The Tamil film Master, released in cinemas during Pongal last month, is a box office hit. The OTT release has also been well received. More interestingly, fans of leading star Vijay are going crazy over the deleted scenes, which have gone viral on social media.
Oblivious to all these developments, B Lazar, the real ‘Master JD’, is sitting quietly in Kanyakumari and describing his experience of being a Tamil teacher in a juvenile detention centre in the 1980s. He was recently given the ‘Tamil Chemmal’ award by the state government for educational and literary services.
Lazar, 68, served as a Tamil teacher in a juvenile detention centre, Thattaparai, in Thoothukudi District, between 1982 and 1987. Based on his experiences in the centre, he wrote the book Ilam Kuttavaligal Uruvavathu Yen?
The book documents 28 cases of juveniles that Lazar came across during his tenure and describes how those inmates landed up at the centre. While describing each case, the author looks into the family background of the convicts and their reasons for committing a particular crime.
“After the release of Master, many people came to know about my book and started searching for it. But the film is not based on my book. Since the film also deals with the subject of ‘juvenile detention centres’, only through word of mouth many came to know that such a book exists. It is the first-of-its-kind book in Tamil,” he said. Interestingly, he has not seen the film so far.
Being non-judgemental has earned him trust among the inmates and that is why they opened up to him.
Influence of films
It’s an irony that one of the reasons, that Lazar points out, for juveniles committing crimes is the influence of films.
“To watch the first-day-first-show of his favourite actor, a boy kidnaps his uncle’s daughter and steals her anklets. Fearing that the child may complain to her parents, he throws her into a well and she dies. He then watches the film three consecutive times and doesn’t return home. With a hungry stomach, he sleeps at a bus stand or in front of some shops. The adult anti-social elements pick up the boy and give him all the things he wants. Then slowly he is roped into illegal activities. In one such incident, he is caught and brought to the centre,” said Lazar.
“There are many such stories. A boy stones his father to death. The father has an illicit relationship with other women and beats the boy’s mother; a boy who is still searching for his mother murders because he witnesses an illicit sexual affair of her.”
When the convicts are brought to the centre, they are given black threads to wear around the waist. Their shirts are used as loincloths. They are tonsured. Then they are asked to tell their names. If anyone says their name aloud they are beaten: “Don’t we have ears?” If they say their name calmly, they are asked: “Don’t you have mouths?”
“The inmates will be taken out for treatments in hospitals or competitions, etc. During that time, many inmates try to escape. If we chase them, they try to attack us – along with the gang helping them from outside the centres. Many teachers won’t try to chase them. They will simply pay the fine. In those days, the fine amount was ₹11. In case the inmate was caught again, he would be stripped naked and beaten black and blue, which resulted in haematoma.”
A place for rediscovery
These centres helped many juveniles. Some studied hard and did well in life, while others turned into full-fledged criminals.
“If the inmates study hard, there is an opportunity to continue their higher studies. There are doctors, engineers, lawyers and even teachers who came out from these centres,” he said.
Though the number of inmates who are put up in these centres are coming down, Lazar bats for reducing the age of juveniles who commit crime and brought to these centres, from 18 to 14.
“If the boys are more than the age of 14, there are high chances that they get into non-consensual gay relationship. Also, they can be lured by the older boys to join their gangs and they will be asked to carry illegal activities even after they get released from the centres,” Lazar added.