A 16-year-old girl in Hyderabad has allegedly confessed to inventing a gangrape allegation, out of fear that she would be rebuked by her parents for watching a movie with a friend. The incident highlights the difficulties teenagers face in confiding in adults, as well as the exposure of young people to sexual violence through the media.
The teen had initially reported to police that she was assaulted by a group of men in the city's Ameenpur area. The complaint came less than two months after the Disha gangrape and murder case shook the city and dominated headlines for weeks.
The police immediately stepped into action and tried to trace and nab the accused. However, after an inquiry, the police said that the minor had made up the story.
Speaking to TNM, Sangareddy SP Chandrasekhar Reddy said, "The girl went out with a friend for a movie without informing her parents and she made up the story to cover up what happened. She was especially scared of her mother."
"She has now admitted that she made up the story after we took her into confidence. As it is a minor, we will counsel the family members and drop the case," he added.
The incident is primarily rooted in a common challenge between Indian parents and teenagers — the difficulty in speaking to their parents due to the lack of what could be considered as a safe space. What's more, socially conservative attitudes towards teen girls and romantic relationships create a further unfriendly situation for them.
"The relationship between a child and the parents depends on the environment. Teenagers have certain physiological needs which are often not explained properly due to a lack of open communication within the family. Parents find it difficult to acknowledge and accept friendship among different genders, which makes it hard for the child to talk to them as well,” says Kanaka Durga, an expert in the field of child sexual violence and domestic abuse.
The police said that the minor was studying in Srikakulam and had come to Hyderabad recently, as her father was the watchman of a building in the city. Investigation officials said that she had left home in the morning after a fight with her parents, and her phone remained untraceable till Thursday afternoon.
"The parents said that she left home at around 10 am with their cell phone and it was later switched off, when they tried to call her. At around 2.30 pm, she called them and said that she had been gangraped," Inspector Prabhakar from the Ameenpur police station told reporters on Thursday night.
The parents rushed to the spot, an abandoned area under the jurisdiction of the Ameenpur police, and dialled 100.
When she was questioned initially, the girl said that she was roaming around after leaving her house, when a person on a bike stopped her and claimed that he had her nude photographs. As he threatened to release them online, the girl said that she got on the bike with him.
She alleged that she was then taken to the isolated spot where a few other men joined them in a car, and raped her.
In the Disha murder case, a 26-year-old vet was gangraped and murdered in an isolated area on the outskirts of Hyderabad last year. It's likely that the teen was exposed to the repeated media coverage around the crime.
"After reaching the spot, we immediately notified the Sangareddy government hospital and a woman doctor was arranged to conduct a medical test. However, there were no external injuries or signs of rape on the girl," Inspector Prabhakar said.
When she was questioned after the medical exam, the minor told women police officers that the men had attempted to rape her, but fled when they a vehicle nearby. There was also no CCTV footage due to a scheduled power outage in the area.
The police continued looking for clues, but found discrepancies in the girl’s story. Later, police said the girl confessed that she had made up the story, as she was scared of getting scolded by her mother.
However, Kanaka Durga notes that the onus to communicate effectively with children is not on the parents alone.
"Even schools and teachers should share this responsibility and so should society at large. Gender equality is something that has to be ingrained from childhood, to allow children to talk about such things more freely," she adds.
Revathi Devi, a child rights activist and former member of Telangana's State Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (SCPCR) agrees that 'friendly parenting' will go a long way.
"If the parents talk openly with the children, then the same thing is reciprocated. The internet is both a boon and a bane in this way because children have unfiltered access to information, but at the same time, they can get misled relatively easily," she says.
"As every teenager has a phone today, they are exposed to many things. While this may cause problems, it is not right to curb this and take away their phones either. Parents should be sensitive to this and create a safe space for the child to talk to them," she adds.