POCSO-accused basketball coach roams free

POCSO-accused basketball coach roams free

The police, as of Thursday, were unable to divulge the details of the terms of his release, and are unsure of his whereabouts

Pramodh Kumar. Credit: special arrangement

Over 20 girls have braved conditioned fears to reveal the identity and modus operandi of an alleged sexual predator.

Two FIRs were filed under the POCSO Act against Pramodh Kumar in September 2020. Since then, the basketball coach has been kept behind bars for a month and subsequently released on bail.

The police, as of Thursday, were unable to divulge the details of the terms of his release, and are unsure of his whereabouts at this moment.

In the interim, the Karnataka State Basketball Association offered that the former state coach will not oversee any coaching roles, and the sports organisation he helped kickstart has fired him from their roster.

Even as the case trundles, more survivors surfaced to reveal sexual abuse meted out over the course of a decade and more.

“…he pushed me onto the sofa after closing the door,” says one of the survivors. “He forced me to go to his place in the guise of applying ointment to some bruises. He ensured his mother and wife were not home. He rubbed coconut oil on my thighs and his hands kept going higher.”

“He insisted I take a shower and take a nap in his room and said ‘nobody is coming anytime soon’. I was shivering,” she adds.

Having started off as a coach at a couple of reputable colleges, he took charge of a club in despair and roped in talented basketball players. He spoke well, dressed better, and befriended the parents to a point where he was a frequent guest at their homes. As the profile of the club improved, his moral compass allegedly lost all direction.

“In a one-on-one practice, I was doing a move with my back against him. He got hard. I stepped away but he pulled me back. I was disgusted,” said a survivor, who was 14 at the time. “Another time, he touched me between my thighs and reached over my chest. I ran away. Later I found out I wasn’t the only one.”

Paradigm of a predator

Recorded statements from six survivors and some parents reveal that accused Pramodh, the coach of a famous basketball club in Bengaluru, operated with tact and used methods of persuasion to assault girls as young as 13-years-old for over a decade.

Over twenty women have come out with their harrowing stories since two FIRs were filed against the accused in September 2020, and every heart-rending chronicle had in it words like ‘trust’, ‘remorse’ and ‘trauma’.

“Everyone trusted him and that made it harder for us to come out and speak about it,” says one of the survivors. “We didn’t think anyone would take us seriously. In fact, we ourselves couldn’t believe that he was capable of something so disgusting for so long.”

Flirtatious texts turned to lewd comments followed by body shaming and crude remarks on social media pictures. It would then escalate to inappropriate physical touch before assaulting them at carefully orchestrated moments. This, the survivors and parents reveal, was the accused’s pattern for over a decade.

“Once, as I was recovering from a ligament tear, he took me to his room and started icing my ankle and touched me inappropriately. I was in 10th grade at the time,” says another survivor.  

A motif reminiscent of Larry Nassar’s MO during his stint as the USA Gymnastics doctor. Nassar assaulted more than 300 girls, including gymnast Simone Biles, and is now serving 300 years in jail.   

In both cases, the parents trusted these men to do what’s best for their aspiring daughters.

“When my daughter told me, I couldn’t believe in humanity. My wife and I cried for so long,” says the father of a minor. “He was a gentleman on the face of it. We spoke of him so highly to everybody. We would tell other parents to send their daughters to the same club…”

Another father said: “We feel guilt for what has happened. He did this to our daughter right under our noses. Sadly, when she spoke about it a while ago, we thought she was overreacting. We should have trusted her. Maybe this wouldn’t have happened to so many others if we had done something about it.”

The problem, explains a famous child psychologist, is that young girls and boys are not taught the difference between ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch’. In fact, acts such as winking, whistling and cat-calling are usually brushed off as minor issues until perpetrators grow emboldened and entitled to do more. “…our children need to be taught to speak about these things. It’s very hard in India and harder still because of the trauma but we as parents have to help them,” offers the psychologist. “Also, we cannot normalise men being flirtatious without consent.”.

The accused, also the coach for the Karnataka girls’ Under-13 team in 2017, offered comfort and purpose to those who arrived at his club, but the survivors are still grappling with the truth.

“It’s hard to explain what inappropriate touch is but every woman understands it,” says another survivor. “Female athletes are especially prone to it. We give ourselves to the sport and coach because we want to excel at a sport. It’s that they exploit. But now, I don’t want to play basketball. He ruined a good game for me.”

Similar testimonies came to light in the recent case of a coach at a sports academy in Chennai - P Nagarajan - who was arrested in May earlier this year for sexually harassing several of his young athletes over the course of three decades.

“Predators study weaknesses in young athletes,” the psychologist reveals. “Their job is to watch them closely and study their mindset as athletes. That gives them access to what makes and what breaks them.

Undeniably, there’s a systemic concern that needs to be addressed, but that’s the ‘big fix’. For now, we need to listen, support and trust those who have spoken, offering compassion for those who haven’t yet.

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