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She was sitting in her teenaged girls' room that evening like she often did after a hard day's work at her office. She loved talking about this, that and everything to them. Their sharp wit and keen observation never failed to fascinate her. In fact she believed she could learn a lot about the world as it is now, from them. Her husband wasn't back from work yet. He worked with a private news channel.
The phone rang and shattered the peace within the room and when she picked it up, it shattered the peace within her as well. It was her neighbour- almost shouting and sounding very agitated. It took her a few seconds to process what she had just heard. Somebody had molested a young child of 6 years- a sweet little boy who lived next door to her. Her neighbour told her that residents of their housing society were all getting together and that she should join them immediately. She hastily told her daughters to lock the door as she rushed out.
Outside, it was mayhem. It couldn't have been called a crowd, no. It was almost a mob. As she approached them, she could see them staring angrily and pointing fingers at a house where Prabhat, a successful young man lived with his wife and kid. Prabhat was a researcher and loved science and math. He generously offered to guide children and never charged any fee. Owing to his friendly nature and his high academic qualifications, parents often sent their children to him for help with their studies. By now she had joined the others. "What's going on?" she turned towards Ritu- the neighbour who had called her. "Oh, a most horrible thing has happened. Prabhat has molested Aditya!" "What?" surely there had been a mistake. Ritu couldn't possibly have named Prabhat.
"Are you sure? When? How?" she probed. Ritu filled her in on the details and as she heard Ritu out, her mouth filled with distaste. She was feeling sick, she wanted to throw up. It seemed that the shocking incident had taken place two days ago. The young Aditya, Ritu told her, was playing outside Prabhat's house when he called him in. Aditya's father and Prabhat often car-pooled together and the kid was quite fond of Prabhat 'uncle'. He went in after him, only to return scarred for life. Aditya had come home and kept quiet because Prabhat uncle had told him that children should never complain about elders. Moreover, Prabhat uncle's daughter Priyanshi was Aditya's best friend. The same night, Aditya had come down with a fever and was crying inconsolably, unable to sleep. His mother had rocked him in her arms all night while his father called the pediatrician for advise. The next morning, the parents had taken him to the hospital but the fever had refused to come down. Aditya was still in hospital. What set her mother thinking was that in his disturbed sleep, he had mumbled something about Prabhat uncle touching him. She had woken him up and asked him about Prabhat and the poor boy had broken down in sobs that wracked his weak feverish body. When she asked him why he hadn't told her about this the day it happened, a confused Aditya looked up at her innocently and said, " But he's Priyanshi's Dad. I'd be a bad boy to complain about him."
The enraged mother had called her husband immediately and he had rushed out to Prabhat's house to confront him along with two of his friends from the society. Meanwhile, the residents had surrounded Prabhat's house and were refusing to budge. Prabhat and his family had locked themselves inside. It was an impasse.
She stayed a few feet behind, trying to make sense of what was happening. It's interesting how many mothers think. Every time something unfortunate happens, they imagine it happening to their children and their reactions then stem from that. Her mind was in a spin. If something like this could happen in a posh housing society, how safe were the children? Her heart went out to Aditya and his parents, she wouldn't know what to do if (God forbid), something like this happened to her kids. She would probably kill the person if she could lay her hands on him and gladly go to jail for it.
Meanwhile Aditya's father had called the police and the PCR Gypsy had arrived. They asked the crowd to disperse and people starting backing away. From the distance, she could see Prabhat and his wife walk out the front door. She could barely make out Aditya's father's words as he screamed at Prabhat. The cops were asking him to stay calm. This went on for half an hour after which the police took Aditya's father and Prabhat to the police station. People gradually started walking back to their houses. She stood rooted to the spot. Suddenly the phone rang and she saw the image of her elder daughter on the screen. "Ma, where are you? Is everything alright?" there was deep concern in the voice of the 16 year old. "I'm coming home." she said.
The next day went by in a blur. She didn't want to talk to anybody in her office about the incident just yet. Plus, she wouldn't know what to say. Coming home, she made herself a cup of tea and carried it to the girls' room. She had briefed her husband about what had happened the previous night and together they had spoken to the girls. They always talked to their daughters about such burning issues because they believed that knowledge and correct information were the most potent weapons they could arm their kids with. She was still chatting with the girls when the doorbell rang. It was Ritu. "I don't believe this!" she stormed in. "Aditya's parents are not filing a complaint!" She was looking at Ritu as if she didn't understand the language Ritu was speaking. "Not filing a complaint? Why?" "Because they don't want to make the child undergo a medical examination and don't want to pursue this anymore. His dad just informed us that he has filed for a transfer in his office and that after Aditya's exams they will be moving away. Apparently, somebody has told them that the case can go on for 15-20 years and it'll be mighty embarrassing for Adi when he grows up. " She couldn't believe her ears. The victim planning to leave and the perpetrator staying on? What kind of justice was this?
"But can't we speak to Adi's parents? And what about Prabhat? Without a police complaint, we can do nothing about him. He will continue to stay here and God knows how many innocent kids will fall prey to him!" the words were just pouring out. "Aditya's parents have specifically requested to be left alone. They want to protect little Adi and are saying that if pressurised, they will leave even before his session ends." Ritu informed her. The girls were looking equally upset. She dialed her husband's number who said he was on his way home and had something urgent to tell her. Little did she know that the horror had just begun.
Through some contacts her husband had found out that this was not the first incident of child sexual abuse involving Prabhat. He was a serial offender and had molested at least 4 more kids in his previous society. He used to get away every time because no parent had ever filed a police complaint naming him. Some people had even approached the pharma company where he was employed but in the absence of a case, they too had refused to take any action. The next couple of days were spent in society meetings with the residents trying to chart a course of action. It was agreed that even if no police complaint was being filed, Prabhat must not be allowed to reside there. She and a few others did not quite agree with that because this only meant that he would move to another place and start afresh. However, she also understood that this was the most that could be done specially because none of the victims was willing to come forward. The police had come again but Aditya's parents had denied everything and the cops had told the residents that there was nothing more for them to do under the current circumstances and returned. In a nut shell, even though a little one's precious childhood had been murdered, nothing could be done.
Social boycott did not seem to be the answer specially because quite shockingly, some people were of the view that they could not sever ties with Prabhat and his wife because they were good to them. In fact, one day she even overheard someone saying, "Why are people with daughters so upset? It's not like he has ever harmed any girl". She couldn't decide whether to laugh or feel angry at such remarks. And it always made her wonder if this casual attitude towards sexual abuse played a part in sexual crimes against women too. She couldn't understand how people could accept a beast like this living among them because they either did not want to spoil their relations or felt that it didn't concern them. Yet others were content thinking it could never happen to them.
But the fact is, it can happen to anyone, anytime. She knows it. And now she waits to see what happens.