted murder of Irfan, alias Cheena Pehalwan, an alleged gangster who was under trial in courtroom 73. Two of the shooters, who were already present in the courtroom when Irfan was produced at about 11 am, fired 10 rounds, injuring Irfan and killing his escort, the head constable Ram Kunwar Meena. Subsequent investigation revealed that the shooters were aided by two adults, who had driven them to court. One had even accompanied them inside. The investigation also revealed that the juveniles had been hired by Irfan’s rival, Abdul Nasir, alias Khyber Hayat—currently lodged at Tihar jail. They were chosen because of their age, and the legal provisions it entailed.
A fortnight later, on 7 January 2016, a circular restricting public access to the court was issued. This circular stated that only litigants would be allowed entry, either on the basis of summons or with passes issued by concerned advocates. The larger pattern—that of juveniles being hired to commit crimes because the law was lenient towards them—remained unaddressed.
The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000 (JJ) provides that instead of jail time, juveniles accused of committing criminal acts would be given access to protection, treatment and rehabilitation. A recent amendment to the JJ Act in 2015, which allowed for juveniles between the ages of 16 and 18 to be tried as adults in heinous cases came into force on 15 January 2016. A couple of constables from the south-west district of Delhi told me that the law, however, was often misused, and added that several juveniles they had apprehended mocked them with statements such as “Kya bigaad logey humaara? Atharah saal se kam hain (What can you do to us? We’re less than 18 years of age).” Various senior police officials from the north and north-east districts confirmed that the use of juveniles by organised gangs was common. However, none of the officers were willing to divulge further details. An inspector from the south district, who wished to remain anonymous, said, “Our hands are tied. We can’t arrest juveniles, and we are not even allowed to keep criminal records for them,” adding, “how do we trace patterns and investigate?”