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The ones defending Papon have no soul, have no decency and certainly have no spine

Keeping track of the happenings in the world is certainly a soul-crushing job. You read about death, rapes, hate and treachery almost on a daily basis. Yesterday was of course no different.

As the day progressed, news of Papon the singer brazenly kissing a young girl on the lips emerged. Papon is a ‘mentor’ in some reality TV show, where he and his mentees, little kids, were celebrating Holi in what appeared to be a van. While the girl was laughing, singing and making merry, Papon proceeded to make a gun gesture on her face, smear colour on her cheeks, hold her face between his thumb and the rest of his fingers and kiss her on the lips. After that, he turns to whoever was filming the incident, asks aghast if the ‘Facebook live’ is still on, and upon being informed that it is, asks the fellow to switch if off with a guilty look on his face. Before this, the fellow filming the incident asked, “ye kya ho raha hai” (what is going on), and that is exactly what my sentiments are at this point in time. What the hell is going on?

As if the video wasn’t horrifying enough, there were elements who then jumped into Papon’s defence with the usual humbug arguments that we have heard a million times over. There were various lines of argument taken while defending Papon, and as difficult as it may be for me personally to approach each line of defence dispassionately, I have got to try.

1. It was a mistake, he meant to kiss her cheeks

One of the first arguments being presented it that Papon is an affectionate loving guru, who merely wanted to kiss the child on her cheek and it was by mistake that he ended up kissing her on the lips. When one thinks of this situation dispassionately and logically, what would a man’s first reaction be if he ends up kissing a child on the lips by mistake? Move away immediately? A hint of the ‘my god what have I done’ expression? A reflex jerk tearing himself away from the girl? Perhaps. In the video, however, one sees Papon linger for just a moment and move away slowly as if nothing untoward has happened. To me, it certainly doesn’t seem like a man who mistakenly violated that girl’s space.

2. Guru Shishya affection 

In our illustrious culture, the guru-shishya relationship is a sacred relationship that is perhaps accorded higher value than that of a parent-child equation. Especially for artists, it is common and in fact customary to touch a Guru’s feet or at least bow in reverence to seek blessings. I am personally yet to come across a Guru who thinks kissing young mentees is a way to display affection. In fact, as a parent, I can say without the shadow of a doubt that I would perhaps go into a murderous tizzy if I found that my child’s guru indulges in such ‘unconventional ways’ to display his affection for my child. Thus, this asinine argument to defend Papon falls flat.

3. Intention is paramount and Papon is a “nice” guy

Yes. In the eyes of the law, the intention is certainly paramount to establish guilt. For example, if someone commits a murder, it is imperative that the law establishes, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the murder wasn’t committed in self-defence. But at the same time, let’s assume a man was caught flashing a woman in the middle of the road. Would his intention negate the crime? Would he be able to use “I just wanted to show off my penis” reason as a legitimate defence? If a man was caught raping a woman on camera, would he be able to then say “oops, when she said no, I thought she said yes and my intention wasn’t to rape but make love” in a bid to defend himself and negate the crime? Why then is it acceptable for Papon to say “my intention wasn’t to molest” when his despicable act has clearly been caught on camera? While following the letter of the law is paramount, why then are people resorting to using that letter as an excuse to not only subvert the law, per which he wouldn’t be roaming free but negate the spirit of the law which is to protect the weakest members of the society and deliver justice? Why has the question of a man exploiting his fiduciary relationship with a child not been raised by the very crusaders of the law? Why is Papon’s intention so important when his act has been caught on tape, as compared to that pervert on the road or a rapist who has been caught in the act? Because he is “nice person”? What is the measurement of “nice”? Enough to outweigh statutory rape? If being “nice” was a defence in the eyes of the law, how many convicts would go scot free? Do “nice” men not do unspeakable things? And when “nice” men do unspeakable things, should they be let off the hook because they are “nice”?

4. The girl herself, her parents, other kids, their parents all love Papon. Nothing bad happened 

Aside from being dismayed by this defence, I’m shocked that most people who have the luxury of emotional distance can’t see how this entire incident is transpiring. Firstly, the obvious fact that the perpetrator in this situation is the one who holds unlimited influence on how the child’s life progresses. One has to remember here, that the children who become a part of such reality shows are obviously innocently ambitious, as are their parents. When an entire herd of producers, directors, contestants, parents of those contestants etc are trying to hush things up, perhaps for the sake of their own vested interests, by saying nothing bad happened, how is it that we expect that little girl to stand up for her own little self and say something bad actually did happen. There are adult women who oft shy away from reporting their abusers for fear of ostracisation, stigma, professional compulsions etc. These are the standards which are being expected from a little girl, failing which, the crime caught on tape can be negated? Is this how godless we as a society have truly become? Is this how hypocritical and shallow our crusaders are? We understand peer pressure for simple habits like smoking and using cuss words when it comes to our own children, but when it comes to someone else’s child being molested, we expect that child to stand up against the entire world and take on the establishment she aspires to be a part of? We expect her parents to risk stigmatising their little girl while the rest of the crew hammers it down their throat that nothing bad really happens? Is it so unthinkable that the girl and her parents are under unspeakable pressure? One we may not fully understand?

5. Don’t ruin his career for one mistake 

With this argument, very conveniently, it somehow becomes about the perpetrator and not the victim. Child abuse, in all it’s forms, is not a “mistake”. His career doesn’t and cannot take precedence over the safety of a child who was under his care. Whether his career will be over or not, pretty much depends on his “fans”, how many ever are left of them, anyway. But if a crime has been committed, that crime cannot be brushed under the carpet simply because his life would be ruin and of course, “he is a nice guy”. The concern here has to be the child and whether children are safe in being his mentees. It is thus shocking the kind of sympathy which some are trying to create for a grown man who “made the mistake” of kissing a child on the lips, and when he realised he’s being recorded in the act, urged the videographer to stop recording with a stunned, foolish, guilty look on his face. Some “mistake”, this.

Most child molesters have easy access to children. We see how pastors and caregivers sexually assault the child and even brainwash them to accept it as a new normal. Such molesters make the best profilers. They know exactly how to choose their victims and exactly how to convince them that it is merely their affection which the child is experiencing. Most child abusers appear shy and trustworthy. They work hard to build a bond with their victims. They play with the child. Bring them gifts. Promise the horizon. And slowly, as they gain their trust, the exploitation begins. And heaven forbids the molester turns out to be someone in a position of power. Power to influence their dreams. Their ambitions. Their lives. It’s a heady, dangerous mix. The ones defending him say, “oh, the kids and their parents know Papon. He is no stranger. How could he do this”. I wonder if these people are aware that over 90% of rapes are committed by people known to the victim? Not just in India, the world over. Are they aware that this notion of “Papon dada wouldn’t hurt us” is perpetuating a dangerous situation? Does their soul not scream out in a bid to wake up their sleeping conscience? Can we expect this understanding from people who normalise paedophilia when it suits their agenda?

Did the Papon defenders for a moment ask Papon why he was so shocked when he realised the Facebook Live recording is still on? Did they ask him what has him molesting a child got to do with him being a nice person who is happily married and his kids? Did anyone ask if there is some sort of a rule that only unmarried bachelors turn out to be child molesters?

Or is it that Papon defenders lack the spine to call out a man in power? Perhaps how they normalised Milind Soman dating an underaged girl? Or perhaps how they kept quiet when Deccan Chronicle normalised a comrade’s Paedophilia?

A child got molested on tape. A man, in a powerful position, one from which he can alter a little girls course of life, kissed a child on the lips. When he found out that his act had been recorded on tape, he freaked out and asked for the recording to be stopped. When he kissed the girl on the lips, he wasn’t apologetic or horrified, which he would be if it were a mistake. He lingered for a second and moved away slowly. These are indisputable facts. And if someone still chooses to defend this probable predator, I have no qualms in saying that they are soulless, godless, spineless and bereft of any decency.

I have deliberately not added the video of the incident or a video that emerged on Facebook with parents talking about “what a nice guy” Papon is. I don’t believe in revealing the minor girl’s identity.

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Nupur J Sharma
Editor, OpIndia.com since October 2017

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