“Doctor, you stood behind us like a rock when we felt all else had failed and showed us the way forward to get justice!” said a 42-year-old man. He was accompanied by his wife and daughter, aged 11, with tears rolling down their eyes.
While most of the doctors get their share of appreciation while doing their professional duty as healers, this was a different case. The little girl was brought to me a few years back. She was just an eight-year-old and was referred to me for treatment of “precocious puberty”, as she had started menstruating way too early. The girl always seemed to be tensed and sad, with her head low and she would never talk. Initially I thought that she was just reacting to the medical condition and the physical, emotional and psychological stress. However, soon I started noticing that she was not responding to the treatment.
When I tried to dig a bit deeper into why this was happening I found that she kept herself very lonely and refused to go to school often which was very unlike herself according to her parents. It was eventually revealed that she was a victim of sexual abuse by a school teacher. This came as a huge shock and her parents were shattered.
When I explained them about the need to inform the police, they were just not willing to do so. They had almost decided to leave Mumbai and move to another city. The mother’s quivering voice still rings in my ears. She said “Doctor, please leave us alone. Don’t make us go through the trauma all over again. What are police going to do? They will come home to investigate. The whole locality will know. Soon the media will come to know and our names will be all over the place. It will be just one more ‘story’ for them but our lives will be ruined. We have no one here in the city. It is only the three of us. The police, courts, delays… they will make my daughter narrate all those things in the court. She is a small child. It will be like making her undergo same the thing again and again.”
I was stunned and shocked. I had no words to express. On one hand I was an advocate for legal remedies and on the other hand I did understand the child and her family’s pain and suffering. They were living under constant fear. Looking at the bigger picture, I knew that pursuing a legal course was important so that the offender is punished otherwise he would go scot-free and destroy the childhood of another girl or boy.
I sat with the parents and gave them my time to explain why going to the police was important. I explained the provisions of the POCSO Act to them, it is a law that is made for the protection of children from sexual offences. This act deals with child abuse with great sensitivity.
In case of a medical examination, it is conducted by a lady doctor and in the presence of the victim’s parents. The special courts under POSCO Act conduct in camera proceedings. The media is not allowed in the court. The child is not exposed to the offender and no aggressive questioning (what we typically see in the movies) is allowed. The media is not allowed to reveal the identity if the child in any way. I helped them connect to a social worker to boost their morale for a legal recourse.
Two years later, the same family was in front of me. The mother said that the offender was immediately arrested and is now behind bars. “Everything happened exactly how you had told us. We were on the verge of leaving our house. We stay in the same house today. The police came in plain clothes and no one in locality even knows about it. The newspapers did give the news but our names or location was not featured. No one knew that we were those victims. The lady judge made my daughter sit next to her, played with her and offered her a chocolate while she was questioned. The offender has hired a veteran lawyer but all in vain. He is still in jail,” she said.
The father said that they did end up changing the school though, and their daughter really enjoys it now. She is again her chirpy, bubbly self. Their life is returning to normal and they live with confidence again. While the trauma cannot be forgotten, the family has found solace in justice.
All three of them were crying in front of me. The mother said “Doctor, we still remember your words. You had said to us then “I am with you. Call me whenever you want. I will be with you for any help right from going to police station to whatever you need. I will walk with you shoulder to shoulder in this fight for justice” That sentence was enough for us to keep going.”
I felt proud of myself and the police force. I felt proud of my country in which there is a law that protects children and the law is not merely on paper but is in action.
The author is a gynaecologist and medical director at Cloud Nine hospital.