When the entire country was celebrating the 68th Republic Day, a 10th standard student of Sidhuni High School in Barpeta district of Assam was raped by her neighbour Jahidul Islam (22). The Gaon Panchayat president Abdul Karim barred the victim’s father from accessing legal remedy and the panchayat offered Rs 80,000 as compensation. The traumatized girl committed suicide soon after the kangaroo court pronounced the verdict.
I often get telephone calls regarding violation of child rights i.e. trafficking, child marriage, sexual abuses etc. Interestingly, most of the calls I get are from two different areas (a) conflict affected areas of Bodoland Territorial Area Districts (BTAD) and (b) flood and erosion affected char and chapori areas of lower Assam. I try to bring the matter to the notice of various government and non-government bodies which are working for the protection of child rights. In most of the cases, the agencies – both government and non-government – quickly take up the cases and surprising results are delivered.
For example, September last year, a 13-year-old girl from Barpeta was abducted by a suspected gang of human traffickers. The girl was taken to Nalbari district and her father was pleading before the police officer for her rescue. Police wasn’t willing to register the case until her father would pay them bribe. When I brought the matter to the notice of the Assam State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (ASCPCR) and Universal Team for Social Action and Help (UTSAH), the girl child was rescued within 24 hours.
In another case in Baksa district of Assam, a 10th standard girl student was trafficked and sold in Rajasthan. The Investing Officer (IO) took money from her widow mother to fuel the police jeep. Police didn’t arrest the perpetrators even after being handed over by the community people. When the matter was brought to the notice of these agencies, Assam Police team went to Rajasthan and rescued the girl and arrested the members of trafficking racket.
But, it is challenging to bring the matter to the notice of these child protection agencies. When the grassroot institutions – the family, the school, the Panchayat and the police station – do not realize their roles and responsibilities in child protection or not even realize why the children need care and protection; it becomes really challenging to bring the matter to light.
Often heinous crime against children is not even considered as a crime; it is doused and put under the carpet by the powerful people in the society. My experience of working in these areas makes me believe that our grassroot social as well as democratic institutions are not child friendly and there is something seriously wrong. Often these institutions don’t allow the information of child rights violation to reach the modern child protection agencies. Sometimes, it reaches too late to protect the children.
In one such tragic incident which occurred in Sidhuni village in Barpeta district of Assam, at a time when the entire country was celebrating 68th Republic Day, a 10th standard student of Sidhuni High School in Barpeta district of Assam was raped by her neighbour Jahidul Islam (22). The Gaon Panchayat president Abdul Karim barred her father from accessing legal remedy and the panchayat offered Rs 80,000 as compensation. The traumatized girl committed suicide soon after the kangaroo court pronounced the verdict.
On the fateful evening of January 26, 2017, Saira (name changed) was raped at her residence. After the heinous crime, perpetrator Jahidul Islam asked the victim to keep quiet and promised her to marry. Her father Taizuddin, an illiterate poor farmer, approached the Dewanis (community leaders) for help to give justice to his minor daughter.
President of No. 78 Sitoli Gaon Panchayat, Abdul Karim (elected PRI member) stopped him from going to police station and suggested to settled the case in the panchayat itself.
Next day, on January 27, 2017, the president called panchayat at his residence and invited the Dewanis (community leaders, similar to the leaders of khap panchayats) including the president of nearby Chachra Gaon Panchayat, who happens to be the brother-in-law of the perpetrator. The victim was interrogated by the president and other Dewanis in front of hundreds of villagers in the panchayat (they call it bichar). An educated youth from the same village who was present in the panchayat informed me over phone:
“Dewanis repeatedly asked the girl every detail of how she was raped. She was terribly frightened and traumatized. But they were asking questions after questions. The questions were so terrifying that one of the Dewanis asked her where and how she was touched during the course of sexual assault.”
After listening to the interrogation, the president Abdul Karim held the victim responsible and remarked: “If the female goat is set free; the bully goat will try to have some fun”. Nayan Ali, one of Dewanis and a trusted ally of the president, explained why the victim shouldn’t go to court. He tried to inculcate the gathering by drawing his ‘knowledge and experience’ that if she goes to court, her medical check-up will be done by police and doctors from other caste (read: religion) which is against their religious believe and practice.
Finally, the panchayat offered Rs 80,000 to be paid by the perpetrator in installments and asked the victim to keep quiet and move on. Soon after the pronouncement, the victim committed suicide by hanging herself. Listen to the verdict of the kangaroo court here.
From this particular area of Barpeta district, I have been getting reports of violation of child rights on a regular basis. The incidences of child marriage, child trafficking, child labour and child sexual abuses are really alarming. In one hand, people living in this area are devastated by annual flood and erosion. Poverty and illiteracy have been helping to feudal-minded Dewani and other powerful social groups to keep their grip over the marginal groups intact and thus undermines the rights and entitlement of the children. On the other hand, the democratic institutions like Gaon Panchayats and police stations are highly corrupt and has miserably failed to live up to their mandates as far as protection of child rights is concerned.
It has been almost two days; police hasn’t even tried to arrest either the rapist or the Dewanis who conducted the panchayat and abetted the child to commit suicide. Moreover, I am being informed that the Dewanis are now trying to compromise the case by paying Rs 3 lakhs to the father of the victim and settle the case.
How shameful is the fact that our society has different slab of amount fixed for different types of crime that too in case of crime against children.
I don’t know who is to be blamed or what is to be done but as far as child protection is concerned, we should at least acknowledge the fact that there is a serious problem with our grassroot social and democratic institutions. Various stakeholders, who are concerned and mandated for ensuring care and protection of children, should rethink about their strategies and approaches.
(This article was originally published here. Reproduced with permission from the author.)