Is the Kerala police trying to shift the blame of its inaction in a child sexual abuse case to a person who actually tried to get her justice?
In an action that has already been severely condemned by many, Kerala police have arrested EC Satheesh, owner of the Edappal cinema hall in Malappuram where a 10-year-girl was sexually abused on April 18. The arrest has been made under Section 19 of the POCSO Act citing that the cinema hall owner 'leaked' the CCTV footage of the abuse and did not inform the police on time.
The incident that happened on April 18th was caught on a night-vision surveillance camera at the movie theatre. A 60-year-old man, identified as Moideen Kutty Pattambi, was seen sitting in a theatre and sexually abusing the child. The man, flanked by the mother and the child on either side, indulges in sexual acts with both of them while the film was being screened.
The theatre owner informed Childline authorities on April 19th and handed over the footage to them later. After examining the footage, Childline handed it over to the Changaramkulam police on the very same day. However, police did not take prompt action in the case, forcing Childline to approach Mathrubhumi channel on May 12, with blurred portions of the visual.
Though Satheesh was given a bail by the police station, both childline and the Womenâ€™s Commission have condemned the arrest.
Speaking to TNM, Malappuram Childline coordinator Anwar said, "The police is clearly acting with a vengeance, to hide their own faults. The incident happened on 18th and the theatre owner informed us the next day. They had technical difficulties in retrieving the CCTV footage, so they handed it over to us only on the 25th. Soon, we handed it over to the police. But now, the police is accusing the owner of not informing them. But he did report it to the district Childline, which is a proper channel to report crimes against children."
POCSO mandates that anyone who knows of a crime already committed or has knowledge that an offense will be committed, has to approach the local police or the special juvenile police unit. Anwar added that there was a lack of awareness about POCSO Act and how crimes against children are to be reported, which might have led to the theatre owner approaching the Childline, instead of police.
"It is a very sensitive case, that involves a child. We all know that many people are not comfortable interacting with the police. So the theatre owner chose to inform us first. There is no need of arresting him for delay in reporting the incident," Anwar added.
The police have also accused theatre owner Satheesh of leaking the assault visuals. To this, Anwar said that in case the footage had been leaked by the theatre staff, that should be investigated.
"Childline handed over portions of the footage to the media after the police refused to act on our complaint. But we blurred out the child and the mother before doing so. However, we had handed over the entire footage to the police. The police had it, they saw it too. In many cases we have seen that such crucial video evidence gets leaked by the police themselves. This needs to be probed too," Anwar said.
Describing the video, Anwar had earlier told TNM, â€śItâ€™s a three-hour video, the theatre guys found it. We had checked the entire footage. He was abusing the mother and child at the same time, that too continuously from the beginning to the end. During the movie interval, he stops, goes out and then comes back to resume the sexual assault. After informing the police, we approached them every day to follow up. We waited till Saturday as we thought that the police should be given time to trace him. Still they didnâ€™t act.â€ť
Meanwhile, the main accused in the case, 60-year-old businessman Moideen Kutty Pattambi and the girl's mother who was complicit in the abuse of the child are in police custody.