The most shocking part of Delhi's recent case of child abuse over a period of 18 months a school van driver repeatedly drugged, raped and sodomised three children aged between seven and 12 entrusted in his care is the swiftness with which it has been erased from public memory. Distracted by the ongoing violence in Kashmir, and the skeletons falling out of the closet of the CWG, the media seem to have lost interest in the case. There have been few follow-up stories, barring a couple which said that the police were allegedly reluctant to pursue the case as some senior classmates of the victims, who were accomplices in the crime, are said to belong to so-called 'well-connected' families. Media indifference apart, there appears to be a general public reluctance to confront the entire issue of child abuse, the most repugnant and unforgivable of crimes, more so even than murder or rape. In this particular case, the unspeakable torment that the children suffered went on unnoticed for a year and a half till, finally, a suspicious mother, noticing the strange and withdrawn behaviour of the children, and the marks on their arms where they had been injected with drugs to make them more compliant, told a neighbour who, in turn, alerted the police. Even as the Catholic church, in Ireland and elsewhere, has been shaken to its roots by the exposure of widespread paedophilia amongst its clergy and subsequent attempts to cover up such incidents in India we seem deliberately to look away from this most shameful of perversions, the corruption of innocence. These things happen in other places; they don't happen here, in our country, in our culture. Mohandas Gandhi's recorded practice of sharing his bed with nubile girls in order to test his ability to overcome physical arousal? That was an experiment in truth, not child abuse, no matter what psychological and emotional effects this may have had on those who were so experimented upon. Gandhi's experiments with truth while being violative of current norms of child protection, at least as practised in other countries did not constitute paedophilia. But to believe that paedophilia, the physical defilement of children, does not occur in India, or is very rare, would be a dangerous delusion. Reviewing Mira Nair's film, Monsoon Wedding, a Delhi-based film critic took exception to the character who had sexually abused his niece when she was a child, saying that this was an un-Indian anomaly. As Pinki Virani's unflinching testimony, Bitter Chocolate, reveals, far from being an anomaly, child abuse is horrifyingly common in India. Though the joint family system may have become outmoded, cramped quarters are frequently shared by adults and children, often breeding unhealthy proximity. The practice of leaving children with domestic help increasingly common in a milieu where both husband and wife are working can also lead to abusive practices. Some commentators have pointed out that the issue of child abuse has been overplayed in the West, with people being coaxed by motivated researchers to concoct false 'memories' of being victims of sexual predation when they were children. But if this most destructive of social diseases has indeed been overplayed in the West, it has been criminally underplayed in India. Sexual abuse apart, India's children are victims of economic necessity which compels them to do hard manual labour, often in hazardous and brutal conditions, in order to survive. India has the Right to Education Act and it has more anti-child labour laws than any other country in the world; it also has the largest number of child workers. We like to idolise childhood and infancy. But despite all our sentimentalism, Bal Krishna would have a sorry time of it in 21st century India.
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