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Cry, the god’s own country

Sexual predators seem to have a field day in a State with high developmental indicators

Recently, Kerala found a place in the record books with the largest ‘tree hug’: 4,620 people simultaneously hugged trees at the Jawaharlal Nehru Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute near Thiruvanathapuram to mark the International Day of Forests. The inspiring speeches, young children with their angelic faces repeating the pledge ente maram, ente jeevan, and song and dance sequences by adivasis to give that authentic forest flavour were all a feast to my forced immigrant’s eye.

But even before the euphoria wore off, I was watching the shocking news on television of a frail, old, short man in handcuffs being protected by a desperate police force from an angry crowd baying for his blood. His crime? He had sexually abused his own 10-year-old granddaughter and allegedly murdered her.

Ironically, even as Kerala — a State with creditable developmental indicators to take pride in — resolves to protect its trees, which are indeed national treasures, the most precious national treasure that are our children are being sexually abused, raped, killed or pushed to their own graves at an alarming rate. India is home to a fifth of the world’s children and has the highest rate of child sexual assaults in the world.

People with an irresistible compulsion to sexually abuse children are known as pedophiles. The American Psychiatric Association’s ‘Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders’ defines pedophilia as stemming from sexually arousing fantasies, impulsive desires or behaviour involving sexual acts with a child.

Some researchers have tried to establish a certain cerebral dysfunction among pedophiles, while others have tried to attribute this tendency to biological and environmental factors. According to them, childhood victims of pedophilia could turn out to be child sex abusers who want to re-live and enjoy the role-reversal. It is relevant to quote Cardinal Wilfred Fox Napier, one of the cardinals who took part in the Vatican conclave that elected Pope Francis. During an interview with the BBC, Wilfred Cardinal Napier expressed the opinion that “pedophilia is not a criminal condition, it’s an illness.” Later, apologising to a Victim’s Rights Group, he said, “Child sex is a heinous crime because of the damage it does to the child; in that concern, I include the abused who has become an abuser.”

There is increasing awareness of pedophilia now, and November 19 is observed as the World Day for the Prevention of Child Abuse. But this is by no means a new evil.

Vladimir Nabakov’s novel Lolita (from which the term ‘Lolita complex’ is derived) is centered on the obsessive sexual attraction of a step-father towards his prepubescent step-daughter. Pinki Virani’s Bitter Chocolate is a detailed case study of child sexual abuse in India.

Exclusive pedophiles are attracted only to prepubescent children, while the non-exclusive pedophiles are attracted to both adults and children. Female pedophiles are rare, but a woman arrested in Palluruthi in Kerala for child sexual abuse and child pornography recently seem to indicate the existence of the female pedophile as well.

The public image of a pedophile, typically of an ugly old man hiding in the bushes waiting to snatch young children off the street, is a myth. In reality they are often family members, trusted friends, teachers and even members of the clergy.

The hand-cuffed man who was rescued from a violent mob was a pedophile whose brutal abuse of his own 10-year-old granddaughter resulted in her committing suicide at her house. According to the autopsy report, there were about 20 ante-mortem injuries on the body indicating physical assault, abrasions on private parts and signs of unnatural sex just three days before the death. The child’s father’s complaint, based on the abnormal sitting posture of her body with her legs laid flat on the floor and the autopsy report, were initially ignored by the police. Later, the Human Rights Commission took suo motu cognisance and sought reports from higher police authorities. Though during intense police questioning the girl’s relatives remained stubbornly silent, her grandmother told the police her daughter and granddaughter had spoken to her about the immoral approach of her husband, the girl’s grandfather. This grandfather pedophile, working as a lodge manager, is allegedly involved in multiple cases of unnatural sex, one of which resulted in a 14-year-old boy’s suicide two years ago.

In another incident, a nine-year-old girl, daughter of a construction worker couple, was found hanging in her house. Her 14-year-old elder sister too had been found dead under similar circumstances almost two months earlier. Post-mortem reports of the nine-year-old showed proof of sexual abuse and the police are investigating the possibility of child rape in that case too. The police had arrested a relative on the basis of revelations by the parents that he had sexually abused the girl earlier.

Sexual abuse by members of the clergy has been a shameful aspect of Catholic culture for centuries. The church leadership has in many instances tried to silence the victims, convincing them that the image of the church and the exalted status of the priests were of greater value than justice. The Catholic church’s closed hierarchical system, its absolute authority to control the victims to the extent of persuading them to be a part of their own cover-up, has been proved in the case of 58-year-old Fr. Robin Vadakkanchery, Vicar of the St. Sebastian Church in Kannur.

Fr. Robin was arrested from the airport minutes before he was to fly to Canada, for sexually assaulting a 15-year-old student, who gave birth to his child. In this case he could buy the silence of the victim and find someone to take the blame, the victim’s own father, by paying Rs. 10 lakh. Strangely, this happened barely two months after Pope Francis had exhorted bishops all over the world to show zero tolerance towards crime against children.

A manhunt has been launched for 29-year-old Vigish Kooriyal, a native of Malappuram in Kerala, who fled to India from the United Kingdom on the eve of his trial for raping a six-year-old boy. The boy came to know that the ‘game’ Vijeesh had played with him was actually sexual abuse, when he learnt about sex in his school.

Kerala is a tourist’s paradise with its beautiful backwaters, lagoons, green paddyfields, long stretches of beach and so on. Foreign pedophiles often enjoy the luxurious house boat stay with kallu (toddy) in the company of young boys. Since the local supply of boys does not meet demand, there is a tremendous increase in the number of boys being trafficked to Kerala for such sex trade.

It is natural for children, growing up in extreme poverty, where survival is the only goal, to fall easy prey to such pedophiles. And most of these foreign pedophiles escape to their country or get away with light punishment.

Now, the Internet has become a common hunting ground to prey on children. Recently, the Kerala Police arrested 11 people including for running an online sex racket, while investigating a Face book Paedophile page called “Kochu Sundarikal” (little pretty girls). Though, “Kocchhu sundarikal” appeared like pictures posted in Facebook, in reality it was a den of pedophiles. A note from the group administrator on the site sought to know: “What would you like to do with her?”

No doubt, the alarming number rapes of children, women and even women above 70, including the most brutal rape of a 90-year-old, makes it a virtual hell on earth. But, that does not mean other States in India are free from the terrible crime.

The 38-year-old tailor Sunil Rastogi, father of five children including two daughters, is a serial rapist from Rudrapur in Uttarakhand. He admitted to having raped 60 girls between the ages of 7 and 11 over a period ofn 13 years. The number is actually more than 500, according to his own admission during questioning. This superstitious pedophile in his red jacket (supposed to be his lucky charm) travelled always in the Sampark Kranti Express to Delhi to prowl around for school children between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. He follows a group of children for a short distance and then picks up a child straying away from the group, gives her a new set of clothes that are supposed to be from her father, takes her to a secluded place and rapes her.

The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act of 2012 brought about welcome changes in the laws related to protecting women and children from sexual exploitation. The Justice J.S. Verma Commission was set up to reform and invigorate anti-rape laws after the Delhi gang rape. Their 630-page report deals with sexual crimes at all levels. Resting heavily on the Constitution of India, especially Article 14, Right to Equality, it recommends improvements in the working of the government, the judiciary and the police along with the child-parent and teacher-student relationship. Stressing the importance of sex education, posting of specially trained counselors in schools, a revamp in the educational curriculum, vigilance by the monitoring agencies against sexual exploitation including forced lesbianism, sodomy, prevalent in orphanages and shelter homes.

Though the Verma committee is opposed to the capital punishment, or castration practised in several countries including the some U.S. States such as California and Florida as punishment to rape, they strongly recommend 10 years’ life imprisonment, ‘life’ meaning the entire natural life.

The Posco Act and the active implementation of the suggestions made by the Justice Verma committee should help check child sexual abuse to a significant extent. As Marian Wright Edelman, president and founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, has pointed out, “A nation that does not stand up for its children, does not stand for anything & will not stand tall in future.”

sreedevikrishnan@hotmail.com

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Printable version | Feb 24, 2020 3:05:32 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/cry-the-gods-own-country/article18306912.ece

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