By Maya Palitn
"We were made to sit like dogs in the station for four days. I was mentally tortured and decided to drop the case," a 32-year-old rape survivor told the Times of India earlier this month, speaking about her attempt to register a complaint against her alleged rapists at Peramangalam police station in Kerala.
About two years ago, she was told that her husband had been in an accident, then forced into a vehicle by four of her husband's friends, taken to an empty house and gang-raped. She narrated her account to the dubbing artist and talk-show host Bhagya Lakshmi, of how the police officers had taunted her at the time with appalling questions about the incident, such as, "Which rapist gave you the most pleasure?"
Lakshmi subsequently publicised the case on social media, which prompted a call from chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who assured her that he would ensure the case would be investigated.
Despite the public outrage and such high-level political intervention, however, the police continue to exhibit shocking indifference to the case; they have been stupendously slow to act, and hadn't even bothered to interrogate the perpetrators, one of whom is PN Jayanthan, a Communist Party of India (Marxist) committee member and municipal councillor. This has led to the case being mired in what may become a tussle between political parties: Congress MLA Anil Akkara has accused the police of siding with the accused, before the CPM hit back for apparently revealing the name of the survivor. Akkara also urged the state police chief to put a new investigative team on the case, claiming that the CPM had interfered in the probe.
More recently, an investigation team, led by a female police official named G Poonguzhali, stated on Wednesday that it would be impossible for them to summon or arrest the accused because they lack "scientific evidence" of the rape and the necessary information to establish the exact spot where the crime took place. This is directly contrary to Palakkad ASP Poonguzhali's previous statement, which indicated that the police would also rely on the testimonies of witnesses. The ridiculous demand that a woman who was forced into a moving car must be able to identify the precise location where the crime took place two years ago, is all too obviously a strategy for stalling the investigation.
Bhagya Lakshmi has responded to this illogical argument, saying she had lost confidence in the police investigation. "A woman was forcibly pushed inside the vehicle and subjected to harassment. In such a situation, how could the victim mark all those places? Police say they will take up the case if the victim provides all evidence. If so, why are we seeking the help of police?"
She expressed more hope in the National Commission for Women, which has recorded the victim's statement and set up a three-member committee to probe the mental harassment inflicted on the victim by the police officer.
A protest march in Thrissur condemning police inaction and calling for Jayanthan's arrest turned violent on Friday, and was followed up by a hartal a day later, but the police remain adamant that there is not enough information to go forward with the case, even though the probe was initiated almost three weeks ago.
Clearly, political and media attention still provides no guarantee for gender justice in India. After the police faced heavy criticism for its shoddy work, a team of top police officials admitted that there had, in fact, been misconduct and inattentiveness on their part. After further public outcry, the government suspended the officer who had subjected the victim to humiliation during her first complaint. Since then, however, the police's response has been to dig in its heels, close ranks, and protect each other rather than get on with rectifying their mistakes. Instead of conducting a thorough investigation, they have now challenged the survivor to take the case to court, without which they will not lift a finger.
In the aftermath of the Nirbhaya rape case, several reports exposed how police mistreatment of rape survivors served to discourage them from coming forward, with one claiming that 95 out of 100 victims were subjected to unfriendly procedures or police harassment while reporting their experiences. One article also expressed anxiety about the fact that police lethargy and inadequate protection of victims leaves them at risk of being attacked again, as in the Haryana case this summer, where a Dalit woman was hunted down after three years and raped by her previous assaulters.
It is necessary to revisit these anxieties in cases like the Thrissur incident because its being old and posing technical difficulties is no excuse for the police to decide to not even try to investigate such cases. By refraining from even questioning the perpetrators, the police are blithely continuing their deliberate and outrageous miscarriage of justice.