On August 23, 2016, a woman and her second husband were allegedly beaten up by about 200 people living in their locality in Kanchipuram district, over allegations that the man had sexually abused his one-and-a-half-year-old step-daughter.
Sharada*, who worked as a domestic help, had been living with her family in the village until recently. About 10 days ago, she had shifted from Semmenchery along with her husband and daughters. On August 23, she dropped off both her daughters, aged four years and one-and-a-half-years, at a Balwadi centre in the morning. She went back around 11am to take her younger child to a hospital as she had injured her leg after falling from the cot the previous day.
When she came back home in the afternoon, she claimed, her husband had been locked up inside the house, which was surrounded by a crowd of about 200 people. She claimed that she and her husband were then beaten up by the crowd over allegations that her younger daughter had been sexually abused by her husband.
Sharada denied any sexual abuse and alleged that the crowd had been gathered by members of Childline present on the scene. "I was beaten up by the crowd trying to save my husband. They even came to tear my clothes. I and my husband got into an auto and somehow reached the (Pallikaranai police) station," said Sharada.
P Manorama, Director of CHES, a collaborating partner of Childline Foundation India tells a different version of the story. â€śThe Balwadi teacher with other five local women took the child to a Public Health Centre (PHC) where the doctor said that they have a suspicion of child sexual abuse as her legs, lips and private parts were swollen,â€ť she said.
After this, the Balwadi teacher informed the Slum Clearance Board officer about the case. â€śAround 1pm, Childline members were called by the Slum Clearance Board Officer saying that a case of sexual abuse of a one-and-a-half-year-old girl had been reported by a Balwadi teacher. Around 4pm, five members reached the Balwadi. Already about 40 people had gathered at that place and were shouting at the husband, accusing the man of sexual abuse. Our members tried to stop them,â€ť she said.
An FIR was registered under the POCSO Act at the Pallikaranai station. The FIR states that sexual abuse is suspected as parts of the victimâ€™s body were swollen. Childline also produced a report on August 24 from the local PHC that expressed suspicion of a case of sexual abuse.
However, later in the evening of August 24, following a medical examination of the child, the Institute of Child Health and Hospital for Children denied incidence of sexual abuse.
Sherin, co-founder of the Nakshatra foundation, which is involved in the case on behalf of the family, has alleged that Childline failed to follow the proper procedure of reporting the case to the police, who would pursue the investigation. "They should be following the protocol instead of gathering a crowd and beating up the couple, they should have just handed over them to the police. How can the couple even go back to their house now?â€ť According to The Hindu, the Kanchipuram Child Welfare Committee has given a clean chit to the couple. CWC Kanchipuram member Zaheruddin Mohemmed told the paper that Childline should have informed CWC.
Currently, the children have been returned to the care of their parents. While the Child Welfare Committee had asked for custody of both the children, Nakshatra foundation had claimed that no evidence had been presented of child sexual abuse, and so the children cannot be taken away from their parents. The family is currently staying with relatives as they are unable to return to their house in due to the hostility from others in the neighbourhood.
*Name changed to protect privacy