The Wadakancherry rape case is fast becoming a political fist fight between the ruling CPM and the Congress with the latter calling for a dawn to dusk hartal in Thrissur district on Saturday. This comes after the local MLA Anil Akkara and other congress workers were injured in police lathi charge on Friday.
A group of Congress workers led by the MLA were protesting in front of Thrissur District Collectorate on Friday. The march soon turned ugly with Congress workers pelting stones at the police who then resorted to lathi charge injuring the MLA and several other workers including women.
When all this happened on the streets outside, former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy was himself present at the collectorate attending a public function. The party was quick to call a hartal and has said it would intensify protests in the coming days.
“It is very clear that the police is hand-in-glove with the accused in this case. Even after the woman had given a statement before the magistrate that rape had indeed happened, the cops are not ready to book the culprit and arrest him. All this is because he is a party man,” said Congress legislator Anil Akkara.
The Wadakancherry rape
Akkara was referring to what is now being called the Wadakancherry rape case. On 3 November, a young woman, with her face covered, opened a can of worms at the Thiruvanathapuram Press Club. With unstoppable tears rolling down her eyes, the homemaker from Wadakkanchery, victim of an alleged gangrape, recounted how she was violated again and again, not only by the perpetrators, but by the very system that she had sought asylum in.
That the prime accused in the case is a corporation councillor belonging to the CPM that is ruling the state, has only toughened the odds against the victim.
“Who among those who raped you gave maximum pleasure — is what the circle inspector of Police asked me while recording my statement,’’ said the victim as she broke down. Her husband and prominent women’s rights activists looked on helplessly.
“He then went on non-stop with his indecent comments like asking me the size of the male organ and where all did they touch you. My husband and I were treated like dogs at the Peramangalam police station. They took me from one place to another for four whole days in the name of gathering evidence. I could not take the torture anymore and decided to withdraw the case,’’ she added.
It took the Kerala Home Department four days to suspend the erring Inspector despite enough prime facie evidence that he had violated every legal norm while dealing with the alleged rape victim. What also startled many was the initial support the inspector received from the Director General of Police (DGP). He had initially ruled out any action against the Inspector, causing many to believe that the rot perhaps begins from the top.
Speaking to Firstpost, the State Women’s Commission expressed its deep concern over the deteriorating standards of policing in Kerala. “We are gravely concerned about the falling standards while dealing with rape victims in police stations. Even now we do not have a situation in Kerala where a woman can go to a police station without the fear of intimidation. Many cases go unreported because of this and even if some women show the courage to report it, a number of them go on to withdraw later because of the treatment at the stations,’’ said KC Roasakutty, Chairperson of Kerala State Women’s Commission. The Commission added that it would be issuing strict guidelines to the state government in the coming days.
The Commission’s concerns are further endorsed by the claims of the alleged rape victim. The woman has alleged that she was coaxed into signing a compromise petition drafted by the police favouring the accused. This petition was then presented before a magistrate as a statement under Section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC). But it had no mention of rape, although the FIR clearly speaks of gang rape.
The victim went on to claim that her husband was held captive in a car outside when she went to speak with the magistrate. She also said that although she had no choice but to withdraw the case then, she had categorically told the judge that the rape had indeed happened. Activists are now asking what stopped the judge from taking up the case suo motu when he was aware that the crime had taken place.
Parvathy Tiruvoth, who along with renowned dubbing artist Bhagyalekshmi had brought the issue to light through the social media says, “Here in Kerala the situation is such that every rape victim needs to carry a character certificate with her when she goes to the police station. The issue is with the mindset which believes that a woman entering a police station has loose morals. From then the onus is on her to prove that she is the victim.”
A week after the revelations, even as the police continues to debate whether to file a fresh FIR or not, the ruling CPM resorted to face-saving measures by suspending the prime accused from party membership. But to make matters worse for the party, its Thrissur district secretary and former Speaker of the state Assembly K Radhakrishnan went on to name the victim at a media interaction. When his error was pointed out he asked — “So you are saying you can repeatedly take the name of the accused but you cannot say the name of the victim?’” The Women’s Commission has meanwhile recommended the police to file a criminal case against Radhakrishnan.
If Delhi is being dubbed the rape capital of India, Kerala could well be the capital for police shoddiness in dealing with violence against women. The Wadakkanchery case is only the tip of the iceberg. Six months ago when a law student Jisha was brutally raped and murdered, it took the police five days and continuous media pressure to even file an FIR.
Two Dalit girls had to run to the media to get justice after getting falsely implicated in an alleged assault case against a local CPM leader in June. Their attempts to register a case against the leader at the Thalaserry police station failed repeatedly.
The infamous Soumya rape and murder case in 2011 was a black mark for the state prosecution as it miserably failed to get the culprit Govindaswamy a sentence of capital punishment.
This shoddiness comes at a time when rape cases in the state are skyrocketing. According to the State Crime Records Bureau, close to 1200 cases of rape have been reported in the last nine months alone. Compare this to 1263 cases in 2015 and a mere 500 about eight years ago.
Thiruvananthpuram, the state capital ranks highest in terms of the number of rape cases filed, followed closely by Kochi and Malappuram. The State Police Complaint Authority (SPCA) set up as a watch dog against police excesses in the state, has been getting hundreds of complaints from single women and families about police misconduct at stations in the last few years. The Authority is now calling for major corrective steps. “I have told the government that the entire batch of 2014 Sub Inspectors needs to be recalled and trained more effectively. It is from 2014 onwards that this trait of misconduct against complainant has been on the rise. We need to act quickly,’’ says Justice Narayan Kurup, Chairman of the SPCA.
The writer is a Thiruvananthapuram-based independent journalist with The Lede