When justice can be twisted

Monday Musing

[ Karyir Riba ]

When we speak of violence against humans, it’s very convenient for us to believe that such criminal activities are limited only to mainland India and the rest of the world for that matter. We live in denial that our once serene state has now harboured one too many criminal activities, some of which are unfathomable. But was our state indeed serene, or is that what we thought?

The number of dumped bodies, women and child abuse cases, cold-blooded murders, and more, in the past few years, paint a different picture of the crime scenario in Arunachal Pradesh. The number of rape and molestation cases that have surfaced in the past few years definitely takes the cake when it comes to showing how ‘serene’ our home state is.

Are heinous crimes like rape and molestation new to Arunachal, or is it possible that these have been in existence forever but were never reported? Was there a lack of awareness, or are these considered taboos in the tribal society? Or, the burning question – were all such cases muted by the perpetrators, who must have had an upper hand over their victims?

Some might take this harshly, but it is a known fact that in almost all cases, irrespective of its nature, the party that has an ‘upper hand’ either emerges the winner or twists the case in ways that might leave the victim party dry and heaving for justice. Not many have faith in the judiciary system of our state/country.

But is it really only the judiciary system that is to be blamed, or could it be that, as a society, we have made the issue so insensitive that most of the cases go unreported?

When I was writing a piece on the subject [Skeletons in our closets, 25 November, 2019], I had spoken to just a handful of women, and sadly, all of them had experienced at least one form of sexual molestation as young girls, at the hands of either their teachers or family acquaintances. It’s shuddering to even imagine what stories will come forward if a study is done on a larger scale. It’s even more chilling to imagine that there are sexual predators and paedophiles roaming around freely in our society, undaunted because they have no fear of getting exposed.

As is with the rule of nature, when one’s pot of sins is filled to its brim, one has to face the wrath of his deeds.

This theory can be witnessed in the Aka Kalung rape case of Lower Dibang Valley district, that had surfaced last year and was reported in this daily first on 4 April, 2021. Kalung, a government employee, had been sexually abusing a little girl who was brought in from Nepal to work as a house help for his family. According to the child, she used to be beaten up by Kalung if she did not comply with his sexual advances. She describes in graphic detail what all used to be done to her, including sodomy. She even spoke about how her abuser used to take her urine (probably for pregnancy tests) and also made her take some tablets.

Having contacts with people in the judicial system, Kalung tried to manipulate the case in his favour, while the victim child was subjected to a lot of harassment during the trial.

The fact that Kalung had contact with people in the judiciary system came to light when the victim was taken to the district court for recording her statement in front of the CJM. As per reports, the Child Care Institute (CCI) member who had accompanied the child was asked to leave the room, while, according to the JJ Act and 164 CRPC, a confidante should have been allowed to be with the child during the time. When the child came out of the room after giving her statement, she casually revealed that the person who had spoken to her was a friend of her ‘uncle’ (convicted rapist).

When you first hear of cases of this sort, you can feel nothing but rage and fury, the unthinkable vileness of what a man can do to a hapless little child. And when you thought things couldn’t have gotten any worse, the turn of events in this particular case could have left even the calmest of people fuming.

For some of us who had been following the case from the beginning, especially CCI chairperson Desai Linggi, the next order that came from the sessions court in Tezu (Lohit) came as a heavy blow. The sessions court directed the CCI to hand over the victim child to one Pinky Debnath, who was identified as her local guardian by the court. It was the biggest mockery as this woman is the sister-in-law of the, rapist Aka Kalung.

Linggi was absolutely adamant about not putting the child back in the hands of her abusers and decided to fight for her even if it meant going against the court’s orders. Just when everything had started looking bleak, like a silver lining on a dark cloud, the chief justice of the Gauhati High Court, Sudhanshu Dhulia, took notice of the case and took suo moto cognisance of the case. The session court’s ridiculous order of handing the child to her abusers was scrapped right away.

Then came other godsent people like special public prosecutor Tapak Uli (eastern zone POCSO specialist), who fought for the poor child unconditionally. Advocate Buliya Pulu joined the team to offer her pro bono services. Former NCPCR member Rosy Taba Gongo also played an important role in pushing the case forward during a hiccup in the beginning.

It is only because of people like CJ Dhulia (whom we cannot thank enough) and others that justice was delivered as the court of the special judge (POCSO) in Lohit HQ Tezu sentenced Aka Kalung to 10 years of rigorous imprisonment for his misdeeds on the hapless child. Earlier this month, Judge Lobsang Tenzin convicted Kalung under Section 376 (2) (f) IPC and Section 4 (1) of the POCSO Act, 2012, and sentenced him as per Section 42 of the POCSO Act, 2012.

As CCI chairman Linggi, who played a vital role in fighting for justice for the poor child, put it: “God had given him a chance but he chose to ignore it. When the child had first run away from his home, she was handed back to him by some innocent villager (in whose house she was hiding). He was reprimanded by the unaware villager to not inflict any harm on the child and keep her with love and care. According to what the child told us, Kalung raped her in the car itself on the same day, maybe as punishment for trying to escape. This shows how sick he is as a person. The problem is that rape cases are not taken seriously in our society. For some reason, such cases become community-based and what we see is the relatives, as well as the society, trying to save the culprit instead of empathising with the victim. Even women tend to be very insensitive towards such cases. When are we going to understand that child labour and child sexual abuse leave the child destroyed for life? Such children have no future. The Aka Kalung case is not the single most case we have. We are more than happy for the little girl to have been given justice. But we also have three other minor girls (at the CCI) of the same suffering and we do not know what the future holds for them and what the verdict is going to be for them. We have a girl from Yingkiong whose stepfather sexually abused her; one from Seppa, who was a child labour and sexually abused by her employer; and one from Pasighat with a case of illegal adoption, and yes, you guessed it right, sexual abuse. Sadly, what is common is that people who exercise child labour/abuse are educated people. It’s not like they are unaware.

It is worth mentioning here that, during the trial of this case, when it was learnt that there is no child-friendly court in Arunachal where matters regarding the POCSO Act are taken up, the high court had last year requested the Advocate General of Arunachal, N Dutta, to take up the matter with the state government, so that at least one such court is established and made functional in the state as early as possible. However, there is no information of any kind of initiative regarding establishment of such a court by the state government yet.

With permission from Linggi, I met with the child the other day. She told me that she was first allowed to sit in Class 4 in her school but has been put in Class 1 now, for which she said she is too tall. She said she is very happy and never wants to leave the CCI and her ‘madam’, as she lovingly calls Linggi. She spoke a lot with me about random things and, much to Linggi’s amusement, has picked up a few Idu Mishmi words too. She looks much more stable and child-like from how she was when she was first brought here a year back.

Linggi told me that she participates with interest in all school activities, and interacts well with teachers, caretakers, and her peers. “She is a slow learner but wants to learn everything. She was illiterate when she first came but is catching up with her studies now. She is a very disciplined child. Her behaviour is childish for a teenager but it could be because of her trauma,” she informed.

As we were chatting, Linggi casually said to her that she wanted to take her to Nepal, her home country, just to visit. The expression on the poor girl’s cheerful face changed all of a sudden, and she said, “Nahi, aap humko waha chhor dega (No, you will leave me there).” Linggi said no, we will just visit and come back. But she repeatedly said no, and started tearing up. When Linggi saw this, she started tearing up as well, and said sorry to her and that she would not be going anywhere and she would never leave her anywhere. I left the mother-daughter duo crying and pacifying each other at the same time, just with a silent prayer that there are more Desai Linggis, Sudhanshu Dhulias, and Tapak Ulis in this world, and no place for child abusers.