On a Long Road to Justice: Simin Akhter

This is a Guest post by Simin Akhter, with inputs from Kamal Pant, Naina Singh and Vikas – 16 December Kranti

(Notes from the ongoing protests in the child sexual abuse case against Toddlers International Playschool, Rohini)

In a heinous and unfortunate show of power and violence, a two and a half year-old girl was raped by a male attendant at Toddlers International playschool (Rohini). Though the parents could manage to file an FIR, the management has threatened them with dire consequences. The principal has been openly shielding the accused, Amit Kumar, despite prior complaints of inappropriate behaviour by aggrieved parents and was allegedly shameless and audacious enough to tell the parents, ‘The police have been fed too well enough to open their mouths’! It also came to light during the protest yesterday that a similar FIR was filed two years back too but no police records could be found for the same; no wonder!

Almost 30 other girls have been detected with a certain strain of bacterial urinary infection, indicating the said two-year old is not the only victim. Many other children have been suffering from mouth-ulcers and a general loss of appetite too, reflecting also on the general lack of health and hygiene practices in the school. A group of parents, grandparents and concerned citizens, mostly young women and men, from in and around Rohini have got together for a relay protest but parents of other victims have not been forthcoming with formal complaints. Needless to say, the greater the delay in filing the complaints, the more legal intervention will get delayed.

It’s been three weeks of protest, there’s been an FIR, a court appeal, complaints to the DCPCR, PMO, and the Directorate of Education. The High Commission for child rights at the United Nations has asked us to file a petition with them if government agencies don’t cooperate but there has been bad news too. The police have been extremely unsupportive, the protesters are under constant threat from the school management, false cases of vandalism, and criminal conspiracy and defamation are being construed against people whose only crime is dissent. “What civil society does not realise is that if we don’t speak out now, we’re not ‘safe in silence’; we’re rather trading off our voice for the assurance of an inexistent safety”, say the parents, and though this fight was about one case of sexual abuse initially, it is assuming a larger scope and proportion day by day, as we approach authorities.

The Directorate of Education has informed us playschools are not under their direct regulation and hence there are no guide-lines governing them! The Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights (DCPCR) has told us the commission’s powers to take suo-moto notice despite any and every willingness to do so on their part (without the obviously missing complaints from other parents, who are still too scared to come out?) are limited. The history and the state of the justice dispensation mechanism in the country tells us that justice is a long process. In the meanwhile, the school has opened again, and though most parents are not sending their kids back, some still are. There are policemen outside the school gates (both in uniform and in plain clothes, obviously ready to join the protesters and highjack and vandalize the protests if needed, as has been done before) and to defend and protect the perpetrators while keeping peaceful voices of protest at bay, even if by use of force! Needless to say, the police have filed a complaint only under the very lenient section 10 of PoCSO, while stronger Sections 3, 5,6, 7 and section 323 of CRPC could also have been invoked. Further, the school’s destruction of CCTV footage is culpable under section 201 of the IPC and the content and spirit of the school’s mail to parents (sent out on the 5th of October, declaring that the protesters are merely paid hooligans and rumour mongers and that the school shall seek them out soon!) is clearly intimidatory and threatening. The parents have been lathi-charged and arrested twice already; some pictures are attached, although not direct evidence.

On Sunday, the 12th, the parents including I had organised a candle light march from India Gate this but we received an intimation from the police the same afternoon that permission had been cancelled at the last moment. We assembled at Central Secretariat but were misled by a police team (Leading officer, Akhilesh Mishra, Inspector) into walking towards Jantar Mantar (since the permission said we should gather directly at Jantar Mantar); About 40 of us, including children as young as 5 yrs, women and elderly, were abruptly intercepted by a police van about 500 meters down and taken and detained at the parliament street police station for the next three hours, for having violated section 144 of the CrPC. Thankfully we were accompanied by some people from the media so the entire episode was covered and we were saved the grace of lathi-charge this time. Inside the Police station, the ACP and DCP (SBS Tyagi, New Delhi District) spoke to us in an abusive and intimidatory manner, declined to give any orders of detention or cancellation of further permission in writing and asked us not to record the proceedings! Offering to explain what detention meant if we did not understand already! When we asked if we were allowed to go back to Jantar Mantar and continue with the demonstration once realised, we were declined permission. When we requested them to give this in writing, the DCP said, we’ll give nothing in writing, ‘Humne keh diya, hamara kaha bahut hai’ (I’ve told you that’s good enough) in the metaphorical ‘my word is the law’ manner.

The parents have been organizing demonstrations, candle light marches and street plays in and around Rohini, demanding justice for the two and a half year old, but in their candle light demonstration and street play at Jantar Mantar again on Friday, the 17th, they’ll be demanding, “not just justice for this one kid or action against the principal and management of this one institution rather strict and immediate regulation of all playschools by an independent regulator! We’re demanding further streamlining of The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (PoCSO, 2012) and fast-tracking of justice in all cases of child sexual abuse. But much more than that, we’re demanding democratization, sensitization and humanization of the process of law enforcement and dispensation of justice”, says this group, on protest for three weeks now.

The issue is important, not just because of the number of children who’ve been abused and subjected to aggravated sexual assault at this school and hence the magnitude of the crime, but more because the school has been continuously trying to manipulate the police and administrative machinery. This is not just an attack on a few independent voices of dissent, but is an attack on the civil society in general and the citizen’s movement at large. The behaviour and attitude of the school management is in contravention to any and every notion of the democratic social responsibility an educational institution is supposed to uphold. Finally, because the rape of a helpless and clueless two year old in guardianship and custody (as under provisions of PoCSO, 2012 and the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000) and the local authorities’ total lack of sympathy with the issue is not a crime against an individual rather a crime against society. We simply cannot choose to ignore crimes like these, turn a blind eye or a deaf ear and condone such heinous and banal acts of unabated violence as a society.

All concerned authorities need to wake up and take whatever suo moto notice they can, the lawmakers need to wake up to make the law stronger and to plug any loopholes. Finally most of all parents who simply brush these complaints under the carpet need to wake up and come forward right away because by doing so you’re not only compromising the rights and dignity of your own kids but also everybody else’s kids too. For if not by being an accomplice, these parents are at least guilty by association for what could be a greater conspiracy than silence. The need is to come out in the open and do that today before this movement too like many others, dissipates into a tomorrow that might be, and not just metaphorically, too late for even remorse.

simin.akhter@gmail.com

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