Malik Ahmed Saeed, MPA for Kasur, from the ruling party of this country, the PML-N, is directly implicated in what is being called the biggest child abuse scandal in the country. In Punjab, at the very least. In Saeed sahab’s district a gang of rapists have been molesting children as young as six years old, taping them and selling them to pornographers across the world and on discs for local consumption. For years- from 2006, to be exact. To add to this, the molesters have been blackmailing the parents of these children for years, extorting millions of rupees from them to delete these videos. No guesses on how honourable the gang is, and how many videos have actually been destroyed. Malik Ahmed Saeed has of course not resigned, nor has his party asked him to do so. Nobody has issued any statement whatsoever condemning this most disgusting and heinous, unforgivable activity and so far only five people are in jail. In fact, the elected representative of the people was the one most stringently putting pressure on the parents and police to hush it all up, because 280 children being forced to have sex on tape, often after being drugged or at gunpoint (or both) is something that doesn’t bother him at all. It also doesn’t bother anyone in our government or the PML-N, because who cares about kids in Kasur?

Who cares about any of our children, anyway? The ruling party has time and time again shown their complete disinterest in doing anything that will help make a better future for our children, unless what they will need are endless over-and-underpasses to drive down whilst gasping for oxygen in a treeless desert, driving cars fueled by imported petrol and going home to houses with no electricity, hospitals with no medicines and schools with no teachers but probably a first-class computer lab. We live in a country where academic policing is at its height—I suppose this is why many of us decided to get water-cannoned, lathi-charged and arrested during the last dictatorship, so that when we have democracy we can be censored to Zia-level extremes. So when textbooks are being rewritten to wipe out our true histories and graduate theses cannot do anything against “the ideology of the state”, sex education and children’s protection seems to be a distant dream. This is the country where we stringently deny that anyone was ever a Dravidian pagan living near the Indus and minding their own business—we are all of Aryan, Muslim descent. We cannot bear to conceive of ourselves as anything but holy and always right, so how on earth will we ever address the evil that exists amongst us? We can’t even implement self-defence classes in schools because that would mean admitting that schoolchildren may be engaging in activities that could get them into potentially dangerous situations, so we shove our heads into the sand and stay there, talking in muffled voices about how These Things Only Happen in the Depraved Kafir West, where the goras are so dirty because they don’t have Muslim showers.

In the Indian twitter-sphere, a young woman called Aditi Mittal started a hashtag called #MyFirstPublicIndecency after 40 (consenting, adult) couples were dragged out of hotels in Mumbai and charged with public indecency. The hashtag is brave and splendid in its brutal honesty—scores of people, mostly women, have contributed stories about when they were first exposed to real indecency in public. The startling thing is that the majority of women and men contributing were very young when the assault happened, averaging 7 or 10 years. The stories comprise largely of men either touching themselves whilst staring at or exposing themselves to young girls in public—on buses, outside schools, in parks. Most of them stopped after the child’s mother stepped in and threatened the perverts, who then fled. And before we start feeling smug that this only happens in India, let’s all cast our own minds back to the first time some creepy man did the same when we were very young, and growing up much less policed by our parents than children are today. What is most important to me, in the Kasur context, is that the perverts were intimidated by a parent. To my mind, that is vital. As parents, we must be fierce about our children’s safety. As aunts, uncles and grandparents we must be fierce about our children’s well-being. As anyone who is older and in a position to wield any authority at all we must be fierce about protecting any child we can.

Many of the parents of the Kasur victims were blackmailed for years. One mother is quoted in a story filed by this newspaper as being tearful about the disgusting videos. This fills me with rage. Why were they paying the people who abused their children? Why were they allowing themselves to be part of the shame game being perpetrated by these psychopaths, who were making money from the rape of their child? For every parent that hushes a child who has the courage to tell them about possible abuse, a molester is further enabled. Every time we look the other way, or are afraid of confronting a molester, we are putting our children in danger. Every time we invoke class and economics we are giving parents yet another excuse to hide behind. There is no way, ever, that abusing a child sexually is ever all right, no matter how rich or poor you are. There is no way you can pretend you didn’t hear your child telling you their cousin touched them in a funny way, or their uncle put them on their lap and they didn’t like it. There is no way that Malik Ahmed Saeed can ever be forgiven for being just as culpable as the gang that physically carried out the assaults. And as long as we are squeamish about sex and sex education, in our small-minded middle-class ways, as long as we keep doing haw-hai instead of how-dare-you, we are failing our children spectacularly. We are throwing them straight into the lion’s den. The majority of sexual abuse is perpetrated by people a child knows and trusts. Statistically, one in five children has been sexually molested in some way or another. This doesn’t just happen in places far from us, done by nasty strangers. Someone on social media wisely pointed out that this may not be the biggest sexual abuse scandal in Punjab, but one of the few that’s been caught. That makes my blood run cold with horror.

More than four thousand people came out to protest in Kasur, and that gives me hope that there are still people who are willing to have difficult conversations because at the end of the day, there is nobody more precious than a child, and anyone who hurts them deserves the very worst to happen to them. It’s as simple as that.