Tag Archive for Violence against women India

Women’s groups ask Delhi govt to withdraw proposal for death penalty for rapists of minors

Death- penalty- for- rapists-india

Women organisations in Delhi send memorandum to Delhi government for immediate withdrawal of proposal to introduce capital punishment for rape of minors and reduction of age of juveniles to 15 years

By Team FI
A memorandum was send to the Delhi AAP government on 29 Oct, 2015 by women’s organisations in Delhi and individual activists demanding an immediate withdrawal of the proposal to introduce capital punishment for rape of minors, and to reduce the age of juveniles to 15 years. They have also demanded that the government consult with women’s groups, child rights groups and experts before making such hasty decisions.

The full text of the memorandum follows;

To
Mr Arvind Kejriwal
The Chief Minister
Delhi

On 19 October 2015 we, women’s organizations and concerned individuals of Delhi and the NCR who have been working on a range of issues related to women for many decades were shocked to hear that the Delhi government has constituted a group of ministers (GoM) headed by Deputy CM Manish Sisodia to explore the ‘feasibility’ of introducing death penalty for the rape of minors as well as lowering the age of juvenile offenders from 18 to 15 years by amending the Juvenile Justice Act.

WHY THE GOVERNMENT MUST NOT INTRODUCE THE DEATH PENALTY FOR RAPE, EVEN OF MINORS
While we recognize that there is an urgent need to stem the tide of growing violence against women, girls and infants, this is just the kind of knee-jerk reaction this city-state and nation do not need. As a government, you have repeatedly stated your commitment to implementing the recommendations of the Justice Verma Committee on sexual assault. As you are aware, the Committee, after careful deliberations, categorically concluded in their report: “In our considered view, taking into account the views expressed on the subject by an overwhelming majority of scholars, leaders of women’s organisations, and other stakeholders, there is a strong submission that the seeking of death penalty would be a regressive step in the field of sentencing and reformation. We, having bestowed considerable thought on the subject, and having provided for enhanced sentences (short of death) in respect of the above-noted aggravated forms of sexual assault, in the larger interests of society, and having regard to the current thinking in favour of abolition of the death penalty, and also to avoid the argument of any sentencing arbitrariness, we are not inclined to recommend the death penalty.”

Further, based on a detailed study of international covenants as well as experiences of other countries, the Committee stated: “we do take note of the argument that introduction of death penalty for rape may not have a deterrent effect.” In fact, many independent surveys from across the globe have also been unsuccessful in establishing that executions reduce crime. In fact, an American survey reported by the New York Times in the year 2000 stated that in the preceding 20 years, homicide rates of states with the death penalty were 48 to 100 per cent higher than in those without the death penalty. Global studies have also shown that judges were less likely to convict rapists and sexual assaulters of crimes if the punishment was as severe as death. This is in addition to the fact that the wrongful execution of an innocent person is an injustice that can never be rectified. In trying to introduce capital punishment for rape, your government is working against both the letter and the spirit of the Justice Verma Committee Report.

As women who have staunchly opposed the death penalty on principle, we have always stood firm against this form of retributive punishment awarded under the pretext of dispensing ‘justice’

A study by The Hindu based on data from 600 cases decided in the District courts in Delhi showed how much still needs to be understood about sexual crimes. Its statistics revealed that rape by acquaintances and family members constituted the largest segment, while rape by strangers accounted for a mere 2% of the crimes we are witnessing. In such a scenario, the death penalty will only make it more unlikely that the survivor will report against fathers, uncles, cousins, family friends etc. This makes the possibility of justice even more remote.

While dealing with cases of sexual assaults, our experience shows that it is not the inadequacy of punishments that is the challenge. The real problem is that the crime is under-reported and rendered invisible. The system of policing and the trials themselves can often work to deter justice, leaving victims without the necessary support to resist the pressures of bribery, intimidation and emotional blackmail. While remedying this situation involves reform at both the level of the police and the courts, what is even more crucial is for the issue of child sexual abuse to come out of the shadows. We must enable children to respect and recognize the boundaries of their bodies and safety and report sexual abuse without fear. For as we have already stated to you in our joint Memorandum dated 27 July 2015 focusing on women’s safety, swiftness and certainty of justice for perpetrators of crime is the only effective deterrent to crime. We are against death penalty for any crime. We demand no impunity for criminals, irrespective of who they are, and complete accountability of the judiciary and law enforcement agencies.

WHY THE GOVERNMENT MUST NOT LOWER THE AGE OF JUVENILE OFFENDERS FROM 18 YEARS
Let us start by quoting the Justice Verma report’s observations on the question of amending the Juvenile Justice Act to lower the age of juvenility in rape cases: “We have heard experts on the question of reduction of the age of a juvenile from 18 to 16 for the purpose of being tried for offences under various laws of the country. We must confess that the degree of maturity displayed by all the women’s organizations, the academics and a large body of thinking people have viewed this incident both in the criminological as well as societal perspective humbles us.” Quoting extensively from international experience, the Justice Verma report concludes, “we are of the view that the material before is sufficient for us to reach the conclusion that the age of ‘juveniles’ ought not to be reduced to 16 years.”

Following the horrific incident of December 16, 2012, there has been public rage against juveniles in conflict with the law, which has been further heightened by statements from politicians and governments trying to demonstrate their commitment to stemming such violence by ‘taking severe steps’. The central government headed by Mr. Narendra Modi has attempted to address this rage by introducing legal changes to reduce the age of juvenility from 18 to 16 years, despite a standing committee’s recommendations to the contrary. Now, in seeking to reduce the age of juvenile criminality further, your government is simply indulging in a competitive bid to appear more tough on crime. To dismiss long jail terms of upto 14 years, especially for minors, as “trifling” is both irresponsible and dangerous. When you cannot imagine measures to reform even a 15-year-old, it raises questions about your vision for the future.

In a country where there is so much hypocrisy and silence around teenage sexuality, you also need to consider the dangers of how such legal measures, as proposed by you, could turn consensual underage sex from a technical crime in the eyes of the law to a crime worthy of hanging.

We urge you stop and consider these issues urgently, keeping in mind what the Law Commission headed by Justice Shah noted in its report on the death penalty: that we as a society must help the families of victims not to see the death penalty as the only fair punishment.

There are other urgent issues that need consideration. Working class parents must have access to crèches/child care to ensure that there are safe spaces available for their children while they are at work. Sexual abuse of children cannot be addressed in isolation from other realities like domestic violence suffered by women, nor can we ignore evidence that indicates deep impact on children who grow up in homes/environments marked by such violence. Survivors of such violence also need structured support to enable and empower them to approach the police and courts. Public campaigns have to be envisaged to educate the wider public about consent, autonomy and the bodily integrity of women and children.

These urgent concerns cannot be addressed by voicing banalities. We urge you to think through these issues and put in place systems that provide safety to both women and children. These are measures well within your powers to implement and we urge you to do so without further delay. The well-being of Delhi’s women and children are at stake, there is not time to lose.

Signed by:

1. Saheli
2. Kavita Krishnan
3. Pamela Philipose
4. Jagori
5. Partners for Law in Development
6. Vrinda Grover
7. Nirantar
8. Kalpana Viswanath
9. Indira Jaising
10. Pratiksha Baxi
11. Nivedita Menon
12. Lalita Ramdas
& others

If you can’t join ‘em, beat ‘em

woman- journalist-sexual -assault

The media trial that sought to vilify the complainant in the Tejpal case would reverse the currently increased receptivity to women’s complaints of sexual abuse and restore the public culture of silence against sexual violence

By Ayesha Kidwai

Over the last one year, since the rape and murder of a young woman on a Delhi bus, the Indian public sphere has been repeatedly rocked by reports of egregious sexual harassment and sexual violence against young women, usually committed upon them in the course of their work. What has been unusual is not the occurrence of these incidents, but the fact that so many of these incidents have become complaints, materialising from the crisp backlit text of email, blogs, and the social media on our computer screens into brutally-thumbed and casually bandied-about complaints and depositions.

Public institution after institution — the judiciary, the media, and academia — has felt the impact of this unanticipated shift. But ever since the problem has gotten off the bus and knocked insistently at the door of whichever institution, one considered to be one’s home, the initial enthusiasm for the bracing winds of social change has abated. Three recent journalistic pieces — one by Manu Joseph in the Outlook and two by Seema Mustafa in The Citizen and the Statesman — show that the strategy to contain the contagion of complaints have evolved in disturbing ways.

Quite obviously, the complainants lie at the heart of every problem, but dealing with them is not an easy task. For one, they do not cower behind the anonymity that is their right under law, but never ever get; for another, even when they have been subjected to the most public violations of privacy, confidentiality, and due process, they do not back away from their complaints. And since the law holds that a survivor is her own true witness in the allegations she makes, the best way to discredit her is to cast her asunder from her words. In Manu Joseph’s view, this separation is effected by what the Grand Hyatt Hotel’s elevator landing saw (i.e. CCTV cameras in the landing areas outside the elevator); from Seema Mustafa’s version of what the Elevator Landing speaks to, a woman’s right to voice even a perceived grievance is denied to her.

While Joseph’s and Mustafa’s pieces have been extensively critiqued in the electronic and social media (most admirably by the Network of Women in Media [NWMI]) for the many breaches of ethical professional journalistic conduct they embody, what allies them most is the lengths that both go to elide the word ‘complainant’, or the more popular word ‘victim’, from the lexicon of their (this-is-not) rape narrative. As Pratiksha Baxi points out, in her Kafila piece, Joseph’s use of Young Woman for the complainant is a reference that does “not evoke the popular image of the innocent rape survivor”.

It is clear that for Joseph, there is only one set of victims here — Tejpal and his family. It is he who has been “destroyed” and it is his family who has been “evicted” from their home, as his wife suffers the “indignity” of defending her husband’s “consensual” relationship. The complainant of course has not suffered in the same way: though she has had to move as well, it is only to a “new home on the outskirts of Delhi”. There is no mention of her mother at all, and her father cannot be told that Tejpal raped her because of his ill-health; in short, no grieving kin or friends. And while she is “in a delicate mental state”, this fragility is not because of the assault she has been subjected to, but because she is “consumed by the intense fear” that her character will soon be put on trial. And lest we begin to empathise with her, we should know that “details of her past are already in the air” i.e. she has a past that needs some worrying about! Comparing this to Tejpal’s ordeal of sitting in a small cell in a Goa jail, we know which one of the two could qualify as the veritable zindaa laash, were it not for Tejpal’s love for his journalistic craft, embodied in his ceaseless striving (through Court petitions) for stationery supplies in jail.

Mustafa’s characterisation of the complainant is even more partial than Joseph’s. Since, unlike Joseph, Mustafa does not appear to have even bothered to meet the complainant (whatever happened to the journalistic code of checking and balancing sources, we wonder), it’s only the woman on the CCTV footage who she describes as the “alleged victim”. This purposely cruel phrase — more so because Mustafa refers to Tejpal (only once) with the contradictory ‘”alleged accused” (note, not “alleged perpetrator”) — discredits every part of the complainant’s deposition, even those incidents that the Elevator Landing couldn’t see, most importantly the act of the rape itself.

The choice of this phrase as the descriptor (although the usage of the term ‘alleged victim’ to mean complainant does exist in US legal parlance, it is novel for Indian journalism) then allows Mustafa the latitude to interpret what the CCTV evidence should mean for the case: since the woman did not show “visible (to Mustafa) signs of agitation”, and because she chose not to take the stairs in the second incident complained about, Mustafa concludes that “the jury is clearly out on this one.”

Both Joseph and Mustafa have stoutly defended their positions by invoking the criterion of objectivity, but one is puzzled as to how that criterion is served by their unwillingness to question information fed to them and which is clearly directed towards a “media trial” of the complainant. Surely, intrepid journalists like these two should have entertained enough skepticism about such information fed to them and carry it over to the copy they generated. Nevertheless, even if we were to assume that every alleged contradiction pointed out in these articles are “facts”, as Mustafa asserts, surely there has to be an understanding that any “fact” is always interpreted as one within a particular context. The context here is one of sexual violence, for which there is ample evidence that the trauma causes confusion, numbness, memory lapses, etc in the victim. In the universe of this discourse, it is no longer a ‘fact’ that recollection and narration of a sequence of events must be instantaneously seamless and fluent for it to be credible.

The burning question is why Mustafa and Joseph have done this? Are they misogynistic ‘supporters’ of Tejpal or fearless worshippers of fact and intrepid journalism? While the latter question may be good for an author’s self-image, and the former one can be dismissed as presupposing too tidy a critique, the real issue is a general failure amongst the professionals to come up with an adequate response to what the changed mood in the middle class demands. Mustafa and Joseph’s failures are just repeats of ones that we have witnessed over and over again, and each profession has plunged into a crisis when a colleague has been accused: How does a ‘senior’ professional approach the fact that some young woman has gone and complained about something that wasn’t even a grievance just a few years ago? After all, it is ”her’ word against ‘his’ and we know him; and while he may have his faults, he has done so many good things, and he is above all, secular. In any case, why are these outsiders, this “bunch of feminists” getting so involved in these matters (which are always so stippled with grey when seen from our side)?

For an outsider feminist like me, the answer is obvious: no one but this bunch knows what to do when a complaint is made from within one’s own kind. When the complaints have been made from within academia or within the judiciary, it is this bunch that has fought for them to be addressed, protested and thwarted the misuse of hierarchical power and its machinery of slander and intimidation, and reminded their professions that the ideal of equality must first be expressed in the creation of conditions conducive to its access. In doing so, they have imbued the phrase “let the law take its own course” with substantive meaning.

It is time for some of our journalist friends who have long written about women’s empowerment to emulate a fraction of what Indira Jaising and Vrinda Grover did in the complaints against the judiciary. Disputing their and other activists’ rights to dispute one’s own article may serve to create a comfortable ‘Us vs. Them’ binary that facilitates self-justification, taking feminists names along with the website-hacking Hindu Right may exaggerate the sense of injury (and dare I say it, “alleged victimhood”), but using the suicide of Khurshid Anwar as a stick to beat all feminists and complainants with does not serve the memory of a man whose commitment to the cause of women’s emancipation and equality has been cited as proof of his innocence.

It may be thought that the fact that the court has already taken a position on the Insightful Elevator Landing renders the current debate irrelevant, but this would be a terrible mistake. Across the spectrum of professions, what is at stake here is the fundamental right of a woman to make a complaint, and the vilification of the complainant that we are witnessing currently targets the all important court of public opinion. The increased receptivity to women’s complaints that we have witnessed in recent times must be reversed, and what better way to do it, but to turn the woman against her word. If complainants are no longer as readily believed, if feminism’s misdeeds begin from supporting such untrustworthy women and end with draconian punishments like the death penalty (which they were in truth the first to oppose), the re-creation of a public culture of silence about sexual violence can perhaps be hoped for. It needs no guessing as to whose interests this aspired to future will serve, but must we be doomed to dream the nightmares of the communal misogynistic right?

Ayesha Kidwai is a professor of linguistics at Jawaharlal Nehru University

Domestic Violence Act: A milestone for India and Pakistan

By Oxfam International

By  Indira Jaising

The recently passed Domestic Violence Act in Pakistan is a classic example of the cross pollination between countries of the SAARC region and of the best of our respective laws.

We often do not realize it but laws acquire a trans-border life on their own, as there is no stopping a good idea.

India enacted its Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (PWDVA) in 2005; brought into force on 26th October 2006. It is one of the most progressive acts relating to violence against women in India. It enables direct access to courts; cutting out role of the police in filing a FIR. This was a conscious decision to enable direct access to court and to reduce one level of intermediaries. Jurisdiction was vested in criminal courts to underscore the importance of the law, to gain access to the police for enforcement of court orders and to make the law accessible at the territorial level to women in their own neighborhood.

Criminal courts were empowered to give civil relief, breaking down the belief that civil and criminal law systems can never meet and build expertise in criminal courts on civil law of injunctions.

The right of the woman to reside in the shared household was declared by law to exist as a protected right for the first time in Indian legal history.

Recognizing that women need state mandated infrastructure to access the law, the institution of Protection Officers was created to record all reported instances of domestic violence, to enable the woman to access the courts by assisting in drafting applications and to assist the courts in collecting evidence and in enforcing the orders.

Over five years of functioning of the PWDVA has shown that it has been a success and is one of the primary tools being used by women facing domestic violence in India.

Ever since the law came in existence, the Lawyers Collective has been doing Monitoring and Evaluation of the law in coordination with International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability (CBGA) and other civil society organizations.

The latest of the reports- “Staying Alive, 5th Monitoring and Evaluation Report on the Protection of Women From Domestic Violence Act 2005” (2012) was released on 30th January 2012 at the hands of Hon’ble Supreme Court Judge, Justice Altamas Kabir. As the report shows, there are many problems with its implementation, mainly because of the inaction of the State in appointing Protection officers with full time charge yet statistics of court orders indicate that the Act is being widely used.

However, one major problem identified by the Monitoring and Evaluation Report is that Protection Officers have been found to be doing extensive pre litigation counselling going to the extent of calling the respondents and attempting a settlement or compromise. This is completely against the requirement of the Act and compromises their position as officers of the court and can put them in conflict of interest situations.

The recommendations of the Monitoring and Evaluation Report are that Protection Officers must stop pre litigation counselling and must refer matters to Service Providers on the request of the aggrieved woman and if she wants no such counselling assist her to file an application in court.

Domestic Violence Act – Pakistan

The news that our neighbour Pakistan has enacted the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act, 2012 is highly welcoming. It is a well drafted Act, showing a commitment to protect women from domestic violence. The very fact that it comes from an Islamic country, should silence many in our country who argue that the India DV Act does not apply to Muslim woman and that is goes against Islamic jurisprudence.

Some of the similarities and differences may be noticed. Like our Act, it can be activated only by woman and children but unlike our Act it can also be activated by “vulnerable persons” of either gender that is vulnerable due to old age, mental or physical disability or for any other reason. This is a welcome recognition of the need to protect the disabled and provide remedies for the violence which they face.

It explicitly states that an application can be filed against a person of any gender who has caused the violence, meaning thereby that women can also be respondents. This is also the law in India now; with the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Sandhya Manoj Wankhade v. Manoj Bhimrao Wankhade clarifying that woman can be respondents in an application under the PWDVA.

Domestic violence is defined in the broadest possible terms to include physical, psychological and emotional violence. Insults, ridicule, blaming a woman of infidelity are all acts of emotional violence while stalking and harassment come under the definition of psychological and emotional violence.

Civic remedies are provided for criminal acts such as using criminal force and wrongful confinement, making it at the same time clear that the law is in addition to and not in derogation of any other law, including all criminal laws.

The right to reside in the shared household is declared to exist and unlawful eviction is prevented.

Protection orders and custody orders can all be passed by the courts in one single application for preventing domestic violence, making it unnecessary to approach multiple courts.

An interesting addition is the creation of the “Protection Committee” a multi agency body consisting of a medical doctor, a psychologist /psycho-social worker and an official appointed by the Court, a female police officer not below the rank of Sub-Inspector and two women members of civil society and the Protection Officer to respond to every case of domestic violence. The Protection officer is a full time government servant. Whereas the Indian Act visualizes a similar structure, this is being done by administrative guidelines and there is no compulsion on the State to appoint full time government servants as Protection officers.

This is significant advance over the Indian Act and shows commitment to the cause of ending violence against women. A government wanting to end violence must put its money where its mouth is and cannot be heard to say it has no money to create a cadre of Protection officers. The power and functions of the Protection Committee and the Protection officers are well laid out, much like the Indian Act, the difference being they are set out in the Act and not in the rules as in the Indian law giving them an unmistakable statutory basis.

The Pakistan Act borrows much from the Indian Act and it is time for the Indian Act to borrow from the Pakistan Act.

As we move into the Sixth year of the implementation of the PWDVA in India, it is time to ensure that all Protection officers are full-fledged government servants and gazetted officers with full time charge under the law to prevent and protect from domestic violence. Every individual woman has a right to get relief from domestic violence and that requires state mandated infrastructure to access the law.

The State must also commit itself to monitor and evaluate the law on an annual basis to ensure implementation and to learn from the process what needs to change. The Monitoring and Evaluation exercise is also a very valuable toll of mapping patterns of violence against women with a view of addressing the cause.

Years of working with the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 and now the Pre- Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostics Techniques Act, 1994 have shown that the giving and taking of dowry has not ended and the birth of a girl child is prevented. The reason is we address the symptoms not the cause. It is time to cut at the root of the cause, an unequal society, where property and position resulting in power is in the hands of men. Vulnerability, not biological but social, economic and political vulnerability of women has not been addressed.

Meanwhile we can celebrate our successes. The success of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 has been that it has completely bypassed the police as gateways to justice and has empowered the affected woman to take control of her life without the help of the police as mediators of social crime.

No amount of police reform will result in a sensitized police accustomed to the “law and order” role of policing. One solution that we found in the Act is to bypass the police and make them redundant to access to justice, leaving them to enter when their “enforcement” function is required.

Indira Jaising is the Additional Solicitor General of India and the Executive Director of Lawyers Collective.

Kerala Sex Scandals: Stolen girls of God’s Own Country

Kerala

By Ramlath Kavil

The state of Kerala, India, often cited as a model of development, has in the past two decades seen a multitude of sex scandals where minor girls have been subject to sexual abuse and exploitation.

You got to be kidding. It can’t be God’s own country. God left this carpet of greenery long ago. Money, muscle power and misogyny have taken over the political will of this most politicised state. Big names, small towns and minor girls are inextricably embroiled in the numerous sex scandals that keep unfolding across the state one after another.

Lured, kidnapped, drugged and threatened, minors were ferried across the state. While bastions of power including political, dodged accusations, children died giving birth to children. Teenage brother killed his teenage sister to uphold honor. Girls who lost home, family and friends became refugees in their own home state.

Many of these cases got the attention of the public because of the victims themselves who sought help. Activists, however, warn that only few cases get reported. Even the reported ones would subsequently get diminished in the firing lines between political parties that take mileage from such cases.

The first such glaring incident came to light in 1996 when a teenager was blackmailed into eloping with a bus conductor in Suryanelli.

Suryanelli (1996): Unarguably the first case that brought shame to the most literate state in the country. In Suryanelli, a small settlement in the high ranges of Idukki district, a 14-year-old was blackmailed by a local bus conductor. She had been in love with him and he had threatened to expose her graphic pictures if she didn’t go with him.

Photo by Ramlath Kavil

What followed was gruesome sexual assault in captivity for 40 days by several men. Constant sexual abuse made the girl fall grievously ill. The predators abandoned her giving her a death threat if any words about them were spoken. The class 9 student went to the police and named 43 persons, including Congress MP, P.J. Kurien . 39 people figured in the accused list.

In 2005, eleven years after the incident, in one of the most shocking judgments in Kerala’ s judicial history, the High Court acquitted 35, convicting only 4. The court even raised questions about the character of the 14 year old.

Meanwhile, in a bizarre twist, the girl who now works as a peon in a Government office was arrested two weeks ago, accusing her of financial fraud. She was subsequently suspended from job. Activists fear that the fraud charges could be part of a conspiracy to ensure that she doesn’t get justice in the Supreme Court.

Vithura (1996): A 16-year-old in Vithura, a scenic village surrounded by Western Ghats in south Kerala, followed Suryanelli’s fate. The girl was lured into getting roles in films by her neighbour and was taken in and out of Kerala for a year.

The girl named 100 people and subsequently identified 18, including a popular film star (Jagathy Sreekumar, who was later acquitted), a former police deputy, and a senior public servant.

Last year, the victim who is 29 years old now, sought a stay in trial proceedings. In the petition, she stated that she had to undergo acute mental trauma and misery at the hands of the accused and the public.

“The maximum punishment in a sexual abuse case is 14 years of imprisonment and what I experienced in the past 15 years is worse than the imprisonment. I have lost all hopes of justice. Leave me alone.These were her words.

Kozhikode Ice-cream Parlour (1997):  One of the biggest and most controversial cases of sexual exploitation, money power and rotten politics in Kerala. This sensational case is still the focus of media primarily because of the involvement of P.K Kunhalikutty, Kerala’s Industries Minister and leader of Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), popularly known as Muslim League.

Five minor girls approached Anweshi, a women’s group in Kozhikode led by K. Ajitha. Big names like P.K Kunhalikutty, CPM leader T.P Dasan, top custom officials etc. figured in their petition.

Anweshi team conducted an investigation and reported to the police and media that an ice-cream parlour in the city was used as a front to trap young women and minor girls by offering them ice-cream laced with sedative in order to sexually exploit and blackmail them. The activists complained that the dead bodies of two teenage girls found on the railway tracks in the city had strong connection with the case and they feared that many girls could have been trapped.

Out of five victims, two retracted their statements later. In 2005, the Kerala high court dismissed the petition that sought Kunhalikutty’s prosecution. In 2006, the Supreme Court dismissed the case citing lack of evidence.

After 14 years, in 2011, the case started hitting headlines in Kerala again. A close relative who was an aid to the minister during the scandal, accused in a press meet that the minister had bribed the victims and the three judges in the high court to obtain favorable verdicts.

The controversial Minister, P.K Kunhalikutty

Following the relative’s allegation, the Government ordered a fresh probe and the report submitted by the Special Investigation Team is expected to be released soon.

In January, 2011, former Director-General of Prosecutions (DGP) Kallada Sukumaran alleged that in 1997, the CPM led Nayanar ministry had intervened in the ice-cream parlour case to ‘exclude’ IUML leader P K Kunhalikutty.

IUML deny all allegations and Kunhalikutty is holding the portfolio of Industries and IT in the present Congress led UDF Government.

Kothamangalam (1997):  A 15-year-old filed a police complaint stating that over 100 people sexually abused her for a year. The police identified 43 of the accused and some arrests were made. This case hardly caught any media attention until recently when it was raked up by the controversial minister P.K Kunjalikutty’s close relative.

In a press meet, the relative stated that the minister had bribed the victim in order to buy her silence. The girl had been admitted to a prayer centre in Kerala after her physical and mental conditions worsened. The relative alleged that the minister had sent his man to the prayer centre. The case lists 138 people as accused but has been in the cold storage for a long time.

Panthalam (1997):  An academically bright student, who was expecting rank in her final year degree exam, was raped by a group of 8 for over three months. She named four of them as being lecturers from her college. They also shot her video and used it to black mail her. As the young woman saw no end to this ongoing exploitation, she approached the police with the help of her parents. In 2002, the special court passed a judgment punishing seven of them. One accused had committed suicide during the trial. Despite strong pretest from activists, the NSS college management reinstated the lectures.

Thoppumpady (2002): Also known as the Mattancherry case, a 16-year-old maid servant was lured by an auto driver and was kept in captivity and raped by many. She was also forced to act in porn films. The girl named 69 people including a film director and a priest. The judge had come down heavily on the investigating officers as the victim complained that the police was trying to change her actual date of birth in a bid to weaken the case. This case too is languishing.

Kiliroor (2004): The case came to light when the girl’s father had lodged a complaint with the police that his daughter was promised roles in TV serials and was subsequently exploited by several people. When the complaint was filed, the 18-year-old old was in a government hospital having delivered a child. Three months, later, the girl was dead. The doctors said that it was kidney failure. The police concluded that she died of post delivery complications.

The activists cried foul.

In an astonishing twist, CPM leader V.S. Achuthanandan, gave a statement to the effect that he found it odd how the young mother’s condition worsened soon after the visit made to the hospital by some VIPS. Some senior CPM leaders had visited the girl in the hospital. Activists alleged that a powerful section in CPM was desperate to sabotage the case.

The CPM leader later played down the controversy saying he was only repeating what the doctor, who was treating the girl had stated. The CBI investigation team could not collect any evidence that would corroborate the allegation.

Last month, the special court, sentenced the five accused to 10 years of imprisonment. Activists and the girl’s family protest that the big fish in this case too have escaped without a scratch.

Kaviyoor (2004): The case got media attention as four members of the family including the 15-year-old victim, her parents and her younger siblings found dead in 2004 in what appeared to be a suicide pact. The father was a priest in a local temple.

The girl, who was a talented classical dancer, was alleged to have been sexually exploited by several people after being promised roles in TV serials. While the CBI who re-investigated the case got to a conclusion of incest with the father as the accused, activists have alleged that Kaviyoor and Kiliroor cases are connected and have made several requests to the authorities that this case should be investigated by the same team.

According to P.Geetha, an activist who has worked extensively on many of these cases, since both the victims ( Kiliroor and Kaviyoor) are dead, there is very little chance of truth coming out.

Kottiyam (2004): One of the rarest cases in Kerala that made headlines with an alleged honor killing. A 15-year-old was picked up by the police at a sleepy junction in southern Kerala. As in most cases involving minors, the school going girl too was lured by a neighbour who promised to make her an actress.

A year later, in 2005, she was killed by her 17-year-old brother in what appeared to be an honor killing. In a video interview given to three women activists before death, she said that she was first taken to the Pangode Military Camp, near Trivandrum. She was 14 then. Days before her death she had approached the police stating she feared for her life. This case too has been in the cold storage for a while.

God's Own Country - Women's Own Hell? Photo by Ramlath Kavil

Poovarani (2007): This case came to light when a 14-year-old died in a hospital near Poovarani. As per the postmortem record, she died of AIDS. Further investigation revealed that the minor, hailing from a poor family, was forced into prostitution at the age of 12 by her aunt. The girl’s family is untraceable now and the case has not made any progress.

Kothamangalam (2011):  The incident came to light when a 14-year-old was taken by her father for abortion to a local hospital. The class 10 student was 6 months pregnant then. The girl informed the police that it was her father who gave her away to his friends for petty cash for over a period of one year.  32 people have been arrested so far and some are out on bail. The victim gave birth to a child last year, in October.

Paravur (2011): The sexual abuse of the 14-year-old school going girl came to light after her aunt complained to the police that the girl’s father had forcibly taken the minor into prostitution. The girl informed the police that she was first raped by her father who took her in and out of Kerala for over two years. The minor also told the police that her father used to threaten to kill her younger brother if she refused his bidding.

The class 10 student, unable to bear constant sexual abuse by many, ran away and took shelter at her aunt’s place. As the father started threatening the aunt, she took the minor to the police.  A total of 150 people including, a trade union leader, a local politician, a retired naval officer, and a PWD contractor figure in the accused list.

Last year, the Kerala high court directed that the authorities should complete the trial proceedings by end of May, 2012, so that the girl can resume her studies.

The Paradox of Kerala

These tales of abuse and money power reveal a disturbing truth. How minors are trapped, raped and then pushed in to sex work. It also exposes the paradox of the state of Kerala. On one hand there statistics that garner praise – high literacy, high education, high female sex ratio, high life expectancy, better health care, better living condition and on the other hand, the questionable quality of life of a woman in Kerala subject to a misogynistic society, where women and children are not safe even in their own homes.

Today, dowry is the most common practice cutting across class, caste and religious divide. Daughters are often seen as financial and moral liability. Suicide rates in the state are one of the highest in India. Sex is a taboo and to complicate it further moral policing is gaining acceptance in the society. Women’s participation in politics is very low ( 2011 kerala assembly has only 7 women compared to 133 male legislators). The land that figures in the list of 50 must see places in a life time by National Geographic Traveler is one of the most unsafe places for women to travel. The list goes on.

It is time we admit 100% literacy and high education do not change the mindset. What we need is a greater political will and commitment to ensure that “God’s Own Country” doesn’t become a living hell for its women and children.