When we fail children-II

Monday Musing

[ Tongam Rina ]

In 2021, several people booked under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act were let off because the police failed to chargesheet on time across the state. While hearing the bail petition in one case on November 5th of that year, the then Yupia West Sessions Division Special Judge (POCSO) Nani Grayu, remarked in an order, “After having seen a number of cases wherein accused persons were allowed to go on default bail in many cases like the present one, this court is compelled to make some observations. Under Section 173 of CrPC, it is mandatory to complete the investigation of the case within a period of two months and file the chargesheet in court. However, the capital police are failing to comply with this mandatory period of law in many cases.”

More recently, in July of this year, the Chief Justice of the Guwahati High Court set aside the grant of bail by Yupia’s Special court to Yumken Bagra, accused of raping and molesting 21 school children, and gave a damning judgment indicting the lower court. Chief Justice Sandeep Mehta stated, “The conscience of the court has been shaken by the way in which a case of such grave magnitude and sensitive nature has been dealt with in a cavalier fashion by granting bail to the main accused without assigning any plausible reasons. The larger issue that bothers the mind of the court is regarding the safety of the victims of the ghastly act of sexual assault after the release of the accused on bail.” “The special court, without giving due consideration to these substantial objections of the learned special public prosecutor, Arunachal Pradesh, granted bail to the accused in a casual manner, despite observing that the statements of the victims reveal a grave offence having been committed. But the trial was yet to begin due to the non-appearance of the co-accused, Daniel Pertin,” the chief justice stated.

Yumken Bagra would have continued sexually assaulting children if it hadn’t been for the survivors of heinous crimes and their supportive family members who chose to go to the police. How was someone like Yumken Bagra let off for many months, even though it was first reported to the police in the first week of November last year by one of the parents? Bagra was out on bail since February of this year until the High Court set aside his bail application after the media extensively documented the abuses based on police investigation in July. Had the Special Investigating Team of the state police not gone to the media with the harrowing details, Bagra would still be out, even though family and organizations had been holding rallies, clearly disappointed with the court. The sheer details are numbing. You can read the details reported by my colleague Bengia Ajum here: [https://arunachaltimes.in/index.php/2023/07/31/double-trauma-for-students-and-parents-as-sexual-predator-yumken-bagra-still-walks-free-3rd-hearing-on-monday].

A warden of the government residential school in Karo village in the Monigong circle of Shi-Yomi district, he is accused of raping 21 children (15 girls and 6 boys), aged 6 to 12 years, between 2019 and 2022. This wasn’t the first time a warden of a school has been charged by the police for sexually assaulting children.

Vipin Viswan was accused of sexually assaulting as many as 14 minor students, all girls, in Green Valley English Medium School, Likabali in August 2013. Children reported him to the police. There are similar patterns in the Likabali and Karo school cases. Both were wardens, and there were people who abetted these criminals. Viswan had principal Ranjit Kumar V K, while Yumken Bagra had Daniel Pertin, according to police and court records.

The education department needs to find a way to address repeated cases of sexual assaults in schools. Why does violence against children keep occurring in the state? What emboldens so many to commit sexual violence in a state where sexual violence, particularly against children, is rarely tolerated? Is it because there is no fear of the law, or do they think they will escape each time? What needs to be done to make it safer for our children? The legislation is already in place. Implementing it is what will be a game-changer. Agencies, whether police, judiciary, or other stakeholders, need to operate in tandem. The well-being and safety of children aren’t the responsibility of parents alone, so every member of the community has to put in an effort to make it safe for children. Reporting mechanisms need to be improved across the state, for which the concerned departments, particularly education, child welfare, administration, and police, need to take the initiative.

 The Arunachal Pradesh Child Rights Commission needs to be strengthened, and more units of child welfare committees with adequate resources have to be created across the state. Just starting a commission to fulfill an obligation without empowering it with resources means that there was no intent to work for the welfare of the children. School management committees across the state need to be trained in child rights so that they can initiate steps to make schools and hostels safer places. Private schools should have committees too.

The Chief Justice in his comments in the Yumken Bagra case noted that “there is an emergent need to sensitize the special judges posted in the POCSO courts across the state, considering the tenor of the order passed by the special judge, granting bail to multiple minor rape accused. The court feels that there is an emergent need to sensitize the Special Judges posted in the POCSO Courts across the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram, and Assam.” He directed that the Director of the Judicial Academy, Assam, shall immediately initiate the process of training and sensitizing all Judicial Officers dealing with POCSO Act cases in Assam, Nagaland, Mizoram, and Arunachal Pradesh. Training and sensitization of not only judicial officers but all stakeholders, particularly police will go a long way. Awareness about child rights has to be provided to the children themselves. It sounds daunting, but it can be done with an enormous amount of sincerity and sensibility towards child safety. Adults often forget that children are trusting and powerless, which renders them at the mercy of adults. Are we doing enough? In some cases law will eventually catch up as it happened in Karo case. All it needs is a dedicated police officer, an aware judge who doesn’t turn a blind eye to facts, and parents who trust their children.

The POCSO Act is stringent. Cases have to be disposed off within a timeframe of one year after judge of a special court takes cognizance, but it is not unusual to come across cases where the court, police, and government and its agencies repeatedly fail to protect the survivors. A case in point is Tani Jongkey, a government officer. Following a complaint of assaulting his daughter’s friend, an 11-year-old girl, he was booked under the POCSO Act in July 2017. He was suspended a month later. The respondents, in this case, the state of Arunachal, did not review the suspension order within the stipulated 90-day period. Jongkey appealed and was reinstated by the high court in March 2018. Again, in an order issued by the state’s chief secretary on August 12, 2019, Jongkey was sent on ‘compulsory retirement… with immediate effect’ under the Central Civil Services (Classification, Control, and Appeal) Rules, 1965. The state government noted that Jongkey in his defense did not present “any new and convincing evidence in his defense for consideration, and as such, the charges against the erring officer were found to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.” Jongkey appealed again. He won and rejoined his job yet again in 2022. However, the special POCSO court convicted him and sentenced him to three years of rigorous imprisonment in February 2023. You might have thought he would be in jail? No. He is out on bail pending the outcome of his appeal.