Friday, October 18, 2013

Thirteen-year-old Shilpa Runs Away from Home...

It's now five nights since thirteen-year-old Shilpa (name changed) left home. Without warning. We were stunned. It's one thing to read about such things in the newspaper and it's another thing to let to happen in your neighbourhood. Tongues started wagging: she has a boyfriend; how could she?; what does she know of life?; she is but a child; her parents doted on her; how could she betray all of us? So on, so forth.

The house filled with relatives. They came from all corners of the state, to find the little girl. They all looked shocked and stunned into silence. A police complaint was made, search teams were sent to all corners of the little New Bombay suburb. A small place, really. They couldn't find her. Neither could the police. The mother wailed, the father talked incoherently. Neighbours visited one by one to show their solidarity, offer words of consolation. They weren't consoled: how could she do this to us? She was the youngest and we loved her the most, fulfilled all her wishes. May be, we did the wrong thing by loving her. It was okay if a child ran away as she didn't get the love of her parents. But she was different, her father did all he could to keep her happy and spoilt as he loved his younger daughter the most.

Then what went wrong? It's said she had a boyfriend, a bad sort. May be, just may be, she eloped with him. He had already run away a few times and kept bad company. The boy became the villain and everybody cursed him. How could he do such a thing. His family was threatened.

The first two nights were sleepless nights, looking for her, searching for clues as to what must have happened. The police checked her cellphone number and found it was switched off. A phone call was traced to nearby location. Apart from that nothing, no clues. The parents became harried and harassed, the relatives started moralising. Instead of peace the family started arguing loudly. Neighbours were sympathetic to their plight when they argued through the night. Even they were shocked as they had young teenage daughters.

It's the entertainment industry, people said, she is a minor and has a boyfriend. We never had boyfriends at that age. Neither did we know anything about sex. Now every teenager knows. They have porn movies on their computers and they have cellphones to forward smut videos. It's a moral question not a criminal one, the neighbourhood know-it-all said. What happened to her on those two nights? Punishing her and him would do no good as they will go back to doing what they did before. But the boy should be taught a lesson.

On the third day Shilpa and the boy reported to the police station. It seemed his money had run out. They had gone to a party and since it ended late she was reluctant to go home. That's when they reported at the police station. The boy was taught a lesson. The girl was reluctant to go home so she went to live with an uncle in a distant place. The trauma had come to an end. The neighbourhood heaved a sigh of relief. Parents became more protective of their young girls. Remember Arushi?

Or, did it end? Who was responsible? What went wrong with a society that had lost control of its young people? Will counselling help? Will strictness and watchfulness help? Will they go back to doing what they did? If they did what should we do? There were a lot of questions asked and not many answers.

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