By John! Kin smears artist with paedophile charges

John Devaraj is an artist, sculptor and musician. He is founder of Bornfree Art School, which works with street kids and child labourers.

Bengaluru: The public shaming of artist and musician John Devaraj seemed like a bolt from the blue. However, to Sebastien and his wife Peggy, who took the final leap of faith by bringing the issue to public notice, this is one more step in a struggle that has lasted nearly 15 years. “In 2002, our niece told the family that she had been sexually abused. We had first heard of it back in 1991, when he abused a nine-year-old of South African descent. But the family was divided over whether or not the allegations were true. When our niece wrote the letter, there was no more doubt, we just didn't know how to approach the matter.”

While some members of the family wanted to have him punished, others sought for psychiatric help. “We decided that he should stop working with children, which he promised to do,” said Sebastien. After that, however, John's connection with the family grew distant, leaving Sebastian and Peggy dependent on mutual friends and sources for information. “We kept a lookout for any projects he might be doing with children and ensured that we put a stop to the ones we found,” he said.

John told Deccan Chronicle that he spoke to his brother on Sunday, telling him that a family discussion was in order. "I have dealt with thousands of kids over the years. Why should we deny poor children of their opportunities," asked John, who doesn't want to file a defamation case right away. "Dialogue is the best way. I believe in non-violent communication. If that doesn't work, I will take action. They have exposed themselves, not me."

Sebastien, however, refused to waver. “There is no question of dialogue," he said. "We have told him many times over the years that he was to stop working with children. He even told us that he had sent away all the kids in Bornfree Art, of which he is the founder."

The couple have received their share of flak for making such a public gesture, but Sebastien stands by it. “My brother is a very attractive man, he knows how to win people over. Entering a dialogue is of no use, really. The book launch had a wide reach, that's why we chose to go there. Our main concern is that he chooses vulnerable children, who simply don't have the option of fighting back, no matter how much trauma they are put through."

Devaraj won’t file for defamation
On Saturday morning, artist, sculptor and founder of Bornfree Art School, John Devaraj got up on stage at the Rangoli Metro Art Centre to launch Kaa Kaa Koo, his latest book for children. It was an important moment, for the book had been seven years in the making. A handful of his members from his large family (Devaraj has ten siblings) were present, along with friends and supporters. The event was brought to a shocking halt, however, when his brother, Sebastien and his wife, Peggy, appeared in the auditorium and ordered him to ‘stop abusing children’. This may have seemed sudden, but friends close to the family admit that Devaraj's alleged pedophilic tendencies have been discussed for many years, to no avail.

John told Deccan Chronicle that he had decided not to file a defamation suit against his brother, Sebastien. The latter, however, says that dialogue is out of the question. “He has to stop working with children, there are no two ways about that,” Sebastien insisted. “There is no room for dialogue, in this case.” It was his niece, now a lawyer living in Bangkok, who sent out an email to her family back in 2002, admitting that she had been abused by her uncle between the ages of six and nine. This gave the family concrete proof of their brother's tendencies, although their first brush with it happened back in 1991.

“John knew a South African woman, a single mother, who lived here with her nine-year-old daughter. The woman worked closely with John's wife,” said Sebastien. “One day, when the mother picked her kid up from John's house, the child was unusually disturbed and fell asleep on her mother's lap without saying a word. Later, when she gave the girl a bath, she noticed scratch marks all over her body," he explained. John allegedly explained this away by calling the mother a woman of loose morals. "He said that the child might have seen her mother entertain men and had nightmares, during which she scratched herself. When we spoke on the phone today, however, he said that the child had climbed a coconut tree in his house and hurt herself. He seems to have forgotten his earlier story," Sebastien said. Devaraj had allegedly threatened the child's mother and even visited the victim's school to heckle her.

The child was taken to an eminent psychiatrist in Nimhans, who reportedly told them that filing a police complaint was not top priority. "He said that we need to see to the chid's interests and that approaching the police would traumatise her further. Also, society wasn't so open about child abuse at that time."

An intervention was organised for John in 2002, at which point he flatly denied the charges being made against him. "When the letter came from our niece, there was no doubt about what he was doing. Some of us wanted to punish him, some said he needed psychiatric help, while others simply said he should apologise." In the end, John allegedly said he would stop working with kids and went underground for some years.

"There was a UNICEF project, but we spoke to them and told them about him, after which the project was cancelled," he added. "Our concern was always that he was working with vulnerable kids, who are an easy prey. We have always demanded that he stop working with kids, which he never does. Our family has asked us why we had to do something in public, but an event like this does have a wide reach and we want people to know."

( Source : deccan chronicle )
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