Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters

of life’s longing for itself

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you yet,

They belong not to you.”

-Khalil Gibran

Saif Hyder Hasan, noted for his plays and television programmes, has recently made a feature film in Hindi called ‘Yes Papa’. Shot in Black and White, the film takes a stand against the terrible crime of incestuous child abuse. ‘Yes Papa’ is scheduled for a theatrical release on March 1 2024.

Saif Hyder Hasan is an Indian playwright, director, and producer. He has made significant contributions to the field of theatre with his notable works including “Aaine ke Sau Tukde”, “Ek Mulaqat 2014”, and "Gardish Mein Taare".

He started his career as a trainee copywriter and has also worked as a journalist. He is known for his attraction towards brooding, intense, love stories and his experiments with technology and live stage performances.

The film is produced by Sadia M. Hasan, and Ram Kamal Mukherjee is the creative producer. It has a powerful storyline of a little girl who is sexually abused by her own father.

The tragedy is that she does not even realise that her father is wrongly touching her. The reason she explains in court as an adult being tried for murder is shocking. She says that she felt that this was the way fathers show their love for their daughters.

Hasan has written the story which comes across as a sharp, incisive indictment on society’s silence on incestuous child abuse, and its collective psyche that tries to imagine and pretend that it does not exist.

Her parents are divorced and in her growing years, she lives with her mother though her father visits her from time to time. But she grows up into a young woman who is disturbed. Also because her own mother does not believe the girl when she confides in her about her father sexually abusing her.

Vinita (Geetika Thyagi) is a single parent of a little daughter. She holds a reasonably good job, but when the film opens, she is arrested for a murder and a court trial is about to begin. She is divorced by mutual agreement from her husband Harshit Kapoor (Hasan Zaidi) mainly because Vinita is said to be ‘sexually frigid’ and is unable to enjoy a contented conjugal life.

But Harshit remains beside her right through the trial, and is empathetic towards his ex-wife. The little daughter Masha (Yusra Tariq) generally lives with her father but comes visiting her mother, who is extremely concerned about the little one, from time to time.

The narrative moves forward and backwards in time and the main action is focused on the court case where the state lawyer (Atul Kulkarni) is bent on seeing Vinita get the death sentence. The defence lawyer (Tejaswini Kolhapure) is strong in her arguments, and her interrogations of the witnesses, when Vinita’s background story topples out of her secret cupboard. Her mother (Nandita Puri) can do nothing but look guilty and apologetic.

In the frequent flashbacks into Vinita’s growing up years, we are given an insight into her deceptively “innocent” relationship with her highly educated and modern father Sagni Ghoshal (Anand Mahadevan). He croons old Hindi film ghazals to charm the little and panic stricken Vinita into his web. This happens even when he comes to visit her in the boarding school she is sent to.

The fish aquarium in the scenes with her father can be read as a metaphor for Vinita’s trapped childhood, where she is trying to swim away but the tank called “family” stops her from escaping. Strangely, we never see the mother when Vinita is with her father. Why?

Audiovisually, the film is given a subtle and low-key treatment enhanced by excellent cinematography (Vineet Dubey, Chetan Chand and Tanha Fermin Rezi), seamless yet dramatically jagged editing (Abhijeet Deshpande), and an extremely imaginative, low-key and melodious musical score (Ratnesh Bhagat).

The father hums some old, ghazal-based Hindi film songs as he talks to his daughter. This increases the tensions in these scenes.The director explained that his determination to make the film was strengthened when his wife had a first-person experience at an NGO with a girl who was a victim of incest. It is a happy note that the film passed the test of the censors’ scissors with a clean chit.

Not in a single scene does the director try to titillate the audience with needless sentimentality, glamourisation, or romanticisation in word, visual or action. This enriches the texture of the film and enhances its message.

Geetika Thyagi trumps up as Vinita, her face a mixture of confusion, fear of estrangement from her daughter Masha, trying to bring out her lowered confidence when interrogated in court. Her seeing her reflection in the mirror to actually believe what she has done and why, is a powerful touch.

Tejaswini Kolhapure as her defence lawyer and Atul Kulkarni as the prosecution lawyer are strong, as is Divya Seth Shah as the judge. Hasan Zaidi as the patient and understanding husband is very good also.

The only problem lies in the somewhat diffident and confusing debut of Nandita Puri as Vinita’s mother. “My character is initially expected to ignore her daughter’s complaints against her father because as the mother, I just could not bring myself to believe this. So, my performance runs through several shades of emotional expression in the court scenes” Puri says.

Anant Mahadevan as the polished, sophisticated father who asks the daughter to mix a drink for him gently and persuasively invokes just the right kind of disgust and hate as intended.

The Indian legal statutes do not contain any specific provisions on incest. Many developed countries such as United Kingdom, United States of America, and Germany have rigid laws against incest.

The UK which made incest punishable from 1908 sets a prison term of 12 years. Punishment in the US varies from one state to another. It could extend to 20 years in the state of Massachusetts, while in Hawaii it can be up to five years.

In Germany, incest continues to remain illegal. On the other hand, many developed countries have abolished the law against incest. These are France (1810), Japan (1881), The Netherlands, Brazil, Spain and Turkey while Romania is reportedly considering legitimising incest between consensual partners.

Child sexual abuse laws in India have been enacted as part of the child protection policies of India. The Parliament of India passed the 'Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences Bill (POCSO), 2011 regarding child sexual abuse on May 22 2012, making it an Act. However, under its clauses, incest is not specifically mentioned within the statutes.

Ronald C. Summit, M.D. in his scholarly paper ‘The Child Sexual Abuse Accommodation Syndrome’ explains this as “secondary trauma in the crisis of discovery” experienced by the child victim of sexual incest. According to Summit, “The syndrome is composed of five categories, of which two define basic childhood vulnerability and three are sequentially contingent on sexual assault: (1) secrecy, (2) helplessness, (3) entrapment and accommodation, (4) delayed, unconvincing disclosure, and (5) retraction.”

Child right activists have long been demanding a more clearly defined law to prosecute perpetrators of incest. In 1983, the law against incest was amended to include policemen, hospital and prison staff who abused women in their custody which amounted to custodial rape. But it did not include sexually abusive fathers. Sexual abuse of the daughter is the worst form of custodial rape.

The reason why children are silent, even when they suspect that something is not right about the way they are being treated by an older family member, is because they are afraid of confiding in someone. This is because the perpetrating adult vows the child into secrecy; the power relations between the child and the elder person instils fear in the victim; the fear stems from what will happen if he/she were to disclose this treatment to a sister, brother, mother, or anyone else close to the victim; the fear of not being believed even if the child were to take its problems to another elder is another major reason that prevents it from disclosure.

So, the torture continues unabated, increasing the confidence in the perpetrator with every passing day of abuse.

Women’s rights activist and lawyer Flavia Agnes opines, “In most cases of sexual abuse, it is the father who is responsible for the heinous crime. He is the custodian of the child. So a case of custodial rape should also look at the father as a suspect. Somewhere, we do not want to interfere with our family values and choose to keep quiet about such cases.”

The tight-knit family structure, the domineering role of the fathers and uncles, the submissiveness of women who are mute witnesses to gross injustice and the ingrained tendency not to allow ‘family shame’ to be exposed whatever the cost, are factors that help the abusers get away with it.

You may, or may not like it, turn your face away in disgust, experience shock when you read of a little girl having been raped by her father till she became pregnant and lost her baby. But child sexual abuse within the family exists, and is rampant. The media can shed light only on the tip of a massive iceberg that lies hidden beneath the large ocean of abuse and torture of children across the world from members within the family.