The recent incident involving noted singer Papon kissing a minor contestant of a singing reality show backstage, where he was one of the judges has stoked a lot of controversy. Public opinion has been divided on this whole issue making it more complex. Some are supporting the singer who apparently has clarified that the contestant was akin to his daughter and it was purely a gesture of fatherly affection. The only person who knows whether the intentions of the singer were honest, is the singer himself. But this entire controversy has unfortunately turned the spotlight on Assam again for all the wrong reasons.
During this whole episode though, an execrable phenomenon came to fore which is astonishing. Majority of the people taking the singer’s side and flashing the victim card have completely abandoned rational thinking and are supporting him just because he hails from Assam despite having watched the video that shows him in a clearly inebriated state. Assamese people do have their right to feel neglected by mainstream India that rarely looks at/talks about them. So, it’s natural to attain a demi-god like status as Papon did, as he made a name for himself nationwide by dint of sheer talent, hard work & dedication.
I have a daughter; so I perceive things a little differently than many of Papon’s loyalists. Make no mistake, I am as much an Assamese as them and take immense pride when works of modern Assamese greats like late Bhupen Hazarika, Zubeen Garg, Jahnu Barua, Jadav Payeng, Adil Hussain, Shiva Thapa to name a few are acknowledged and extolled. However, an act that needs to be denounced and censured, should never be defended no matter what a person’s community, religion or region is. Papon is an exceptionally talented and skillful singer and there are no two ways about it. But his singing abilities are not being questioned here. The question here is to decide between right and wrong, between being right-minded and vile. Had the video not surfaced, we would never even have known about this incident. Having watched it over and over, one has to say that the act was inappropriate.
To the countless Papon fans, who are endorsing his “fatherly affection” gesture, I pose here two simple questions. Firstly, will it be okay to them if their grown-up daughter’s/sister’s singing mentor kisses them on the lips out of “fatherly affection”? Secondly, why did the person recording the video utter, “Ye kya ho raha hai?” or “what’s happening?” when Papon kissed the girl? It didn’t end there as the singer then asked if it’s a live recording and if yes, to stop it. Why did he not want others to see his “fatherly affection”, if indeed it was? Ironically, everybody watched it later and the sensible minds felt a sense of shock and disbelief. The fervid Papon-camp though, notwithstanding the video evidence, could not see or rather did not want to see the truth. If your answer to my first question is yes, there’s no point of any debate here and I would rest my case.
In India, the statistics on molestation/sexual abuse of minor girls is horrifying. Seven out of ten cases of molestation go unreported. It’s rampant everywhere, happening in every nook and corner of the country and perpetrators are evading the law with impunity, the above statement is a testament to it. Considering all these, an incident backed by video evidence is bound to create an uproar and the “fatherly affection” card might just not work here. The Indian girl child is never safe, be it in the family, with close ones, in schools, colleges, in buses, other public places etc. The situation is worse in rural areas where girls as little as 6 months old get raped. Rapid progress made by the country in multiple spheres mean nothing if such traumatic experiences for the basis of a girl’s life.
Even more worrying, as in Papon’s case, is the fact that the victim might not even have realized the offense as she’s still very young. Many of his backers have advocated that since the girl/her parents are in support of the singer, the matter stands closed then and there and need not be pursued any further. Yes, legally they have every reason to rejoice as under these circumstances, it could be easier for the singer to get away scot-free. The developments that followed the incident is unknown to all, except the accused, his lawyers and the girl’s family. That they might have been coerced either by mutual understanding/money/threat to speak in favour of the accused cannot be ruled out either.
Having said this, it’s a bit unfair too to label Papon as a paedophile yet on the basis of one incident. Papon is a brilliant singer, has been an excellent ambassador for Assam otherwise and has brought many a laurel to our state. We, the people of Assam, value his overall contributions and respect him immensely for that. Therefore, let’s not malign his image to this irreparable extent. But also it’s high time, some of us learn to exercise our rational thinking and have the courage to call a spade, a spade…a wrong, a wrong. This kiss-saga and the pandemonium it created, was the last thing the singer and the people of Assam wanted. I hope this acts as a heads-up for everyone, especially the public figures to abstain themselves from indulging in such misadventures and treat this as a life-lesson. Let us make this world a safe place for our girls!!
By Subhasish Das