Let me start with a preface
I love the creative music of Angaraag Mahanta, popularly known as Papon
I love his gorgeous melodious voice
I love his engaging personality
I love his sense of humor…
Indeed, we were one of the first organizing committees, which invited Papon to perform at our Axomia Convention, held in the year 2010, at Nashville. And we were bowled over by his talents and easy-going personality.
Thus, it was a shock to see a damaging video surface of Papon kissing a minor mentee on the occasion of Holi; and to hear that the Supreme Court advocate Runa Bhuyan filed a complaint of sexual assault on a minor against Papon, with the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights under the POCSO act. As is to be expected the outrage that this complaint evoked, was tremendous. Papon, his legal team and of course his fans offered many arguments and rationale.
- Everyone who knows Papon, know Papon loves children. Remember many of the kids in our country; never get this kind of love and attention ever. Let the little girl feel special and loved by a famous person. Bless him not blame him.
- Photwamir (all done in fun) excess… nothing more than that.
- Papon is basically child-like by nature: “Tar nature to tenekua”.
- He is showing love like an older brother or father. “Aamaku amar khura, mama, deuta tuilo manuha enakei morom korisil. Ki nu jagar hol”.
- Papon is being vindicated both by the advocate Ms. Bhuyan and the TV show host Arnab Goswami decrying his act, for personal and or political reasons.
- When other celebrities kiss a minor, nobody notices. Why is Papon being targeted? Because he is Axomia?
- We are bringing the evils of the West to the innocence of the East. Our Indian culture is very different etc.
As a FAN, I can understand their arguments.
I can relate to most of them.
However, wearing the hat of my day time job in the USA, of a Child Psychiatrist, that has worked some 30 years dealing with victims of child sexual abuse and molestation, as I watched the infamous video clip, I cringed, and the following thought crossed my mind
As a MOTHER, how would I have reacted, had my son’s inebriated looking science teacher, kissed him, on his rather reluctant face, on the day of the science fair competition in good cheer, under the pretext of the revered teacher-student relationship? Would I have dared to call out on this revered teacher’s act of love as inappropriate? For inappropriate it is for a teacher to kiss a student in this manner.
In a similar vein, as a responsible CITIZEN, is it ok for me to look the other way, if I see a questionable act being committed on a minor, by a non-relative adult judge of a Children Reality Show? What message did this so-called innocuous kiss by a world-renowned pop star, convey to his fans and or to the other Judges of the Children Contest-that it is ok to kiss a minor mentee? Any minor for that matter? Today we say yes to a kiss; tomorrow to what? Where should we draw the line?. This infamous kiss raises many such ethical questions.
And the big one
Despite the many explanations given, Papon knew when he kissed the mentee, that it was not an appropriate social act.
Did it have other underlying overtones?
In my limited knowledge of Papon as a person, the answer is a big NO.
It was the celebration of Holi.
Papon possibly might have taken a drink or two and was not in the right frame of mind. He got carried away, and in that moment of photuami fun, he kissed, unrestrained a rather reluctant minor girl on her face.He is a fun loving friendly guy.
However, at that point in time, while he was kissing the minor, he knew he had crossed some kind of an acceptable social boundary.
He asked the videographer, who was filming the event, to stop the live-feed. He next posted the video link on his face book for the world to see and his legal team and fans claimed this kiss was given out of a pure fatherly love of a GURU-SHISHYA parampara.
But he knew.
As a WOMAN with #metoomoments, this left a rather bad taste in my mouth. And, I could understand why the complaint against Papon, was lodged by the advocate Ms Bhuyan.
I cannot speak for the legal laws in India or the due process of what happens when a complaint of SUSPECTED abuse/ Sexual assault is made. Hence I cannot make any informed assessment or judgment of how Papon’s complaint will be handled. The jury is still out on that. All I can say is — till the verdict is in, we CANNOT, MUST NOT, SHOULD NOT claim Papon to be guilty of any criminal misdemeanor.
Fan or not, we owe him that much.
Finally, as a fan I too agree with all his other fans –
Papon should put up a strong fight to regain his GOOD name.
THAT IS HIS RIGHT. And he must.
Nevertheless, this unfortunate incident has sparked much needed and meaningful conversation, in the whole of India, pertaining to child molestation and abuse issues. As most adults will agree, such evil social issues that affect our minor children’s physical or mental health negatively, need to be addressed big time in any society. In fact I am glad to see such meaningful conversations taking place in India.
If not now -when?
As a Prevent Child Abuse BOARD MEMBER, let me share, how things are handled in the USA, when Child Abuse is suspected or reported. This is a great teaching moment for parents with young children living in the USA. Please understand this pertains to my work done in the USA and not India.
Among many factors, the two key concepts we have to understand when dealing with sexual abuse / molestation in children in the USA, the first one pertains to that of “consent”. The second factor in consideration, especially for awareness training and prevention purposes is that of “intent”
Let me start with ‘Consent”
When unwanted acts of transgression of body space occur, the first question asked — was the act performed with consent? For adults the question of consent is pertinent.
However, in the USA,
Can a minor child (typically under age 18 years) give consent to unsafe and unwanted body boundary violation acts?
The answer is a strong no.
Can any adult (parent or other legal guardian) give consent to such unwanted acts, on behalf of the minor child?
The answer again is a resounding no.
The legal system in the USA, states, that all minor children, especially vulnerable children have to be protected at all times, from all forms of abuse and neglect- physical, emotional, sexual, that are deemed harmful to the child. Unwanted touching, fondling, pinching, caressing, groping etc. fall in the realm of sexual abuse.
According to the findlaw.com website.
“Every state in the USA, has mandatory reporting laws that require certain people folks working with children to report apparent or suspected child abuse to a central authority, such as via a statewide toll-free hotline. The reports — which are often anonymous — are meant to promote early intervention in case of potential child abuse.
Many states require “any person” to report suspected child abuse, whereas other states require mandatory reporting by certain professional, such as doctors, nurses, social workers, school officials, day care workers, and law enforcement personnel. In some states, failing to report instances of child abuse is considered a misdemeanor punishable by fines, jail time, or both.
In most states, the harm must have been inflicted by non-accidental means. This includes intentional acts (kissing, touching, fondling etc), actions that were careless (such as, allowing a known sexual offender or known abuser to be with a child alone), and acts of negligence (such as, leaving a child under a certain age at home alone). Also, the “harm” inflicted upon a child need not be actual, but may include “threats” or “risks of imminent harm”.
In a nutshell:
- A minor child cannot give consent; neither can the parents or legal guardian of that child on their behalf.
- If abuse or harm to a child is witnessed or even SUSPECTED, it is the duty and responsibility of any adult, but mandatory for professionals working with children, to report this alleged or suspected abuse to a central authority.
- Unless reported the responsible adult can be charged for criminal misdemeanor.
- On the other hand, if their suspicions are unfounded, the responsible adults, cannot be prosecuted for slander.
- Finally, if the parents and or legal guardian cannot protect and or keep their child safe, (for whatever reason), the state has the right to intervene and the child can be removed from that home / environment and placed elsewhere (in a foster home or institution) deemed safe.
Next coming to the question of ‘intent”.
When you look back, I am sure many of you will remember an experience or two of the following transgression of personal boundaries as a minor, that made you feel uncomfortable.
Pinching, groping, rubbing of body parts in a crowed bus, or social gatherings.
Manhandling / rough housing of body parts, (in the name of fun), during Holi and or other cultural celebrations. Roving hands of older relatives and friends, during family gatherings under the guise of family love. There were many examples of such innocuous invasion of body spaces that I faced, growing up in India.
Are these behaviors appropriate? Good touch / safe touch.
Are these behaviors inappropriate? Bad touch / unsafe touch
Are these behaviors criminal? Bad touch / unwanted touch.
The adults of a particular culture/society we live in, often determine how such behaviors are viewed, and or are dealt with. And these parameters are taught to the children, from day one.
Let me give you a personal example
As a child, I remember my mother asking me to avoid being alone with “ certain relatives” because of their loving roving hands and or loving eager mouths. Her explanations ‘Tumi etiya dangor hoisa. Bor theek nohoi tekhet. Akole nathakiba taekhetor logot. Tekhetor porkiti lorisa etc.’ (Rough translation…You are older now. He/She has persoanlity quirks. Avoid being alone with them)
I found it rather confusing to figure out, at that young age, what body parts were ok to be touched, kissed, caressed by which adult relatives or friends of the family and when i.e why the kiss by one family member during Bihu celebration was okay but not by another. Why was it okay to be kissed by the same adult during Bihu but not other times?
My mother did not explain anything.
Just made these blanket statements that I had to decipher.
And the onus was on me to protect myself. “ Make sure not to stay alone with him or her”
However, what is important to understand is that these so called innocuous acts of love were UNWANTED and were inappropriate. Everyone knew that including my mother. But they were kept hidden, un-confronted and un-named. Worse, by normalizing such unwanted behavior, or avoiding confronting such unwanted acts, it emboldened and allowed that particular family member or family friend perpetrator, to continue unabashed.
Such ‘acts of love’ innocuous, sanctioned and un-confronted, though inappropriate are present in all cultures and societies. Thus, to avoid such societal confusion and conundrums about INTENT, and to protect children, the paradigm of “good touch and bad touch’ was adopted, (among others), as a hall mark of Child Abuse Prevention program in the USA. This program taught by parents and / or by childcare professionals in different childcare /social settings includes the following:
- A detailed description of different kind of touches — good/ bad, safe/ unsafe and UNWANTED.
- The swimsuit rule of not letting anyone outside of safe adults like physicians, nurses, parents etc., to touch any area covered by a swimsuit. This was later modified to add that no other body parts could be touched, kissed, caressed etc if it makes the child feel uncomfortable.
- Empowering the child to speak up and say no to any loving acts that make them feel uncomfortable.
- Empowering the child to confide in a (identified) safe adult, if such transgression does take place, to seek help.
Do mistakes happen when abuse is suspected and reported?
Of course it does.
What is the price of such false or wrong accusations?
In terms of loss of name, fame, loss of important family or social relationships, social ostracism — of the alleged perpetrator –- immense to say the least.
However, in the USA, in all instances of body space violation, (and or all forms of abuse) , the state and or the legal system chooses to err on the side of the child —no matter what the intent, no matter the degree of the transgression, no matter who the person is, no matter where it takes place. This is how seriously abuse or even SUSPICION of abuse is considered in this country.