India is not unknown to the abuse of young girls on TV. On February 21 2018, a well known singer Angaraag Mahanta, widely known as ‘Papon’, was allegedly caught kissing a minor reality show contestant on Facebook live; she was one of the participants he was mentoring. The video had gone viral in no time attracting severe storm of criticism and anger. In the video, Papon was seen celebrating Holi with the contestants of “Voice India Kids” and kissing on the girl’s face who tries to resist. Papon is one of the judges on the show along with fellow singers Shaan and Himmesh Reshammiya.
On the following day, the Supreme Court advocate Runa Bhuyan had filed a case against Papon in the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) under the Prevention of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POSCO) for inappropriately kissing a minor girl.
Seeing his reputation getting ruined in no time, Papon issued his clarification but there were few takers of his mending act.
The best universal practices say that if children are exposed in reality shows they must be recognized as child actors, which is not the case in India as well as many other countries. They are considered as ‘participants’. Though there is regulatory protection offered by the Law, it is prone to be misused.
Now there are two angles of trauma. If the video had not gone viral and the matter had not received media’s attention, the girl might have suffered some severe psychological trauma and the similar incidences could have happened with other participants. Now since the incidence has got media attention, the girl and her family are in trauma because the whole world is looking at them from different angles.
Girl’s father supports Papon:
The girl’s father said that what was seen in the video was not intentional. He said: “It was just a moment of affection that is being portrayed otherwise. I would request and urge the media to not pursue this further. Papon is a mentor and a father figure to his daughter and has always encouraged her to pursue her dreams. He doesn’t differentiate among the children who are here and gives them equal guidance on pursuing their dreams.”
What the channel says?
The channel “&TV” issued a statement saying it will extend full support to all affected parties. We as a channel have always been focused on the safety, security and well-being of the contestants participating in our shows. We have always adhered to the NCPCR guidelines and our production house, Essel Vision Productions Limited has taken all precautionary measures required under NCPCR and other laws. We believe in nurturing talent with utmost sensitivity and care while we provide them the platform to showcase their aptitude. As a responsible channel, we are extending complete support to all parties who are impacted by this incident and will stand by them to help them through this situation.”
Seeing the matter turn grim, &TV, dropped Papon from the panel of judges.
While the Supreme Court lawyer, Runa Bhuyan said the singer has “committed sexual assault”. On 23 February, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) had issued notice to both singer Papon and the channel.
NCPCR said: “We have seen the video and have gone through the written complaint which came to us from Supreme Court lawyer Runa Bhuyan. We felt this is a provocative case. Necessary legal action will be taken. We are following the legal procedure. We will ask for their version as well and accordingly, further action will be taken. We have guidelines on our website which clearly mentions rules for channels using children in their show.”
Papon later issued a clarification which read: “I am very painfully conscious of the accusations that have been made against me in the last few days. Anyone who knows me would be aware that I am an extremely affectionate and expressive person.”
He added: “I might have done it spontaneously but in today's environment, to touch a girl child, however innocent your thoughts are, is not advisable. I am sorry for that. Please do accuse me of being naïve and stupid.”
Media & fans condemn the act:
Media and public had unanimously condemned singer’s act, while some fans also defended their celebrity. But many of his fans were with the general public and media in criticising the singer’s act. One of them said: “Even as a fan, I found the contents of the video unsettling and was distressed by the subsequent reactions of some of his fans who were quick to defend him solely because he is a talented musician they admired, failing to understand that talent has little to do with a person’s ability to commit an offence.”
The singer might have done it spontaneously but in today’s environment, to touch a girl child, however innocent your thoughts are, is not advisable. Papon too accepted this fact in his statement.
Good touch & Bad Touch:
Many girl child rights advocates said that it is important for every girl child to know about the concept of good touch-bad touch. Many feel that girl’s father defended Papon just to facilitate his daughter’s progress as a contestant.
For parents, it might be not comfortable taking up these sensitive topics, but, the learning has to start at home and it is all about their child’s safety. They should put aside their doubts and inhibitions and talk to their daughters in a simple way and with a play methodology like we do for many other things. They should start by telling children about their private parts and tell them that the body parts they usually keep covered are our private parts and no one has the permission to touch you there. They should tell them about the limits of every touch. Touches which make them uncomfortable they feel unpleasant are bad touch and must be resisted and complained.
Content production & safe environment:
The entertainment and media sector is seen as one of the fastest growing in the country. Its various segments – films, television, advertising, print media and music, among others – have witnessed phenomenal growth in the last few years and this trend is expected to continue. Children are increasingly becoming more involved in these productions.
Participating in an adult-oriented industry, children are often exposed to unsuitable, anxiety inducing, and at times, dangerous operational hazards and situations. Many of these problems may be inherent and generic to the industry, but children, unlike their adult counterparts, should not be expected to handle the emotional and physical stress. It needs to be remembered that, by and large, children do not join the industry of their own volition. There is always an adult involved – a parent, or caretaker – who takes the decision for them. In the absence of any monitoring mechanism, there is every likelihood of child actors being exploited when it comes to the number of hours worked per day, and short-changed in terms of educational and safety provisions.