A three-and-a-half-year-old girl was sexually abused in a popular Bengaluru preschool. The issue was brought to light in February this year, post which some parents are aggressively fighting the case against the school authorities.
In February 2017, a Bengaluru preschool’s male staff member, Manjunath, was accused of sexually abusing a three-and-a-half-year-old girl.
Her mother, Rashmi (name changed),38 and father Shekhar (name changed) confronted the authorities. “The principal said the child was making it up and denied the claims. I asked her how a child could make such things up. She said ‘do what you want to do, I will not take action’,” Rashmi says. The parents filed an FIR and Manjunath was arrested the same day. “The principal called us the next day and told us to let Manjunath go and not file a complaint. Thankfully, I recorded this call,” Rashmi adds.
It took some time for Rashmi to come to know of her child’s ordeal. When the little girl started crying at the thought of going to school, a pattern that continued for 15–20 days, Rashmi called up the school to make sure everything was okay, and they assured her that there was nothing to worry about. The next hint came when the child told her that the bhaiya had touched her back. “I dismissed this, since I thought some child must have done this. I told her to inform her teacher,” she says. The next time, the child showed Rashmi her buttocks and said that the bhaiya had put his finger in it. “I was alarmed and stunned because she had to be so specific for me to grasp the situation,” she says. The child added, “The bhaiya’s name is Manju, he is a bad bhaiya,”and claimed he did this to other kids as well.
In 2015, under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO), the number of cases registered under child sexual abuse increased to 14,913 from 8,904 the year before. This increase is owed to greater awareness about legal recourse with regard to CSA.
The total number of crimes against children registered in 2015 was a staggering 94,172. These crimes include physical and emotional abuse, neglect, and sex trafficking in minors. Within India, Uttar Pradesh has the highest number of sexual offence cases, followed by Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka. While in the national capital, Delhi, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data suggests that on an average, three children are raped every day.
In 94.8 percent of the reported cases, the assaulter is someone known to the child, often a neighbour, someone from within the family, or a close relative.
When Rashmi and Shekhar approached the school the following Monday, they found that no action had been taken.
“We went to the school to tell the parents about the incident, where 30-40 parents claimed that their children have been crying to go to school as well. Apparently, one 18-month-old child had bruises on her bum,” she informs.
“The response from the police has been disappointing because everybody was trying to push us back. Authorities don’t want to take any action and that is where my discomfort is. What about the people under whose supervision this happened?” she questions.
Apart from Rashmi’s daughter, there are three more children, two among whom are witnesses. All the children have been subjected to medical examinations and have testified in front of the court. “Even getting the medical report was a pain. The government doctor said things like, “You opened your legs for Manju bhaiya, but what is your problem with me?” when the child was unwilling to do so. It was disheartening to hear these insensitive sentences,” Rashmi says.
Manjunath, who himself has a three-month-old child, according to Rashmi, has been working at the school for the past eight years. While Manjunath is still under arrest, the principal is absconding and managed to get a stay order against the charge sheet filed against her. Today, the school sees no kids. Not because of action taken by the school but because no one wants to send their kids to such a school.
A group of parents have filed seven FIRs and have engaged a public prosecutor to take the case to court. The parents want the court to pass a strict judgment against the principal and management and make it necessary for pre-school owners to have licences.
The fee the lawyer is demanding is Rs 13 lakh. The parents, along with Major Aditi Mohan, an ex-Army officer, have started a crowdfunding campaign and about Rs 3.5 lakh has already been raised.
This is Aditi’s third crowdfunding campaign. She has previously helped premature twins with their treatment worth Rs 22 lakh and has also helped raise Rs 20 lakh for a four-year-old stage-four cancer patient. Her involvement with the CSA case started after she read the WhatsApp message circulated by Rashmi.
“When I reached the school, the principal had shut the door of the office and was sitting inside,” she said. She talked to the police and made the principal come out. “At the police station, statements like, “Did you not know that this happens to little children every day?” were made,” she says.
“In my experience, this is the first family I have seen in Bengaluru that is rightfully fighting for the cause. They want to set an example. Otherwise, people back out and don’t try to pursue the case. If this is not done, authorities will get away with this and it will happen again,” Aditi says.
“I question people even in my building running day cares about whether they have licences to run these institutions. While some tell me that they weren’t aware of this requirement, others ask me for help,” she adds.
“I hope these families get justice,” she concludes.