Kerala is not a safe place for women.
Snapshot
  • It is clear to anyone who is not blind to facts or biased: Kerala is not a safe place for women.

The shocking apparent rape-murder of two young sisters, 13 and 9, three months apart in Kerala's Walayar is shocking even to jaded observers.

It also points to a paradox in the state.

Kerala, despite the generally high Sustainable Development Goal indices, is unsafe for women. This despite women being educated and often employed.

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There is a litany of cases of brutality against women and girls. Most victims are Hindus, but a few are Christians too. Here are a very few:

  • Jisha, an SC law student, whose intestines spilled out after a blow, and whose genitals were ripped apart during rape. A migrant laborer, Ameerul Islam, was convicted.
  • Sowmya, who was terrorized and pushed out of a running train by Charly Thomas, who raped her on the tracks and crushed her head with a boulder.
  • Abhaya, a Catholic nun, who was murdered by another nun and two priests. They confessed under sodium pentathol, but escaped through a technicality as the SC conveniently declared truth serum unacceptable.
  • An unnamed Catholic nun has accused a bishop of raping her 13 times. The bishop is out on bail.

This is the state of women in Kerala. The irony is that traditionally women in the state have been economically and socially ahead of their sisters elsewhere in the country.

But those days seem to be history. A lot of it was due to matriliny in the then-numerically dominant Hindu jatis, Ezhavas and Nairs. Since women owned the family property and descent was through the women, they were better off, self sufficient.

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It is possible that the rise of the communist movement, as well as half-baked aping of Western memes (e.g., a ‘Kiss of Love Festival’, which lost its moral zing when it was revealed that the leaders included a high-priced call girl and her pimp-husband), have led to a devaluation of women.

The Hindu joint family collapsed, matriliny was outlawed by the British (who else?), and in nuclear families the phenomenon of 'Gulf widows' (wives whose husbands are abroad for extended periods of time) has led to women being preyed upon.

Attitudes towards women are terrible in Kerala. I once advised a young North Indian woman friend from the UK to beware. She, a pretty, petite woman, and a devout Hindu, used to fly solo to India, hire a cab from the airport and drive to a pilgrim center.

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I warned her against solo travel in Kerala. While a cabbie elsewhere in India might consider her a 'memsab', in Kerala they'd see her as a 'chick'.

It's that level of predatory behavior that we see in the case of these two young girls in Walayar, near Palakkad. It is clear from the post mortems that they were regularly raped, including anal penetration, and then they were apparently hanged.

A 13-year-old and a 9-year-old.

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Yes, there are psychopaths and monsters everywhere. What is staggering is what happened in the background and afterwards.

The parents, a poor Scheduled Caste (SC) couple, appear to have known what was happening to their girls but were powerless to stop it. One of the accused is a relative.

The special POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses) court threw out the case because it said the prosecution had grievously failed to prove the crime.

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Why? It is alleged that it was because the monstrous perpetrators were ruling party cadres.

In earlier cases too --- Jisha's and Abhaya's --- police had been accused of destroying evidence to favor the powerful, for instance local politicians or the church.

The prosecution fails often.

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In Sowmya's case, a trial court ordered that Charly Thomas be hanged. But he, a beggar, mysteriously found godfathers who funded a fancy lawyer who used the ill-prepared prosecution case to get Charly off death row.

In the case of the Walayar sisters, it is said that the fact that the accused are all members of the ruling party has led to this monstrous crime being swept under the carpet.

The Chief Minister (also Home Minister, thus responsible for law and order) did not go to the house of the grieving parents. They were summoned to his office, and there are photos of them touching his feet.

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That they are reduced to groveling for justice is appalling.

It is remarkable that all this is happening in a state where the Chief Minister has proclaimed his support for women in narrow contexts. He and his cadres made loud protestations about the right of women of child-bearing age to enter the Sabarimala temple, in violation of tradition.

There was a ‘women’s wall’, wherein lots of women (including non-Hindus) joined hands to demand the right of young Hindu women to enter Sabarimala.

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The police were instructed to provide cover to non-pilgrim, even non-Hindu women, especially agitators, who wanted to storm the temple. Hundreds of police were deployed, at the expense of the Travancore Devaswom Board, to lathi-charge, arrest, and terrorize believers who were opposed to it.

All that tenderness towards women vanished in the case of the Walayar sisters. Their lives didn’t matter. Why? Perhaps because they are Hindu, SC, and poor. The least powerful of the lot.

The very people at the bottom that a just society would attempt to protect. They lived in a one-room shed, and never mind that the rafters are too high for a 9-year-old to reach to hang herself.

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All this hints at the heart of hypocrisy in Kerala. People there are covertly casteist and view everything through the lens of religion; then they proclaim how educated and civilized they are. Kerala Number One, they claim.

Actually, no. It is a hell-hole full of depraved people. God’s Own Country it isn’t, not anymore.

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