Should the police just have settled the case amicably as it involved children?

How a scuffle between two groups of children stoked caste fires in a Madurai villagePixabay / Representational image
news Caste Monday, August 08, 2016 - 19:54

On Friday, August 5, an unusual case was filed in a village in Madurai. Five Dalits were booked for allegedly sexually assaulting five other children, under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. But the five Dalit ‘accused’ were small children – four nine-year-olds and one six-year-old. One of them was a girl.

Now, caste tensions are building over what some parents say was nothing more than a scuffle between children.

An FIR has been filed at the M Kallupatti police station under the Usilampatti sub-division against all the five accused. According to the police, the First Information Report mentions, “The accused touched the body parts of the victims before pouring cow dung mixture on them and also attacked them with stones. Two girls sustained injuries.”

The alleged victims belong to Thevar caste.

Based on a complaint by one of the victim’s father, the police booked the five Dalit children under sections 341 (Punishment for wrongful restraint), 294 (b) (Sings, recites or utters any obscene song, ballad or words), 324 (Voluntarily causing hurt by dangerous weapons or means) and 596 (ii) (Punishment for criminal intimidation) apart from the POCSO Act, said the police.

The parents of the accused, however, are aghast.

One of the parents of a child on whom an FIR has been registered narrated an account of what, according to his son, played out on Thursday.

“We are Pallars and they are Thevars – caste is all the difference between us. It all began when a teacher had not come to school that day and six children decided to play outside till the next period. A few children from the other government aided school went to them and said “Your school is stupid.” And the 6 children from our side said “Your school is stupid” and they both began throwing stones. It was a fight between two groups of children,” he says.

However, according to Senthil Raj, Youth Wing Secretary of the Pasumpon Desiya Kazhagam, there was a teenager with the Dalit children who instigated the fight. “They harassed the Thevar girls. A Thevar girl showed her slipper and said ‘we are Thevars, we are brave.’ One of the Dalit boys then slashed his wrist a bit. He then made the other slash a Thevar girl’s wrist a bit and said, ‘the blood is the same’. The boys then threw cow dung on them.”

The police are investigating the slash on the victim’s wrist. The Dalits in the village however denied the slashing and insist that this was a ploy to make the case stronger against their children.

Should the police just have settled the case amicably as it involved children?

The New Indian Express quoted the headmistress and president of the Parent Teachers Association of the school in which the Dalit children studied as saying that the police should have settled the issue amongst them, instead of filing a case.

Vijendra Bidari, the superintendent of police disagrees. “There is no caste angle we are probing. The names and ages of the children weren’t even mentioned in the FIR, we simply went by the number and asked the children to identify the ones who allegedly harassed them, and a case was registered. Whether it is true or not, we have no choice but to register a case because if a sexual assault had in fact been committed, we have reason to worry,” he says.

The Dalit child’s parent suspects that pressure was put by the local MLA of a pro-Thevar political party.  “The children are too young to even develop sexually and harass children that way. To me, it was a small scuffle between children who were aware of their castes and their boundaries and now, the whole village is crumbling,” the parent said.

Senthil says, “We did not indulge in any violence, we only registered a police case. There was a teenager, he should be the one caught.”

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