More than a week after an Imam from Kerala allegedly sexually assaulted a 15-yr-old girl in Thiruvananthapuram, several witnesses have now come forward to divulge shocking details of the incident. The accused Shafiq Al Qassimi, Chief Imam of the Tholicode Muslim Mosque and a member of the Kerala Imams Council, was alleged to have lured a minor girl to an isolated forested region in Vithura in Thiruvananthapuram district, where he then sexually assaulted her.
The Imam was caught by a group of women workers who had been in the area and they had confirmed to various media houses that the Imam had brought the child to the forest.
Following this, separate probes were launched by members of the Tholicode Muslim Mosque and the Centre for Film Gender and Culture Studies, a Thiruvananthapuram-based group working for gender juctice and child rights.
In a 15-minute audio clip accessed by TNM, President of the Tholicode Muslim Mosque, Badusha, revealed how he and other members confirmed the Imam’s involvement in the abuse.
“We visited the forest area where the incident is said to have taken place. We also spoke to the women workers who questioned the Imam and other eye-witnesses. They said that an Innova car with the number - KL 18 6 114 - had crossed the area and it had curtains which were drawn shut. With the number, we could confirm that it was his car. Further, the women workers who rushed to the area saw that the girl was wearing a purdah, so that her identity is not revealed. When they questioned the Imam, he lied that she was his wife,” Badusha can be heard saying.
It was then that the women noticed the uniform and school badge in the car. He later added that when the workers questioned how a 15-year-old girl could be the wife of a man in his forties, the visibly agitated man started aggressively yelling at the group.
“He then grabbed the child, put her inside the car and reversed, only to hit a pole behind the car. We inspected the Imam’s Innova later and have confirmed that the back portion indeed has a dent,” Badusha added in the clip.
When the Imam attempted to escape, the women alerted the boys in their neighbourhood, who took their bikes and chased the car. The car, Badusha says, went past Vithura from Peppara (where the incident took place), and there are eyewitnesses confirming this.
“We have the numbers of the boys who chased the car. They even revealed that the child was in a compromising position inside the car. They gave us their statements,” Badusha added.
In the clip, he also added that the Imam was visibly unsettled when he reached the Tholicode mosque and when he spoke to people gathered there. The Imam stays above the mosque.
The Centre for Film Gender and Culture Studies too has spoken to the women witnesses and confirmed the sequence of events.
Accused spotted in the forest area previously
In another shocking development, Badusha said that the accused Imam had been spotted earlier too at the same location in Peppara - where the assault took place.
“It is a very isolated place. People who do not know the place will not be able to access it. When I spoke to a friend, Basheer Mananni, who is also a member of the Tholicode Mosque and who lives near this area, he said that he had spotted the accused Imam there last week as well. He saw the Imam entering the area and then returning after 30 minutes or so. When Basheer invited him to come home, the Imam declined the invite and said he was only visiting because molu (daughter in Malayalam) wanted to see the area,” he said.
No case against the Imam
Despite the incident being a week old, no police case has been registered against the Imam. The victim and the family too do not want to file a complaint or give their statements.
Speaking in the video clip, Badusha says “When the workers found the child, the first thing she did was cry and ask them to not inform the police.”
However, Dr Arifa Kurattuchalil, Chairman of Centre for Film Gender and Culture Studies, says that the victim need not be always be the one to file a complaint.
“It can be done by her school, the Childline or by witnesses themselves. If we know that the crime has taken place and there are numerous witnesses confirming this, the police too can take suo motu action and book the Imam under POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act) ,” she said.
The victim was initially counselled by Childline authorities and shifted to a shelter home, to ensure that her family did not pressurise her to withhold filing a complaint. However, her family soon came to the shelter home and the girl went back with them.
“Many times, minor victims and their families do not want to give their statements due to social pressure. In most cases, culprits go scot free because victims do not want to lodge a complaint. Their families do not want the incident to leak as they fear it would affect the child’s future. Besides, in this particular case, the Imam is an influential man and the religious fear and respect too comes into play. But it is imperative to find a way to circumvent these impediments and book the Imam, as that would make the child feel safer and more likely to give her statement,” Arifa added.
The Centre for Film Gender and Culture studies has filed a complaint with the Chief Minister, DGP Loknath Behera and gender advisors in the area. Meanwhile, the Vithura police claim that they investigated the incident but did not register an FIR as the child’s parents did not file a complaint.
“A suo motu case can only be taken by the police if an officer is witness to the said crime. In this case, no police officers have witnessed it and hence we cannot act on our congnisance,” said Thiruvananthapuram Rural SP P Ashok Kumar.
The accused Imam has also been suspended by the All India Imam’s Council as punishment for his actions. This was communicated via a post on the Council’s Facebook page. However, the council does not mention the reason behind his suspension.