Editorial: Disgustingly Compromised, Inadequately Incensed

We should not stop talking about sexual abuse of children

There was an incident not very long ago, could not have been more than five or six years back when a septuagenarian was beaten up by his nephew. When news of the incident first arrived, most people clucked at the degeneration of our times and of how age no longer commanded respect. As more details unraveled, while the sense of degeneration was reinforced, the sympathies had shifted. Apparently, the septuagenarian was a pedophile, and among the victims he had preyed upon was his nephew’s child. The incident had come to light when parents of other victims had come to know of the pedophile among them and had lodged a police complaint. But that was still not when he was roughed up. Apparently, the matter was settled out of court when the extended family negotiated a “settlement” and a “punishment”. The pervert was to be socially ostracized by the village and the family. The nephew eventually “lost it” when the predator was allowed back into the village within a few months on the justification that he was of advanced age and “repentant”! It is worrying that most people still not see the depravity of what had been engineered in this case until the High Court took notice. While the cops were all fine with the “compromise” arranged in the child molestation case, they did their job and picked up the nephew on assault charges. When the High Court was hearing an appeal on the assault case, it learned of the obnoxious negotiations which had gone sour and resulted in the assault. The Court then ordered the cops to investigate the original case. One does not know what happened of that investigation, but this one episode which got “outed”, should have opened the can of worms that the society at large does very well to keep packed in Sikkim. After all, this cannot be the only POCSO Act case that has been compromised. The horrors that visit victims of child abuse are too inadequately handled by the society and its systems. Imagine the anger, frustration and hate that a victim will grow up into when s/he realizes that the perpetrator, even after being exposed and caught, was allowed to walk free without being held to account. It should worry Sikkim that the kind of subversion carried out in the case mentioned above although shocking and disturbing for some, are not necessarily rare. Criminal acts, especially offences against women and children, are more pervasive than accepted and unfortunately less prosecuted than is necessary for women and children to be made safe in this off-balance society. The criminally-inclined will continue to commit excesses because that is a tendency they have been allowed to nurture and get away with, and every time they are ‘saved’ from punishment, and victims refused the justice that the society owes them, the perpetrators are emboldened and the victims further smothered. Institutions in our country are geared to instinctively circle the wagons around their own even when though it should be the victims who command all the sympathy. This attitude makes for a dangerous mix with the patriarchal instincts in which genuine sensitivity towards women and children becomes a stillborn pursuit. The incident shared here fleshes out all that is wrong with the tokenisms being paid to women and child welfare and amplify the societal failures and failure of organizations and committees specifically tasked with looking out for them. And let’s accept it, even the commissions tasked with looking after the welfare and interests of women and children were not born out of the society’s realization to have specialist organizations for the job. These organizations are there because a central rule mandates them and because there are funds to sustain them. While this is not to suggest that such organizations are useless, but it also needs to be accepted that they not very motivated either. Otherwise, “compromise” of any offence against women or children should attract immediate condemnation from such organizations. But why blame the organizations when the society itself conspires against its young so often? Given the nexus of connections which most institutions and organizations and even the society at large have become, priorities are always misplaced and reprehensive responses unleashed often. These problems cannot be corrected with more rules and more laws – what is required is wider sensitivity and a clear checklist of due processes. Since individuals are routinely failing in what is expected of them, the institution should be made such that there is a prescribed code and a transparent process which needs to be followed whenever a complaint is lodged or an incident comes to light. Personal prejudices, and we are a nation which is deeply prejudiced on all issues, need to be snuffed out, and this will happen only when guidelines are detailed and digressions severely penalized. Until that happens tokenism will rule.