Sagarika Ghose: Good evening, we're focusing tonight on a little boy who today on Raksha Bandhan day has no one to tie a rakhi on him. Nor did this little boy get the love of his parents. Instead, when his mother died when he was a healthy one-year-old, his own father and stepmother unleashed three years of such terrible violence on him, that he developed 17 fractures, multiple strokes, today has cerebral palsy and is classified as 90 per cent disabled. Retired Army Officer Lalit Balhara and his wife Preeti have been convicted by a sessions court of baby battering with intention to kill. The sentencing is awaited, should the harshest possible punishment be given to this inhuman, cruel even evil couple who attacked a helpless, mother-less three year old year after year. Joining us battered baby victim, now a 13-year-old with cerebral palsy, Savitri Verma, grandmother of victim, Anjali, aunt of victim, Shanta Sinha, Chairperson, National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, Dr Amit Sen, Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist, Director, Children First.
Savitri ji, tells how the condition of the child is, is he happy, and is he healthy?
Savitri Verma: Now there is improvement, but when we first brought the child he couldn’t even stand. He was starved. And he used to walk with help of others.
Sagarika Ghose: How did you come to know about the torture that was happening with the child? If you would have got to know this earlier the child wouldn’t have been 90 per cent disabled.
Savitri Verma: We tried to meet the child a lot of times but the parents didn’t let us meet him. They made excuses that he has gone somewhere else etc. We approached everyone but weren’t allowed to meet the child. Then one day around 10-11 pm we got a call that the child could be killed and if you want to save him then save him.
Sagarika Ghose: Who was that lady?
Savitri Verma: She refused to reveal her identity but said that we should go to the RR Hospital, the child is badly battered, bruised, has multiple fractures, almost paralysed. The police complaint has also been filed but there has been no action so far, you come and save the child.
Sagarika Ghose: Savitri ji tell us, the parents, Lalit Balhara and Preet Balhara, have now been convicted but the police investigation is going on since 2005, why do you think it has taken so long in this case?
Savitri Verma: The FIR was registered according to what parents told. They said the child himself has taken some poisonous pills, they didn’t poison the child. Then no action was taken. The delay happened because of the police.
Sagarika Ghose: Did the police help you or were they obstructing the case all along?
Anjali: It was a very clear cut case, there were two reports filed against Lalit Balhara and Preeti Balhara in the Army Hospital Delhi, for poisoning and bettering the baby. Then the High Court ordered FIR against these two after the child’s custody was given to us. There was separate medical board constituted by AIIMS. There was a medical board of seven senior doctors where they re-established the case that any of the injuries sustained by the child cannot happen by any other manner but only if a child if emotionally, physical abused by adults. The Army Hospital confirmed the reports that the child has been battered but the inspecting officer said the child only sustained the injuries only by falling from sofa.
Sagarika Ghose: That’s the attitude of the police. Let me bring in Shanta Sinha of the NCPCR, Shanta Sinha, this child could have been save, his 90 per cent disability, only if his grandparents knew, they were willing to be the care givers but instead the child was battered again and again, nobody informed them, the grandparents weren’t able to reach the child. Should there be a much stricter protocol in terms of police, in terms of doctors so that they can recognise this battered baby syndrome, so that they can inform the next of kin?
Shanta Sinha: First of all I think this tragedy could have been avoided if the neighbours around them could have recognised and informed that this kind of battering is happening. Or the next of kin had taken upon that look this is violation of human right, this kind of cruelty that the human is suffering is intolerable and they knew where to go. Sometimes they know that this is happening but they remain silent thinking that this is a private affair, this should not happen and we must make complaints.
Sagarika Ghose: But in this case it took doctors two years to figure out that the child was battered, the parents keep bringing the child and the doctors kept treating, is that something all the doctors should be aware of?
Shanta Sinha: I think it is everywhere because people think it is a private affair, because it is happening to the middle class, because it is happening to the educated parents, so one think there is some kind of incivility and one must not interfere. Let me tell you action can be taken by any class. We must take charge, we must go to the near child welfare committee, we must go to the NGO.
Sagarika Ghose: For all those citizens out there if you see injuries and you think that the child is being battered, report those injuries. Savitri ji, tell us if you have any contact with the child’s father? Has he offered you any monetary help?
Anjali: Madam I would like to interfere, in this case the Army Hospital had taken action twice. We were fortunate that the doctor who had been seeing the child went out of his ways and filed medical legal case twice. In the medical legal case he said that the child has been battered, he went to various NGOs because he didn’t have our contacts. Despite the solo efforts that he had taken nobody came out to help him, the neighbours didn’t even know that such a child exist in that house. One of the neighbour said that there are three children and sometimes the third child is taken out covered.
Sagarika Ghose: This is a shocking case of a child who was kept hidden from the society. Savitri ji I was asking you whether the child’s father has offered you any help?
Savitri Verma: No, we have not gotten anything. Till the father was in the Army, we got some share from his pay. He has taken several medical insurance claims for his daughter by showing the child’s conditions.
Sagarika Ghose: So no contact from the father with the child whose mother died when he was one-year-old. Amit Sen this is completely heart breaking story, a healthy child, his mother dies and his father and stepmother unleash violence on him that today he’s left with cerebral palsy. And the sad thing is that people could recognise this syndrome, are we just looking at the tip of the iceberg, are there many like these?
Amit Sen: Absolutely, one message that people have to take home today is physical abuse is one extreme syndrome abuse that children suffer today in our country and there have been recent surveys conducted by the Child Development Organisation across 12 states in our country which showed that 80 per cent of the children have suffered some kind of abuse or the other which includes physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect or other. Of course these kinds of cases are rare but there was some kind of aware and some kind of mechanism in the society we would see many such cases coming up in the society.
Sagarika Ghose: And then these cases would be reported.
Amit Sen: Yes, and if I could add this child went to one of the best hospitals, the RR Hospital, there they must be having some kind of awareness of these kind of cases.
Sagarika Ghose: In this case as Anjali is pointing out, the doctor did help but it was the police which refused to help, which was completely apathetic. The courts to cognisance, pushed the police, said investigate and handed out the judgement to the parents saying that you are guilty of battering the child with the intentions to kill. It is horrific that the parents who have the custody of a child should kick and beat a child till he has cerebral palsy and his life is ruined. Savitri ji, tell us whether anybody within the family offered any help?
Savitri Verma: No, help is a distant thing, when we asked them that help us meet the child they said that chapter is closed now. If the lawyer wouldn’t have helped us, if the doctor wouldn’t have helped us, they are like god to us, we got the child with their help.
Sagarika Ghose: Can I ask Dr Sen, why would a child do this? What is the motivation that a father beat his child in this way that he keep taking the child to the hospital.
Amit Sen: The mechanism and the ideology of this has been debated a lot. Many experts say that people who beat up children like this have personality disorder. However, often times in the history the parents themselves were abused, they have deep scars of the abuse, and if these parents would have had to kill the child they would have done it very quickly. The fact that they are bringing this child to the hospital again and again is a very pathological fact that they want to carry on this suffering that the parent themselves might have gone through.
Sagarika Ghose: They want to prolong their own suffering. As you said this is perhaps the dark secret that exists in many Indian families. Anjali, tell us what kind of future are you looking for this child?
Anjali: See, he have survived what an adult wouldn’t have been able to survive. This kind of isolation he have survived no adult can survive. He has undergone several physiotherapy session, he has improved but he will always be dependable. How bright future he could have had with a doctor mother.
Sagarika Ghose: He had a doctor and has an Army father but he was abused so much by that Army father that now he doesn’t have a bright future, a healthy future. He was a perfectly healthy child when his mother died and this is what his father and his stepmother have done to him. Shanta Sinha, we are looking at the law of juvenile justice act, is it good enough, is it a strong enough justice act? Should the harshest punishment be given to these parents to serve as an example?
Shanta Sinha: I think it has to go beyond the juvenile justice act, it has to be the harshest of the punishment within the purview of the juvenile justice act alone. On top of this I think there has to be a serious looking at law on children and family setting. We are in a thinking that parent will not do such things. We have to have strong laws to see that children don’t become what this young boy has become.