Over the weekend, the government brought about an ordinance
amending the POCSO Act. The president too promulgated the ordinance immediately. The amendment to the Act allows courts to award the death penalty to individuals convicted of raping children below the age of twelve. The move, which came after the widespread outrage around the Kathua incident, was welcomed by most quarters. Indeed, it is hard for any normal human being to criticize
such a measure.
However, less than two days after the ordinance has come about, some serious questions have arisen about the difference that this ordinance will really make. Such measures are generally taken as deterrents, but hardly serve the purpose if their implementation is inadequate. The implementation being inadequate can be at several levels, with law enforcement and the judiciary playing quintessential roles. Ironically, this story that raises questions comes from the state of Jammu and Kashmir, the very state where the incident that brought about this ordinance took place. What is even more ironic is that despite a case in Jammu and Kashmir bringing about the ordinance to amend to the POCSO Act, the Act is not applicable to the state. With the ‘autonomy’ that the state enjoys, it has taken the liberty of not bringing about a child protection act. However, the government’s alleged conduct in this particular case has raised several questions about how the other state government will uphold the new amendments of the POCSO Act.
Aijaz Ahmad Sheikh was a popular ‘faith healer’ in the valley. He is supposed to have run his practice (if we can call it that) for over two decades before he was finally exposed. According to this Economic Times report from when he was arrested for the first time last year, Aijaz Ahmad Sheikh used to give away amulets to people promising them a better financial future. When people used to return to him with complaints that the amulets hadn’t worked, he used to ask them to bring their children to him. According to him, children could converse with jinns, and this would ensure a better deal.
The children were made to stay in his house overnight. The initial complainant told the police that at any given point, he would have at least four to five children in his house every night. Not only would he abuse them sexually himself, he would force these children to have sex with each other as well. These children would be between the ages of eight and fourteen. They would be threatened of dire consequences, such as being at the receiving end of the wrath of ghosts and demons, if they dared to tell anyone what used to take place. It is believed that the number of victims runs into thousands.
Aijaz Ahmad Sheikh was finally charge-sheeted and arrested last year. However, he was granted bail to ‘prepare his defense’ according to this article of Daily Mail. In this article itself, his victims speak about the many ways he used to guilt-trip and blackmail them into performing these horrific acts. According to unverified sources, he was a student at a Madrasa and was kicked out of there before he decided to become a ‘healer’. Aijaz Ahmad Sheikh was once again arrested recently in another case, and is currently in police custody.
This is where the story takes a shadier turn, and the prospects of the state actually putting a spanner in the wheels of this man being tried, emerges. A Facebook page run by his victims claims that something or the other always goes wrong when the hearing for his case is about to take place. According to them, for the sixth time in a row today, the hearing did not take place. The hearing not taking place today is especially significant, because of the reason furnished- Aijaz Ahmad Sheikh’s absence in the court. Now mind you, this is not an accused who simply refused to appear in order to delay the proceedings against him. This is a man in police custody, and that raises several questions about the state’s complicity to protect him.
What compelled the state police not to produce him before the court today? Does his influence run so deep that he is able to manipulate the state machinery to go slow on him, or has the state itself chosen not to produce him for some reason? If we are to go according to this version furnished by the survivors of his ordeal, it seems quite clear to us that the state is to blame for his not being present. He is in police custody after all, and there is no reason whatsoever that explains his absence. The mainstream media of course, is yet to report about this angle.
And this brings us back to the first point we raised, about how the ordinance to amend the POCSO Act has to be backed up with action on the ground. The amendment itself is an excellent move, but lacks teeth if every entity responsible for its implementation is not held accountable. And the state of Jammu and Kashmir lacks the the Act itself. If this story is indeed true, who will take on the state government and bring it to task? While Aijaz Ahmad Sheikh’s victims await justice, we hope the mainstream media mans up and puts enough pressure on the state government to forego its lackadaisical attitude and bring such monsters to justice.