Violence against women and children has been a thriving issue of public debate in social media all the time. Since the Nirbhaya case back in 2012, sexual harassment and assault against women have been looked at with serious attention, and the maximum punishment for the culprits is promised and in some cases, ensured by the government.
However, the fair trial and justice for the survivor have been proven to be dependent on the luck factor. Many cases like Unnao and Kathua also signal this.
Violence against children is a grievous and heinous crime and the government has introduced the POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences) Act in 2012. This act aims to protect children from sexual assault, sexual harassment, and pornography.
A case booked under this has drawn public attention in Kerala due to a lower court’s verdict that acquitted three persons involved in this crime. Social media has been campaigning to get justice for the two children who have been found dead in their house under suspicious circumstances.
Walayar is a small town located in the border regions of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, precisely belonging to the Palakkad district.
A 13-year-old girl was found dead (death by hanging) in her house at Walayar on the afternoon of January 13, 2017. Though the incident was reported as an unnatural death and the police filed an FIR, her sister, who was a 9-year-old then, was also found dead in similar circumstances a few months after her elder sister’s death.
The post mortem report of both sisters proved the possibility that they had undergone sexual assault. As a response to protests that rose all across the state, the police started their investigation. Four people, including a juvenile, were booked under the POCSO Act. However, recently, they have been acquitted by the First Additional Sessions Judge of the Special Court for POCSO to the shock of many.
The cited reason was the failure of the prosecution to produce sufficient “scientific evidence” against the suspects. The police have been widely criticised for their shoddy investigation that led to the court verdict which acquitted the suspects.
Moreover, Dy SP Sojan’s words (who led the investigation) regarding the abuse on the children as a relationship through “mutual consent” also shook the state as many are pointing at his sordid comments as a cue to the vested interests of the police in the crime.
An analysis of the judgement in the Walayar case shows that it was dismissed due to the “absence of scientific evidence to connect the accused with the alleged offence.” Criticism from activists and people who have a concern in this case point at the lacunae in the post mortem report and the FIR which resulted in the dismissal of the case.
Even though the bereaved mother gave her witness in the case, the prosecution miserably failed to utilise this, as the court did not consider her or the other local women’s comments as credible. It was also noted that all the suspects were close relatives and neighbours of the victims.
A Facebook post by a journalist, Shafeeq Thamarassery, takes a look at the circumstances in the case and the possible lapses by the police that sabotaged the case. Social activists condemn the government who try to wash their hands off and their negligence in providing justice to the victims. Due to the social protests and criticism against the police and prosecution in the case, the government is planning to give an appeal in the case seeking re-opening to get justice for the two girls.
Cases of violence against children are not new in Kerala, a state that takes pride in its high literacy rate and progress in various fields. Crimes involving physical and sexual harassment of children needs to be looked at with great care. Often it is revealed that rather than strangers, it’s the kith and kin of the child that is involved in the crime.
Noted academic and feminist critic Dr Meena T. Pillai sums up her observations on sexual crimes against children in the light of Walayar case that, “all you Malayali men and women out there, if you think what happened in Walayar happens only to children marginalised by caste and class, bereft of the privileges our children enjoy, you are wrong. There are paedophiles and sexual predators on the prowl in the privileged bubble you call ‘family’. Given a chance, they crush the bodies and spirits of your little ones with wrong touches and caresses.”
Her words are an eye-opener to the gravity of crimes against our children. Writer KR Meera sees the Walayar case as more important, because of the politics of caste, and social backwardness of the family of the children. She puts it this way, “they are the ones who are kept away from all power centres and they are the ones who are being exploited.”
Child sexual abuse (CSA) should not go unpunished, because it’s utterly odious amongst all crimes. The government should give sex education to children as part of the school syllabus and curriculum, and parents should also make sure that they teach their children the ‘good touch’ and the ‘bad touch.’ Apart from these, paedophiles should learn that they are sick. Yes, paedophilic behaviour cannot be justified. Every child has the right to exist and grow up without trauma.
Social responsibility is required ultimately to bring justice to the child-sisters in the Walayar issue, and all CSA cases. As citizens, all of us should ensure the rights of children and any infringement to this, in any form, will be reported and that children will be saved from any kind of misbehaviour.
If you are a survivor, parent or guardian who wants to seek help for child sexual abuse, or know someone who might, you can dial 1098 for CHILDLINE (a 24-hour national helpline) or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also call NGO Arpan on their helpline 091-98190-86444, for counselling support.