Beautiful Minicoy hides an ugly truth: Child sexual abuse and pornography, complicit police

In Lakshadweep an island of calm is rocked by an undercurrent of child sexual abuse
news Crime Thursday, November 17, 2016 - 15:57

A mention of Lakshadweep islands immediately conjures up a tourist’s paradise with its pristine white shores and breathtaking scenery straight out of a travel brochure. 

An archipelago of 36 islands spread over 32 square kilometres, only ten of these are actually inhabited. Each one not more than 4.5 square kilometres in area, crime is something hardly heard of here, with its jails lying mostly vacant and unused.

But in the month of August this year, a case of child sexual abuse was reported was reported from the Minicoy Island. On 14 August, the Lakshadweep police arrested 46-year old Moosa from the Kochi airport at Nedumbassery in Ernakulam on charges of abusing a minor child.

The incident came to light when a video of the accused sexually molesting a nine-year old girl was reportedly leaked. It was alleged that the police deliberately leaked the victim’s identity after Moosa was arrested in this regard.

Sources say that Moosa is the uncle of the Minicoy medical superintendent who shares a very close rapport with Ameer Bin Muhammed -the sub-inspector posted there at the time. This led to wide protests in Minicoy, after which Ameer was transferred as a punitive measure.

But not before -natives allege- the victim’s relatives including her mother were assaulted and lathi-charged by the police in the course of the protest.

Minicoy has apparently not witnessed such an agitation in its recent history. A large group of women took to the streets to register their discontent with the police action. Some of them were brutally beaten up by both the police and Central forces assigned to handle the situation.

The agitation showed no signs of abating, as more natives and social activists got involved. Dr Muneer Manikfaan -a social activist and medical practitioner at Minicoy- and few other youngsters were taken into police custody. Even without an FIR being filed, they were reportedly confined a whole day in the lock-up where they were assaulted. 

Speaking to The News Minute, Dr Muneer recalls the traumatic experience from his clinic at Sedivalu village: “The assault was brutal and so severe that I lost consciousness. I was evacuated to a hospital in Kochi where I stayed for a week.”

(Medical emergencies on the island are dealt by evacuating the patient by helicopter to the mainland.)

Section 144 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) was subsequently slapped on the island for a few days by the Lakshadweep administration to prevent, what they termed unlawful assembly to disturb public peace.

The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights was forced to intervene in the issue. Five more victims were summoned to Kavaratti under IPC Section 162 to record their statements before the magistrate. 

It was then learnt that the accused -along with his wife as an accomplice- would not just sexually abuse the children, but also videotape the criminal act and later sell these to certain websites.

A Hidden Crime

Dr Muneer believes that child abuse is a hidden crime in the isles, one that is widespread yet never comes to the limelight, due to the intricate family and societal structure in place.

Big joint families are the norm. Being a small place, almost everyone is related to each other in one way or the other. 

“Social life here is very strong. More than an individual or a family, people accord more importance to the community and society as a whole. People are constantly dropping in at each other’s homes, as part of their tradition. Such visits can even go on till midnight,” he remarks.

So the bottom-line is that just about anyone can visit any house on the isle at any given time. “With families being large-sized, who has the time to be always hovering over the children? Chances of abuse will hence be very high in such scenarios,” he avers.

A female social worker who sought anonymity says that she has been secretly working among the Minicoy women for long. She reiterates that there are numerous cases of sexual abuse of kids that families seek to hide, for fear of tarnishing the family image in front of the society.

“In many of the cases, the culprits are relatives or neighbours. Hence the victim prefers not to share the experience with either parents or other family members. Parents may also not tend to believe her. And even if they do, they prefer to push it under the carpet, for fear of losing face in society. But luckily, the nine-year old victim’s mother chose to stand by her daughter, disregarding the social ostracism that followed,” she adds.

According to Dr Muneer, a student survey in the schools of Minicoy delivered shocking figures of abuse.

“Few years ago, some students did a school survey wherein I asked them to include a question on child abuse too. 40 out of 200 girl students admitted to ‘bad’ experiences. But truth be told, there are many more who are not yet ready to reveal the truth,” he rues.

Another Minicoy resident who works among women feels that it is the strong community-bonding that stops victims from talking about such experiences.

“People are so worried about their societal status in the community. In the recent case when the victim’s mother spoke out, she was ostracized by neighbours, relatives, community heads, almost everybody. Since there is only a single community present in the isles, a life outside its realms is just not possible,” she opines.

Sex-education classes and an awareness drive for both kids and their families are the need of the hour, stresses Dr. Muneer.

“Kids should learn to differentiate between good and bad ‘touch’, even those bestowed on them by a relative, however close. Parents should also know that people are not all that good, as they seem to be.”

 

 

Edited by Chintha Mary Anil

 

 

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