At a public ground near HAL police station in Bengaluru, hundreds of parents got together on Sunday morning, and their message was loud and clear: Sexual abuse of children needs to stop.
The peaceful demonstration was held on Sunday in the wake of alleged sexual abuse of a three-and-a-half year-old and several other children at a playschool in Bengaluru. Hundreds of parents turned up in black, demanding a speedy trial in the case within 30 days, and to bring the accused - including the school administration - to justice.
Some of the parents even demanded formulation of a national registry for sex offenders, to prevent the accused from getting away from the clutches of law. The parents signed a memorandum asking the police to record the statements of the affected children and their parents at the earliest.
In the memorandum addressed to the Police Commissioner, the parents demanded that the school administration be booked under Section 16 of the POCSO Act for abetment of crime.
The protesters held up several placards that carried slogans like "Stop Child abuse", "Don't scar my childhood", "No demons in schools” etc.
Speaking at the gathering, the mother of the three-and-a-half-year-old, whose complaint triggered the series of complaints from other children, said that the protests must not die down.
“This is not just a fight from my child, but it’s a fight for all the children. What some of us had to hear from our children are things no parent would ever want to hear. Let’s change the way things are, let’s start talking against all of it,” the mother said.
Urging the police and the government to address the concerns of the parents and punish the accused, ex-Army person Major Aditi Mohan said, “We don’t want to come out onto the streets every six months and protest against such instances. This needs to stop…enough is enough.”
She added: “As parents, we demand certain things from the law. We abided by the law and reported the case and have also stepped forward to get the accused punished. Now it’s time for the government to act."
Parents of a three-and-a-half-year-old who goes to the playschool spoke to TNM about the challenges of having a dialogue with the children about sexual abuse.
"We are talking about children who can't even form proper, meaningful sentences. To make them convey something as complex as sexual abuse is a challenging task for the parents. Once the first case was reported, we made efforts to speak to our son about it. He said that he does not like Manju bhaiyya, but not for any particular reason,” the parent said.
The protest also saw the participation of several children of different age groups. "I want to learn ABC, not abuse," read the placard of Ayan*, a 7th standard student. His father Somnath said that the children need to be informed about what's happening around them.
"After this incident came to the fore, we made it a point to educate our son about child abuse, so that he knows what is wrong and was is right. In fact, he has taken active interest in the protest, even making the placard," Somnath said.
Anger against the school
Harish, who represents the organisation Faith Foundation, spoke to the parents about various provisions of the POCSO Act and addressed their concerns regarding the law.
The parents demanded to know why the school management, including the school head Veena were not behind bars yet.
“The fact that our children are being abused in a place we think is secure is horrifying to say the least. It is not on the streets or in a park that this has happened, it is in a playschool where we think our children are completely safe," a parent said.
According to the police, two cases have been filed against the school management. The first case has been filed under Section 188 of IPC against the school head Veena, course coordinator Preetha, Zonal head Praveena and the school's all-India head Kingston D'Souza. A second case has been filed under section 21 of POCSO against all the accused except Kingston.
Additional Commissioner of Police Hemant Nimbalkar, who reached the protest venue, assured the government's support to the parents. Several police personnel, led by ACP Nagesha Kumar, also held up placards and took part in the protest.
The parent of a child who has complained of abuse at the hands of Manjunath, however, was skeptical about the police action.
"It's a welcome move that the police have come out in support of us and even took part in the protest. However, there are two possibilities to this. One, they might genuinely feel about the cause, or two, it might be a way to pacify us. What we now want is the police to do their job and punish the accused. Mere assuring words aren't enough, we need to see action," said the parent.