In July this year, Malayalam film Kasaba cast superstar Mammootty in the role of a rogue police officer with several shades of grey. In the film, Mammootty's character Rajan Zachariah walks up to a female cop and pulls at her belt. He then goes on to tell her that he can make her miss her menstrual cycle, suggesting that she "won't be able to walk for a week".
The threat to rape couldn't have been more explicit, more lewd. The filmmaker's intention was to use the crude innuendo to convey machismo. Surprisingly, the scene was received with catcalls and claps from the male audience at many theatres in Kerala and the film went on to become a hit.
The assumption would be that such characters played by a superstar would influence the police tribe to behave in the same crass manner. But if the details of a two-year-old case emerging from Thrissur in Kerala are anything to go by, it would seem some of the men in uniform in the state are already a depraved lot.
"Which of these four men gave you maximum pleasure?" a male investigating officer reportedly asked a woman who had came to file a complaint of gang rape. Shell-shocked by the misogyny and language of the query in the presence of her alleged rapists, she decided not to pursue the matter. More so because one of the four men, who allegedly raped her, is Vadakkancherry municipal councillor Jayanathan, an influential politician of the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist). The other three are his friends Jineesh, Shibu and Bineesh.
The incident reportedly happened two years ago and the four men, who are also her husband's friends, threatened her against complaining to the police. They claimed to have videographed the act and threatened her to release it online if she went public. She kept quiet for three months before her husband, noticing her abnormal behaviour, confronted her. He insisted they go to the police.
But the verbal crudity of the "man in khaki" broke the woman. The 35-year-old, a mother of two, withdrew her complaint. Now, after watching a show on television by well-respected activist and artist Bhagya Lakshmi on the silence around rape, she decided to break her own silence and tell the world her story. The TV host posted it on her Facebook page, for the world to know.
The accused, however, has given a completely different spin to the allegation questioning the gap of two years between the alleged crime and the revelation. Jayanathan claims he lent Rs 3 lakh to the couple and alleges that because he was insisting that they return the amount, the couple has resorted to this "lie".
The chief minister's office has assured an inquiry, and if necessary, action. In this case, the time lapse, lack of forensic and other evidence will go against the complainant. But if the police get hold of the alleged video that was used to threaten her, that would establish at least part of the victim's story.
The probe will also verify if the allegations made by the couple are true. Social activists say it is necessary to be circumspect and careful in such cases, given that some complaints of a similar nature have proved untrue in Kerala in the past.
But statistics reveal that Kerala is not a woman's own country. In the first half of 2016, 910 cases of rape were reported in Kerala. Compare this with 1,263 cases in all of 2015. There were over 2,300 cases of molestation reported out of 7,900 cases of crimes against women. Activists estimate the real numbers would be higher.
That the police need reorientation and training to handle crimes against women and children is more than obvious if the reported reaction of the inspector is anything to go by. Sexual crimes against women, and children specially, cannot be treated like any other crime. The law enforcement and justice machinery needs to be sensitive about the brutality it inflicts on not just the victim's body but also her mind and psyche. So, the need is to inspire confidence that the victim's dignity will not be dented because she takes the courage to speak out.
Otherwise even the 7,900 women who mustered the courage to complain will retreat into their own private hell.