Life took an ugly turn for Raju (name changed) when in an attempt to save his brother from a bunch of drunken men, he almost killed one of them. Accused of attempt to murder, he was sent to a juvenile home where, in confinement, he found freedom. Raju is a football coach now and is simultaneously pursuing graduation from Delhi University.
I had always enjoyed hanging out with my elder brother and his group of friends. That night of January 2015 was no different. Just that the night played out an endless medley of nightmares for me.
My brother and his college seniors had planned to watch a movie together and I decided to tag along. While coming out of the movie theatre, my brother and his friends got into a violent argument with another group of drunken men. Things happened at the speed of light. My brother was singled out by those men and they began to thrash him viciously. For a second, I thought they will not stop till my brother is dead. I picked up stones and began throwing them at the attackers. One of the stones hit an attacker on his head and he fell down like a tree. There was blood. His friends tried to move him but he wasn’t responding.
Petrified, my brother and I ran away. We did not go home that night and stayed at a dharamshala. In the night, my mind was clouded with repetitive thoughts. Running away from the scene did not seem like a good idea any more. A voice inside me kept telling me that I had killed someone. I called up my parents and recounted the entire incident.
My parents decided to go by the book and took me to the police station. Since I was 16, I was sent to an observation home for juvenile delinquents till the Juvenile Justice Board decided my fate. Here, I found myself surrounded by strange inmates and bullies. I was found guilty of attempt to murder and was sentenced to spend two-and-a-half months in the observation home.
I could see my future dimming before my eyes. For the first 15 days, nobody from my family came to visit. It took me some time to comprehend the fact that my parents had disowned me.
At the juvenile home, the bullies would make a newcomer wash other inmates’ clothes and run errands. There were all kind of boys: some kept to themselves; others moved in groups; then there were those whom even home staff avoided to confront.
But I was lucky to find a counsellor who heard me out patiently and offered valuable guidance. I started to shed my burden of guilt to him. A simple task given by my counselor turned my life. I was asked to draw a list of all inmates, who were willing to leave behind their past and start afresh. While most of the inmates at the home would talk about running away to plan other crimes, there were those who wanted a respectable life. Our counselor asked the latter group to read books and acquire knowledge. Soon, other inmates began to look up to me and approached me with their queries.
I discovered that I had a natural flair for public speaking. Whenever a senior official from court or a judicial officer visited the home, I was invited to deliver a welcome speech. It is funny how the ‘confinement’ taught me to speak freely. But I was oblivious of the challenges that awaited me in the world outside, the ones that would tie me up in invisible shackles.
After being released, living with the family and trying to lead a normal life was an uphill task. I was barred from leaving the house. My family was embarrassed of my conduct, and I found it hard to come to terms with the dejection. I missed my books and wanted to get back to formal education.
Meanwhile, my father also passed away and my older brother became the head of the family. I requested him to let me go out and get in touch with my counselor at the juvenile home. To make ends meet, I took up a job at an automobile workshop. That was the worst time of my life. People exploited and mistreated me. Arbitrary pay cut, no leaves and an exploitive work schedule took a toll on me. But my counselor stood behind me in these times and suggested that I re-appear for my Class XII board exams. He even took care of all the expenses. I studied hard and managed to clear my board exams with a distinction.
My counsellor was happy with my marks and roped me in for some para-legal volunteering. At Delhi’s Legal Aid, my new job was to conduct legal awareness programmes and help people access legal aid. There, by sheer chance, a senior law official told me that he had once heard my speech at the juvenile home. He recommended my name to a football academy to be trained as a coach. There, I found a renewed love for the sport – something that I had forgotten in the course of time.
I began coaching football. This job has not only given a sense of respect but also provided ample opportunity to pursue my graduation from Delhi University. My day starts at 4 am and ends at 9 pm. My schedule is packed with college, coaching and martial arts training but I love it. I have also started a non-profit organisation to raise awareness on various social issues. I have turned a new leaf, and have no time to look back at my dark past.