For the last two days, Kerala's hero is an anonymous young woman who has cut off the genitals of a self-proclaimed godman in the state capital after suffering several years of sexual exploitation. Reportedly, the woman, who had been sexually victimised since she was a minor by the same man, took this radical step when he made yet another rape-attempt on Friday.
Except the lone voice of caution by Shashi Tharoor, the member of parliament from Thiruvananthapuram, the responses to the incident from across the state overwhelmingly hailed her act. Most of the people, who reacted on TV, social media and the newspapers, thought it was a great act of courage and the right way to prevent violence against women. Excited by the incident, an actor-activist even exhorted women to take up arms against potential sex offenders.
The government's response also reflected the public mood. While the minister of public works said that his poetic forecast on the issue was proven right, for chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan what the girl did "was a courageous step."
Asked by reporters if there would be tough action against the godman, he said that the girl has already taken the necessary action and all that the government needed to do was to support her.
However, very few realised that what's lost in the celebration of the delivery of justice by the girl was the failure of the rule of law and the failure of the state to address violence against women. She has been suffering sexual violence and humiliation within her household for eight years and there was no sight of justice. Her drastic step, therefore, was not an act of courage, as Vijayan would like to believe, but an act of desperation. If this happens on a large scale, it will be as good as mob justice. Mob justice happens when the state fails.
Instead of laughingly lauding her Pinarayi Vijayan should have been remorseful that a woman had to take law into her hands to find justice while he was heading the state executive, particularly the police.
Instead of laughingly lauding her Pinarayi Vijayan should have been remorseful that a woman had to take law into her hands to find justice while he was heading the state executive, particularly the police. Bindu Krishna, the woman Congress leader who said that this was a "warning to all sexual predators" should have been ashamed of herself because it was during the five years of her party's government that the young woman suffered the most.
Had there been a system of redress that the woman was aware of, or was accessible to her eight years ago, she wouldn't have suffered this long and the man would have been in jail. Tharoor had a point when he said that the woman should have gone to police, but clearly there was nothing available to her. In an era of favourable law, court verdicts, hotlines and considerable budget for gender justice, it's indeed a pity that an elected government has to laud a rape-survivor, and not cringe for its failure, when she metes out punishment to her rapist.
Probably because of the high level of reporting as some would argue, Kerala is endemic to sexual violence against women, particularly minors, and nothing seems to be working to stop and reverse the trend. Unfortunately, most of the cases reach nowhere in terms of delivering justice to the survivors who are either left to die or live devastated lives.
By Kerala Police's own admission, the incidence of violence against women in the state has risen by about 50 per cent since 2007 - in real numbers by more than 5000 cases. Each case is not a statistic, but the life of a girl or a woman. More than a third of these are rape and molestation cases while a quarter are cruelty by husbands. What's worse, in the national records, the prevalence of violence against women in Kerala is higher than the country's average.
Instead of rejoicing in retributory justice, that incidentally hid from public view the tearing and long-lasting trauma of a girl, the state should have used the opportunity to introspect and examine what has been going wrong and why a girl had to suffer in silence.
Instead of rejoicing in retributory justice, that incidentally hid from public view the tearing and long-lasting trauma of a girl, the State should have used the opportunity to introspect and examine what has been going wrong and why a girl had to suffer in silence, that too at her home; and why the State had been unable to reach out. Government policies are not like the perfunctory pin-ups on the old tribal notice boards, but are meant to be proactive steps to protect the lives and properties of people.
Just as in the case of the policies, programmes and budgets for tribals reaching nowhere, the policies to prevent violence against women haven't been clearly working. Otherwise the numbers wouldn't have climbed to where they are now. Had the state felt some responsibility when a minor girl was raped in confinement by more than 40 men in 1996, which has since been known as the Sooryanelli case, many of such incidents could have been prevented. Even in recent months, there has been a spate of cases of molestation and rapes of minors that made media headlines for a few days and disappeared.
What's required is not a justice system based on conventional policing, but a different social milieu where girls and women are safer.
What's required is not a justice system based on conventional policing, but a different social milieu where girls and women are safer. In the long term, it's certainly about the larger issue of patriarchy and gender-based inequality, but in the short term, the government has to reach out. Girls ought to know how to spot warning signs of sexual violence and how to seek help. Compulsory life skills in schools dovetailed with universal preventive systems are the minimum that the government has to do immediately. In an era of results-based governance, the numbers have to come down. Merely setting up systems doesn't work, they have to be result-oriented.
A lot of research has been done on the violence against men by women, including in intimate relationships (intimate partner violence), and in most cases, it's been found that the most common trigger is self-defence. And it has also been found that a considerable number of women who get violent against men have suffered sexual abuse, other forms of violence and neglect. This could be true in the present case in Kerala too because the girl has been a victim of sexual violence, and possibly domestic neglect as well as media reports indicate, and hence the government should see it as a cry for help by many helpless and unseen girls and women.
Celebrating it is an obscene admission of guilt.