In a landmark judgement, a sessions court in Bengaluru convicted a man for sexually assaulting and harassing his minor daughter.
On Thursday, the 53rd Additional Metropolitan Magistrate convicted 32-year-old Ravi and sentenced him to 5 years of imprisonment. The court also imposed a fine of Rs 5,000 on Ravi.
The case came to light in August 2017, when 14-year-old Nishita’s* mother Savita* filed a complaint with the Hanumanathanagar police station, alleging that her husband had been sexually assaulting and harassing her daughter when she was not at home.
Ravi, a plumber by profession, had incurred heavy debts to keep his drinking habit going and would physically assault Savita when she refused to give him money for alcohol.
Unable to bear the domestic abuse and severity of the physical assault they faced at the hands of Ravi, Nishita and her mother Savita, left their home in Mysuru and fled to Bengaluru. Nishita lived with her grandmother and mother in Bengaluru for almost a year before her father paid them a visit one day
Ravi seemed repentant and wanted to make it up to his wife and daughter. He promised Nishita and Savita that he would take care of them. He even rented a house in Bengaluru and began working.
Nishita, who was hesitant to live with her father, stayed with her grandmother, while Savita and Ravi began living together in a rented house in the city. In early 2016, Nishita decided to move back with her parents.
For a few weeks, all was well until Nishita reached puberty. She began to notice changes in her father’s behaviour toward her. She did not initially understand why her father’s touch bothered her. She remained silent and did not share her discomfort with anyone. Gradually, the abuse increased.
Ravi would tell his daughter to disrobe in front of him and even touch her inappropriately. When this continued for almost a year, Nishita became withdrawn and quiet. So much so, that the principal of the school she was studying in, Sujata*, began noticing drastic changes in her demeanour and “her tendency to flinch at a person’s touch”.
Worried by her change in behaviour, Sujata approached Nishita and asked her if all was well. Reluctant to open up to her teacher, Nishita initially evaded all questions. However, one day, she approached Sujata and told her that he father had been “touching her inappropriately” and that she felt “uncomfortable with his behaviour”.
Taking cognizance of what she had heard, Sujata immediately informed Child Line and called Nishita’s mother.
When Savita heard that her husband had been sexually assaulting her daughter, she couldn’t believe it. When Nishita recounted the horror she had to face, Savita decided to file a complaint with the police. An FIR was registered under section 354A of the IPC and sections 8 and 12 of the POCSO Act.
Why the principal’s role was important
According to Kushi, an activist who works with cases of child sexual abuse, it is very uncommon for teachers to notice that a child is being sexually abused.
“When there is a class of 70 or so for a teacher, and for a principal, an entire school to oversee, it becomes difficult to observe each child and take note of whether something is wrong. In most cases, teachers do not have training to identify students who may be showing signs of being abused. Even if they observe that something is wrong, they do not have the training to talk to the child and get the survivors to speak to them. In this case, the teacher’s role was important because she observed that something was wrong and asked the child about it,” Kushi says.
She maintains that most educational institutions tend to inform the parents when such a case is brought to their notice and in some cases even tend to back down and not get involved.
“At the end of the day, the parents are the one paying fees and the institute’s management also wants to protect its reputation. However, in some cases when the parents don’t want to report it, the school tends to keep quiet as well. Also, most of the time, teachers don’t even notice if something is wrong with the child. The principal in this case (Nishita’s) even managed to convince the mother to file a complaint,” she added.
In most cases of incestuous child abuse, the family does not support the survivor as they perceive it to be a “family matter”. In most cases where the father is the abuser, Kushi says that the abuser isolates the mother and child and makes them completely dependent on him financially, such that he takes away the choice of reporting the abuse itself.