Angarag Mahanta is an Assamese singer who goes by the stage name Papon. He has recently been all over the news for kissing a minor – a child contestant on the singing reality show he judges – over the lips, during a Facebook live stream.
A criminal case was filed against Mahanta by a Supreme Court attorney, Runa Bhuyan. The complaint was filed with the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO).
The case registered by Bhuyan didn’t receive the support it ought to and the crime by Papon didn’t receive the backlash it deserved. Papon received incredible support with the hashtag #IStandByPapon trending on Twitter and people adding the text, ‘I stand by Papon’ to their display pictures. The fact that people are condoning a child being sexually assaulted and protecting the abuser is disgusting, but it isn’t surprising in the least bit.
We often disbelieve survivors and protect accusers, but what about a case where there is evidence of the crime for the world to see? In that case, we refuse to acknowledge that the act in question even amounts to a crime. Everyone who has come to the singer’s defence has constantly said that a crime never occurred and him kissing a nine-year-old was only a ‘fatherly’ gesture.
What is truly appalling though, is that the child’s father has said the same. The father said that it was a paternal gesture and done without any malice, thus it isn’t a crime. It’s extremely problematic that a parent who is responsible for the protection of their child would condone sexual assault and protect and stand by their abuser.
Papon received incredible support with the hashtag #istandbypapon trending on Twitter.
He released a statement that said, “Papon sir is a mentor and a father figure to my daughter and has always encouraged her to pursue her dreams. He doesn’t differentiate amongst the children who are here and gives them equal guidance on pursuing their dreams. What you saw in the video is not intentional. It was just a moment of affection that is being portrayed otherwise. I would request and urge the media to not pursue this further”.
People who stand by Papon, as well as his lawyer, have used this as a defence and said if the father doesn’t think a crime has occurred and is certain the act was inspired by paternal affection, Papon should be let off the hook.
Although, the point everyone who supports him, including his lawyer, is missing is A) the father of the child doesn’t get to decide if a crime has been committed or not, Papon’s actions were against the law and he should be tried for sexual assault. B) the child’s father being a parent who cannot stand by his own child and is incapable of having the desire to bring her justice, is a weak and ridiculous defence.
The child in question has also come out in Papon’s defence. In a recent video, she said, ‘He kissed me like he would kiss his own child. My mother and my father also kiss me lovingly so there is nothing wrong with it.’
A child that young cannot officially consent, which we are forgetting. The age of consent in India is eighteen, which means anyone below the age of eighteen cannot consent to any sexual act, be it even kissing.
Also, it cannot be established if the child released the statement of her own free will, or if she was coerced into doing it by her parents. Finally, a child cannot understand consent, sexual assault or the sexual nature of things. The child’s statement is no defence and doesn’t change the fact that she was sexually assaulted by Papon.
Papon has also said in a very long Facebook post that he didn’t sexually assault the child and he only kissed her out of affection. Although, what stood out in this post was this line, “I might have done it spontaneously but in today’s environment, to touch a girl child, however innocent your thoughts are, is not advisable”.
The singer not only refuses to accept that what he did amounts to sexual assault but also implies that his actions wouldn’t be considered wrong in ‘any other time.’ Papon also said that we should consider the shame and embarrassment the child’s family would face.
Her family wouldn’t face any shame, the child is the victim, there was no fault of hers. There is no shame in being a survivor of abuse, the media uproar cannot take away her dignity.
Another common defence was that this could be an ‘accident’ or as Papon and many of his supporters stated, the video was probably shot from a bad angle, thus making it look like something it isn’t. Standing by a predator just because you appreciate his work is daft but is something that continues to happen often.
There is no shame in being a survivor of abuse, the media uproar cannot take away her dignity.
Our lack of understanding of consent and sexual harassment is very limited and thus, very problematic. Papon committed a crime and should be tried for it, we shouldn’t be making excuses for him – sloppy, meaningless and preposterous excuses to shield an abuser from the consequences of his abusive actions.
This isn’t the first time and unfortunately won’t even be the last, that we do this. We systematically fail survivors of sexual abuse. It’s sickening and disgusting that in the year 2018 we continue to protect a sexual predator and call his abuse ‘fatherly’ and ‘affectionate’ and it’s appalling that we as a society continue to fail survivors of sexual assault by either shaming them, refusing to believe them and by telling them that a crime hasn’t occurred.
When damning video evidence shows us that Papon kissed the child on her mouth, protecting him, making excuses for him, or trying to change the definition of sexual assault only reminds us that we continue to be the society that condones predatory behaviour and abuse. We continue to condemn survivors only because they happen to be the victims of a crime that patriarchy has led us to believe isn’t the perpetrator’s fault.
We continue to call sexual assault ‘mistakes’, we blame survivors and victims for ‘arousing’ their abusers, and we continue to see sexual assault as a crime that perpetually robs survivors of their dignity, but apparently is no testament to the perpetrator’s character.
Incidents like this will continue to happen, and hashtags like #IStandByPapon will continue to trend until we collectively decide to rethink our take on sexual assault, eliminate our habit of shielding and defending perpetrators, and lose the indifference, apathy, and aggression in our approach towards the survivors of sexual assault.
Featured Image Credit: India Today