Mumbai, Feb 24: Let's face it, child sexual abuse is a reality. Sweeping it under the carpet will do no good as several innocent children are subjected to rape and sexual harassment on a daily basis in India. On Friday, when a viral video clip featuring Assamese singer Angarag Papon Mahanta--popularly known as Papon--came to light, it clearly showed that the Bollywood singer forcefully kissed a minor girl on her lips. Instead of voicing protest against the shameful act, the silence and defence to absolve the guilty of his crime once again raised many questions about India's age-old culture of denial of the existence of child sexual abuse.
We can remain in denial, but statistics showcases the horror of child sexual abuse. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), as many as 15,039 children were sexually abused and raped in 2015. The NCRB report adds that out of the 15,039 cases filed under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012, in 2015, 8,341 children faced abuse at the hands of someone whom they knew well. In half of the cases pertaining to child abuse, often the culprit is a relative, family friend or a teacher.
Activists fear that the NCRB figures don't reveal the entire truth. "Hardly cases of child sexual abuse get reported. Often guardians of victims decide to hide such incidents fearing further harm to the child or bringing disgrace to the family. Moreover, many children themselves don't tell their elders or guardians that they have been subjected to sexual abuse. Some kids don't even realise that someone is abusing them as they are too young to understand what is a good or a bad touch," Nagasimha Rao, a child rights activist from Bengaluru, told OneIndia.
Amid such fear and silence over crime against children, when popular singer Papon was caught on camera and the whole world can clearly see that he inappropriately kissed an 11-year-old contestant from a reality television show in which the Bollywood singer himself is a mentor, instead of punishing the 'culprit' silly excuses were given to help him get away from facing punishment.
It is not that Papon's ghastly act, captured in a live video and shared by the singer's official (verified) Facebook page, was not condemned at all. From social media to activists and lawyers, the Assamese singer is facing massive flak for sexually abusing a minor for whom he is a "fatherly figure and a teacher" as he mentored her and other kids in the reality singing show.
Probably, if the law takes its own course, the singer, who is happily married with two children, is likely to face a jail term of three to five years for committing sexual assault against a child under the POSCO Act, 2012.
Supreme Court Advocate Runa Bhuyan moved the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) against Papon, accusing him of sexually assaulting the 11-year-old girl. Bhuyan has requested the child rights body to initiate an inquiry against the singer. In her complaint, the lawyer added that minor girls are unsafe while participating in such reality television shows.
"The video was shot where the kids participating in a reality show Voice of India Kids 2018 are seemed to involve in some fun activities with the crew member of the show along with singer Angarag Papon Mahanta who is also a jury member of the show," she said.
"Surprisingly, though there are a number of minor girls present inside the van, not a single female member of the crew is seen to be present. I am shocked to see the behaviour of Papon towards the minor girl where he is seen to be applying colours to a minor girl and inappropriately kissing the said girl. I am concerned regarding the safety and security of minor girls participating in reality shows across India," she added.
After the uproar over the kiss, the singer issued a statement where he failed to apologise for his "sin". In fact, the statement was full of excuses where he tried his best to portray himself as the one who is being wronged as he said that he felt "victimised". To justify his actions, he said it was a show of "affection for an 11-year-old child who I have been mentoring for a while". There is a clear distinction between affection and sexual harassment, and Papon's actions were hardly innocuous.
If the singer's statement left everyone angry, his lawyer and friends shamelessly stated that "the whole incident was blown out of proportion". Papon's lawyer Gaurang Narang told India Today: "A person will not put anything against him in the public domain for anybody to pick it up and make it a complaint. It is very unfortunate, that a lawyer who has done this--maybe it is her mindset. But the fact remains that this kind of compassion, affection should not be misconstrued. The singer is quite disturbed by the whole incident."
Partha Gogoi, Papon's manager, told Guwahati Plus, "The act was not meant to hurt the sentiments of any individual, and that it was not wrong in any manner, which is why they see no reason to pull down the video from the official Facebook page of Papon."
According to those who are standing behind Papon, the singer is a "victim" as he is "innocent". It is the media and a few activists who are trying to tarnish his image as he is a celebrity. It is the "celebrity" status of Papon which is likely to derail the whole investigation process and elude the minor girl from getting justice (although no one from her family has filed a complaint). Rather the father of the victim too stood behind Papon. In a statement, the father requested that "the relationship between a guru and a shishya" should not be maligned.
The controversy has erupted at a time when Bollywood too has joined the Hollywood in the #MeToo campaign to name and shame perpetrators of sexual harassment and rapes. Like in most other controversial episodes involving one of them, Bollywood in the latest row too has mostly remained quiet.
Actress-singer Suchitra Krishnamoorthi wrote on Twitter, "If anybody behaved with my daughter the way #Papon did with the teenage girl I would slap him several times in such a way that no one dared behave that way again."
If anybody behaved with my daughter the way #Papon did with the teenage girl I would slap him several times in such a way that no one dared behave that way again— Suchitra Krishnamoorthi (@suchitrak) February 23, 2018
Actress Gauahar Khan too condemned Papon who has sung hit numbers like Moh Moh Ke Dhaage and Kaun Mera, among others. She tweeted, "Wasn't smothering a child's face with your palm rubbing color all over it for 4 secs enough as fatherly love, that u had to pull the child's face then to strategically peck her on the lip??? There was no wrong camera angle or the child moving her face mistakenly BTW 🙄😡#papon👎"
Wasn't smothering a child's face with your palm rubbing color all over it for 4 secs enough as fatherly love, that u had to pull the child's face then to strategically peck her on the lip??? There was no wrong camera angle or the child moving her face mistakenly BTW 🙄😡#papon👎— Gauahar Khan (@GAUAHAR_KHAN) February 23, 2018
The singer's 'public display of affection' has added extra stress to a lot of parents as they are already struggling to protect their children from sexual predators.
Here is #Papon 's video. Found his behaviour with the minor girl he is mentoring totally inappropriate. Pulling her face and kissing the girl is totally uncalled for no matter how affectionate you feel as her mentor. This definitely comes under "Bad Touch". #ProtectOurChildren pic.twitter.com/MJe8wzd0sb— ruchi kokcha (@ruchikokcha) February 23, 2018
If the singer, who enjoys a lot of clout because of his celebrity status, is let off the hook, it will definitely set a bad precedent. Taking appropriate action against the crime will act as a deterrent to others. A nation which can't protect its children from heinous crimes like rape and molestation will harm its own future.