In criminal cases, quarrelling about 16 and 18 should stop
“Murder is unique in that it abolishes the party it injures, so that society must take the place of the victim, and on his behalf demand atonement or grant forgiveness.” —WH Auden
Not a day passes without our media publishing something or the other about the recent controversy over adolescent age brought on by the new Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act . Most opinions appear to be of people who feel really sorry for the perpetrators of heinous crimes like murder or rape.
Only criminals above 18 years of age was considered adults below that age, they are to be treated on a different pedestal, even if they have committed the most heinous crime. A recent article made a deep impression on my mind, where a strong push was made for the difference between 16 years and 18 years—the writer thought that the brain growth between 16 and 18 made that cut between adolescent thinking and adult thinking. This writer was a very vocal law-maker and thinks that, unless the brain develops to the level of 18 years, no one can be punished like an adult, even for a heinous crime.
The human mind is not inside the human brain and has very little to do with any organ in the body. The first scientist who connected the mind to the brain was Wilder Penfield, a Canadian neurosurgeon. Fortunately, he did not stop his research and his work even after getting a Nobel Prize. He soon realised that he was wrong when consciousness came into mind which, until then, was an anathema to Western reductionist science.
Penfield wrote thus in the latter half of his life: “None of the actions that we attribute to the mind has been initiated by electric stimulation or epileptic discharge… There is no area of the grey matter, as far as my experience goes, which local epileptic discharge brings to pass what could be called the mind-action… what the mind does is different. It is not to be accounted by any neuronal mechanism that I can discover.
To expect the highest brain-mechanism, or any set of reflexes, however complicated, to carry out what the mind does, and thus perform all the functions of the mind, is quite absurd.” In his classic The Mystery of the Mind, which he wrote in 1975, he goes into the deep recesses of the mind to explore it.
Wilder writes, in one place: “I am an explorer, but unlike my predecessors who used compasses and canoes to discover unknown lands, I used a scalpel and a small electrode to explore and map the human brain. Throughout my career, I was driven by the central question that has obsessed both scientists and philosophers for hundreds of years. Are mind and body one? Can the mind—thinking, reasoning, imagination—be explained by the functions of the brain?”
It should now be clear that the mental age is something that has very little to do with physical age. Quarrelling about 16 and 18 should stop scientifically, from now on. One can always beat the government when you want to pull it down; but do it more scientifically. The Act came into force on 15 January 2016. Our archaic Indian Penal Code (IPC), a legacy of our colonial past, can be done away with.
We have enough brains to have a new IPC relevant to our country and the present times, where crime takes newer and newer faces almost by the day. Let us make the laws that deter, if possible, human suffering at the hands of bad minds. Our educational system must also change concurrently, to make education inculcate healthy minds in our students, in addition to imparting the wealthy career obsession of today. Healthy minds have two qualities—enthusiasm to work and enthusiasm to be compassionate.
(Professor Dr BM Hegde
, a Padma Bhushan awardee in 2010, is an MD, PhD, FRCP (London, Edinburgh, Glasgow & Dublin), FACC and FAMS.)