Has innocence gone out of childhood?
Last month, I was left stunned when the Delhi police registered a rape case against a four-and-a-half-year old boy. I initially thought that the police had erred, but no, the case was more serious than we had imagined.
The girl’s mother said her daughter was in trauma after the incident. She alleged that the school administration tried to suppress the incident. Given the boy’s young age, nobody was willing to believe that he had committed the offence. The incredulity was expected. How could a child of four, who can’t even comprehend all the words, emotions and expressions, carry out such a heinous crime? For the record, a child below the age of seven cannot be charged under law. Still, we need to discuss the subject since the case has shattered the innocence of the entire nation.
Even as the police, society and medical experts were trying to wrap their heads around the incident, a second incident made headlines in less than a month.
In this case, a Class V student in Ghaziabad allegedly indulged in some unmentionable activities with a Class II student. I don’t want to go into the details of those activities, but it is sufficient to say that his actions were as cruel as the Nirbhaya’s killers. The juvenile involved in that case is old enough to serve a prison term. It is said that the most barbaric behaviour with Nirbhaya was carried out by a teenager. Has the air we breathe become so polluted that innocence has gone out of our childhood?
A few people want to excuse themselves by arguing that it has always been the case. Saying so doesn’t mean that it should continue to happen. The experience so far shows that children who are victims of such abuse go on to lead complicated lives as adults and sometimes their domestic life can get derailed. The bad experience of their childhood keeps casting a shadow on their entire life.
National Crime Records Bureau statistics drive home the frequency and severity of the problem. If 466 cases of crimes committed by young people were registered in 2003, 10 years later, in 2013, the number had increased to 1,737. In 2015, 1,688 youngsters were accused of criminal acts.
The question is, why is the problem spreading in our society like an epidemic? Earlier youngsters used to be troubled by it. But today, at a time when even children are coming within its grasp, we should be afraid. From children one expects sweetness, not cruel behaviour.
I am no social scientist, but when I spoke to an expert who is involved in counselling juveniles I came to know that in most of the cases, these transgressions were carried out by family members or people who were known to the children. Since the act is generally linked to infamy of people who are either family members, or those the family considers their own, police complaints are seldom made.
At times when such incidents happen in schools or other public places, the anger of the victims’ parents brings it to the doorstep of the police. People handling such cases say that owing to staying in cramped houses in nuclear families, many children accidentally become familiar with everything that is considered taboo. The booming business of pornographic films has further compounded the problem. Mobile phones in the hands of the young haven’t just led to the spread of knowledge but also disseminated the science of perversity.
No gift comes without its troubles, goes an old saying. According to Kassia Wosick, associate professor with the New Mexico State University, the porn business worldwide touched $97 billion in 2014-15. Of this, the US alone accounted for a business of between $10 billion and $12 billion. In India, the Modi government has tried to put restrictions on it but the digital world’s fires cannot be put out so easily. It has a number of ways of transmission.
A few escapists reason that in the land of the Kama Sutra, we shouldn’t talk about immature subjects like trying to restrict porn. With extreme enthusiasm, they also tell you that by etching out such scenes at the temples of Konark and Khajuraho, our forefathers displayed their extremely liberal attitudes. Why do they forget that both these temples were built in the final few years of the Rajput era and after it, India was colonized by foreign invaders? When schools and places of worship become hubs of repressed desires, a downfall is highly likely.
Ignoring this warning by history can become the trigger for a larger problem. It’d be better if we woke up on time.
Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan.
His Twitter handle is @shekharkahin.