THE ADOLESCENT CRIMINAL* Y . S. M E H E N D A L E A criminal is the...
Y . S. M E H E N D A L E
A criminal is the product of his environments. In the following article, Dr. Mehendale
analyses the various factors of environment which are responsible for making a criminal of an
individual and suggests suitable measures to counteract such environmental influences.
Dr. Mehendale is a Professor of Philosophy in the Poona University.
The present investigation is concerned with customs. Thus, for example, Indian dacoits
4,500 offenders who were between 16 and are not like American gangsters. They are
25 years of age and were received into the not bred out of the corrupt background of
Yeravada Central Prison, Poona, during the ill-gotten wealth, but are a result of brutal
period 1931—41. The Main purpose of the poverty. Again, compared to the dark and
study is to examine the nature, circums-
complicated wickedness of European
tances, apparent motives and other causal murders, compared to the fundamental
factors which, within the limits prescribed, savagery of the actions of such men as
contributed to adolescent criminality.
Palmer or Orsini, most of the crimes of
murder and homicide in India appear almost
It cannot be claimed that all the factors accidental. In some cases, the culprit regards
associated with crime have been considered; himself as an executioner rather than a
but it may fairly be said that a reasonably murderer. He believes his act to be entirely
accurate picture has been presented of the justified. In others, simple and unsophisti-
offenders and their environment. The con-
cated youths, unable to make their cause
ditions brought to light so far, in most cases, understood in the courts, which use another
in accounting for their crime, and there is language and whose ways and outlook are
strong presumptive evidence that it is the so different from theirs, take the law into
influence of environment that brings most their own hands. Few of the offenders under
of these boys into court.
study would be fit heroes or villains of a
A reader who carefully examines the many detective story.
different crimes committed by them cannot
It may now be asked whether there is
fail to be struck by the fact that, although any principle of causation in these crimes.
criminality may be, in its essence, the same When one considers the problem of crime
all over the world, there are certain crimes dispassionately, one will find in it the fact of
which are typically Indian. They can be a multiple determination. Crime is assign-
committed only in the peculiar social atmos-
able to no single cause, nor yet to two or
phere of this country. The motives of these three; it springs from a wide variety of causes,
crimes spring from the established relations usually from a multiplicity of alternative and
and traditional taboos of the Indian society. converging influences.
In other words, they are to be traced not to
human nature but to Indian nature which
Yet in any given case, amid the tangle of
is the product of the Indian mode of living necessary factors, some single circumstance
and is dominated by the Indian way of not infrequently stands out as the most
thinking, cultural traditions, habits and prominent or the most influential. Thismay
* This article is a summary of the Thesis on this subject, submitted by Prof. Y. S. Mehendale
for the Ph. D. degree of the Poona University.

be termed the immediate cause or influence. out of such situations are rooted in the sense
For purposes of exposition, the various of sexual ownership which, the husband
causal factors have been grouped and dealt thinks, he has over his wife.
with under different headings.
Besides, there arise some situations which
Home Conditions—(a) Ill-adapted
prove to be the last in the chain of events
husband-wife relationship is obviously the and give rise to criminal outbursts, for which
most serious factor in the causation of violent however, personal factors, such as, high irri-
crime. This is evidenced by the fact that the tability, fatigue, etc., must be held responsi-
largest number of cases under investigation ble rather than the social ones.
have the background of a home in which
husbands killed their wives. The following
(b) Irresponsible Behaviour of Adole-
factors have been found to be responsible for scents.—The growing adolescents fail to
the husband-wife maladjustment:
realize the importance of their new responsi-
bilities and duties. Instead of assisting their
(i) Wife's Adultery.—Evidently this is parents in their agricultural work or other oc-
the most frequent and grave cause of marital cupations, they spend time in idle gossips and
conflict. The conception of adultery is very are very often addicted to harmful and vici-
elastic and is determined by certain notions, ous habits, such as, keeping mistresses, visit-
often mistaken, existing among the people. ing prostitutes, drinking, smoking, gambling
Thus, for example, the wife is regarded as and the like. Such an irresponsible behaviour
the property of the husband, who must be creates occasions for frequent quarrels with
subservient to him in everything. Even if the elders leading some day to violent assault.
husband contracts extra-marital relations, the
{c) Harsh and Cold Treatment by the
wife must remain faithful to him. Since the Father.—This is noted as an important factor
husband's personal and family honour is leading to patricide and attempts to com-
associated with the chastity of the wife, a mit suicide.
woman who commits adultery is held to
bring shame to her husband and his family
{d) Loose Parental Control.—This is a
and hence is severely punished.
factor of some significance, especially in
cases of theft. The offenders usually start
(ii) Wife's Running away to Parental committing theft in their own homes. Strik-
Home.—Another very important cause for ingly enough their parents do not complain
friction between the husband and wife is her and allow their sons to lead an unruly and
frequent return to her parents' house and unrestrained life. The unpleasant result is
her stout refusal to return to her husband. that the boys come under the influence of
Not infrequently, the parents of the wife too gang leaders, habituals and other criminals
side her, which usually leads to trouble. who exploit them and initiate them in the
Crimes springing from such social situations art of thieving and housebreaking.
are a reflection on the dualism of cultural
patterns existing between the families of the
(e) Poverty.—The significance of the poor
bride and the bridegroom.
home is greatest in crimes against property.
In several cases, the youths, being considered
{iii) Wife's Refusal to Sexual Intercourse.-
an economic burden, had to leave their
Sometimes, a rare cause of disharmony homes in search of employment, chiefly, in
between the husband and wife is the wife's cities, where bad company and unwholesome
refusal to sexual intercourse. Crimes arising occupations soon made them yield to low

pleasures and deviate into paths of crime.
(3) Jealousy and Revenge.—Jealousy and
In cases where the offenders were faced with the desire for revenge is probably the third
financial embarrassments due to unemploy-
most important cause of crimes against
ment, indebtedness and fear of starvation, person. Most of the crimes connected with
crimes against property were committed as family feuds, abuses, imputations and social
a last and desperate attempt to get money. ostracism, and dismissal from service were
There are a few cases where unemployment motivated by revenge. Sexual jealousy led
drove the disappointed boys to commit the offenders to kill the persons who came
in the way of satisfaction of their sex impulse,
(2) Companionship.—A remarkable feature whereas sexual revenge culminated in
of adolescent criminality is that not a small murders of those lovers who misbehaved with
amount of crime is ascribed to the influence the offenders' kinswomen. There are a few
of persons with whom the offenders were cases of property crimes which must be
attributed to no other motive than revenge.
Obviously where revenge or jealousy was
Outside the family, caste is the next the motive, the crimes were very well planned
immediate social circle into which one gets and the murders were characterized by the
absorbed. The influence of caste members is thoroughness of a method.
apparent in the majority of crimes connec-
ted with factional and land disputes. Compa-
(4) Intoxication.—Not a few crimes of
nionship is found to be one of the most violence are due to intoxication. Curiously
dominant factors in the crimes against enough, the victims were offenders' own
property, where the youths, most of whom friends, co-workers and even kinsmen, most
were without any previous conviction, were of whom were, at the time of the crime,
conveniently used as fitting instruments for themselves under the influence of liquor.
carrying out criminal operations. It is be-
There was no ill-will between the parties and
wildering to note that there are also cases no adequate motive to explain the com-
where the police patels engineered and mission of the crime. This leads to the finding
plotted the crime and induced the simple and that nothing but intoxication operated as a
innocent lads to commit theft and house-
contributory factor.
Women, especially of a loose moral
(5) Adolescent Disturbances.—The offen-
character, were responsible for not a few ders under investigation were aged between
crimes against person. Thus, in some cases 16 and 25 years. That is to say, they were
wives abetted the young offenders to kill their passing through a period when the rate of
own husbands, in order that they might be physical and mental growth is often most
able to gratify their lust without hindrance. uneven, the emotions are most unstable and
In several cases of sexual crimes, they either experience uncertain. Again it is during
took the initiative or offered no real resis-
this period that the inborn and instinctive
tance when being taken away for illicit tendencies, namely, those of sex, acquisition,
purposes. In a few other cases, women helped aggression and assertion become more direct,
young men to elope with girl victims. In commanding and importunate. The crimi-
yet other cases, mothers through fear of nogenic significance of these tendencies has
social ostracism instigated their adolescent been brought to light in crimes connected
paramours to do away with their illegitimate with (i) sexual motive, (ii) robbery,
(iii) land disputes, (iv) money quarrels,

(v) exceeding right of self-defence, and
An attempt has been made here to suggest
(vi) revolt against police authority.
some remedies for the prevention of adoles-
(6) Crime, A Social Heritage.—Perhaps cent crime.
the most striking feature of crime against
(i) Improve Home Conditions.—-Since
property is that there are certain castes many a crime is rooted in the defective,
which regard crime as a duty and right unwholesome and inadequate family life, the
sanctioned by descent, with elaborate rules first and foremost task is to improve the
of discipline and code of conduct amongst family. On its social and moral side, the
themselves, according to which they would, family must breed and cultivate a higher
for instance, commit only crimes of a specific social and moral character, develop mutual
nature and would ' never attempt to forbearance, exercise a decent control and
encroach upon the thieving rights of other maintain a proper discipline among the
criminal castes. Quite a large number of various members who are related to one
adolescent offenders convicted of housebreak-
another either by blood or by marriage.
ing and theft, robbery, dacoity and counter-
feiting belonged to the so-called criminal
The husband-wife relationship calls for
tribes and castes.
special attention. Wives ought to improve
their moral character. They must remain
Prevention of Adolescent Crime.—After faithful to their marital bed; they must res-
this brief review of the main causal factors, pect their husbands; they must endeavour to
it may now be asked: What is the future of keep their husbands in comfort and
adolescent crime? Can it be cured? If so, happiness. On the other hand, husbands
how? Can the environment be so changed must change their traditional attitude
as to make it adjustable to each individual? towards wives. They must not look upon
It must be confessed that questions like them as property, a slave or as a mere
these are more easily asked than answered, object of sexual gratification, but must give
perhaps none of them can be satisfactorily due respect to them. There should not only
answered. It is a common obsession that be love and affection, but also a sense of
every evil must have a remedy; that if it equality between the husband and the wife.
cannot be cured to-day it can be tomorrow; Finally the husband must recognize that
that man is a creature of infinite potentiali-
killing his wife is certainly not a method of
ties and possibilities, and all that is needed correction.
is time and patience.
A radical change in the attitude of
Although one may not be convinced that parents-in-law towards sons-in-law is also
every evil can be cured, that all trouble can necessary. The parents-in-law must treat
be banished, or that every maladjustment their sons-in-law with due respect and con-
can be corrected, yet one may reasonably sideration. They must see that their daughters
hope that perhaps here and there society can return to their husbands' houses, without
be made to run a little more smoothly; giving occasion to any untoward action; they
perhaps some of the chief frictions incident must also hold their daughters in proper
to life may be avoided; perhaps a little higher check, because there is every probability
social order may be developed; perhaps it that, in the absence of any proper and
may be possible to get rid of some of the adequate parental control, what the
cruelty incident to social organization. But daughters call freedom may become licence
how ?
to do whatever they please.

When one looks back at the relationship duction of compulsory education. Indeed,
between parents and sons, one feels that there figures are not required to prove that India
is also an urgent need for change in the is one of the countries with the largest per-
parental control and treatment. The parents centage of illiterates. By far the largest
should not be excessively harsh, absolutely number of offenders were illiterate; they had
unsympathetic and awfully cruel towards received absolutely no education. Very few
their sons. They should not, at the same could read and sign only, and an extremely
time, allow their sons to go out of control. small number could be called literate. The
They must understand the peculiar signi-
ideal would be compulsory free education
ficance and handicaps of adolescence and upto sixteen years of age for all boys; but
must help and encourage their growing sons if that is not possible, it should be upto
to develop their own personality.
fourteen years at least, and compulsory
attendance at special or night schools for
Similarly the relationships between youths two years more for boys who have to work.
and other members of the family should be
so regulated as to make the home wholesome,
The education imparted in schools will
adequate and well-adjusted.
have to be such as to serve the requirements
of the society, giving scope for various kinds
Since poverty, unemployment, indebted-
of talent. Besides schools for literary edu-
ness and other financial embarrassments cation, there should also be schools for
frequently lead one to crime, the crying need technical and agricultural education as well
of the moment is to secure economic security as schools for education in forestry for boys
for the family. It means, among other things, of the hill tribes, etc.
the planning of a better economy, based on
the Russian system.
However, what seems more important and
urgent is the need for moral and cultural
It means increasing opportunities for education. It is through such education that
employment and regularising existing individuals should be taught that they are
employment. It means the introduction of part and parcel of society and hence are
fair wages and such legislative measures as duty bound to help in the achievement of
will fully safeguard the interests of the social good; that social institutions are for
industrial worker. It means protecting the their good and hence they must be respected;
family against accidents and disease which and that life and property are fundamental
result in so much suspension of employment, to all social progress and hence must be
loss of income and family breakdown. It valued most. In fact, the aim of such edu-
means a genuine interest in housing and in cation should be social rather than indi-
carefully conceived programmes of slum vidual good.
(iii) Provide wholesome facilities for re-
Just as defective home conditions contri-
creation.—Since crime is to some extent the
bute to criminality, so a satisfying family result of excessive and unhealthy recrea-
life is one of the greatest safeguards against tional habits, a plan of prevention must
antisocial behaviour. Hence it is essential that provide facilities for healthy and wholesome
the State and Society should strengthen and recreation.
stabilise the home.
In areas where it is not practicable to clear
(ii) Spread of Education.—Another cry-
any space, unfrequented streets could be
ing need of the moment seems to be intro-
closed to traffic at certain hours and workers

could organise play in the streets under the feuds, one cannot but doubt the efficacy of
control of trained and able play-supervisors punishment as a deterrent measure. Even
or directors of recreation. The cost of main-
capital punishment does not seem to deter
taining a corps of such play-supervisors will criminals. When a man commits murder,
be much less than the cost of maintaining he often does it under some obsession or on
prisons and Borstal schools. Though play sudden and serious provocation. At such
cannot by itself solve the problem of crime, time, he can hardly be deterred by the
it has a recognized place in every programme probable consequences of his action. In the
of crime prevention.
several cases of murder, under review, the
Closely allied to supervised play or re-
murderers, knowing as they did that they
creation is the formation of boys clubs and would be hanged, committed a murder or
boy scouts movements. Adolescence is a a series of murders and readily gave them-
period when the youth longs for adventure selves up to the police. Under such circum-
and for wider social contacts. An adolescent stances, one cannot venture an opinion. But
youth seeks to satisfy these cravings in the it may be thought that if the death penalty-
larger group—generally the neighbourhood is to be given at all, it should be given
in which he lives or the caste group to consistently, and that wherever a premedita-
which he belongs. There should be organized ted murder has been proved, it should follow
clubs for various age groups to meet the as a matter of course.
specific needs of the neighbourhood. The aim
It has been noticed in some cases that
of these clubs should be to assist the youth the real authors of the crime, remaining as
to steer clear of all unhealthy influences of they do in the background, go unpunished.
the neighbourhood.
The arm of the law fails to catch them.
(iv) Make Police Supervision More This escape from law and punishment gives
Effective.—Absence of, or lax supervision by them a faulty sense of pride and chivalry,
the police is a condition most favourable with the unhappy result that they become
to pickpockets, robbers and pilferers. A more and more lawless and violent. If crime
really careful watch by the police at crowded which is instigated by such persons is to be
and busy places, such as, markets, weekly checked, it is necessary that they should
bazaars, railway stations, banks, post offices, be brought to book and punished adequately.
busy streets, temples, cinema theatres, bus
In several other cases it has been found
stands and the like, will certainly act as a that the receivers of stolen property appeared
deterrent to the potential offenders who are in courts as witnesses and not accused,
ready to catch every opportunity offered inspite of the fact that it is a cognisable
by the crowd. Similarly the police should offence to receive, or assist in concealing,
also keep a sharp look-out for persons who stolen property (sections 411-14 I.P.C.).
harbour criminals, brothel keepers, gamblers These 'receivers' of stolen property must be
habituals, local bad characters and other severely dealt with, if the indirect exploitation
vicious persons who use young lads as fitting of adolescents by them is to be stopped.
tools for their criminal activities.
Punishment, it may be further suggested,
(v) Improve the Penal System.—When must be such as to suit the offender and not
one glances back at the relatively high the offence only. To dole out the same
incidence of recidivism as also the frequent punishment in each case, taking only the
recurrence of violent crimes connected with offence into consideration, is neither fit nor
factional disputes, land disputes and family just.

Since criminals in India come from carrying out any such investigation. The
different cultural backgrounds, the court court judges crime fairly accurately, but not
should endeavour to investigate into the at all the criminal. There is, therefore, the
sociological setting of each offender, paying need for a department of experts, specially
due attention to caste, educational and eco-
trained in criminology. Such a department
nomic status, region, etc., lest it should can function in co-ordination with the law
become inclined to give a disproportionate department.
value to certain phenomena which are des-
(vi) Make Justice Cheap, Speedy and
cribed in books based on experience in Fair.—It has been noticed earlier that the
western countries. Wife-beating may be complicated nature of criminal law and
taken as a case. In European families and procedure, the delay and uncertainties of
modern Indian middle class families, wife-
the courts, the costliness of justice and the
beating is very rare. The scene of the father prodigal waste of time and energy which
beating the mother would make a very grave lawsuits involve react unfavourably on the
impression on the lad. But the same phe-
poor, unsophisticated rural people. If law
nomenon may not be such a rare occurrence and justice are to be respected, and the
in other classes and it would hardly have the temptation to take the law into one's own
same psychological effect. It is not unknown hands is to be removed, then it is essential
in orthodox Hindu families, even amongst that the courts must be made easily and
the higher castes. Amongst the lower castes, readily accessible to every one, and that
it is very common. Curiously enough, wives, justice must be cheap and really helpful to
too, do not resent very greatly an occasional those who, being helpless, run to courts to
beating from their husbands. In fact they get immediate redress.
may think their husbands lacking in manly
qualities if their sauciness goes unpunished.
These are some of the important and
Similarly among certain castes certain types urgent measures for the prevention of
of property crimes are treated as socially adolescent crime. How these measures are
approved practices.
to be implemented is beyond the scope of
Therefore, it follows that a careful study this enquiry; but until such time, the present
of all the factors is very necessary, to judge methods of dealing with crime and the
an offender accurately. It is unnecessary to criminal can only hope to patch things on
add that under existing conditions, the courts the surface while their root causes lie under-
have neither the time nor the means of ground, unexplored and untreated.