Call it insensitivity or a cheap publicity stunt, but the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in Kerala is certainly guilty of finding itself on the wrong side of the law.
The names of two minor girls who had been allegedly raped and murdered in Walayar on the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border recently have found their place on a larger-than-life hoarding welcoming the party’s state secretary and former home minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan.
The hoarding was put up by the local committee (LC) of the party in Walayar, to welcome the secretary, who was visiting the homes of the rape victims on Sunday.
The two girls, aged 13 and nine, had been raped and found hanging inside their homes and while the state police is still groping in the dark as to who the real culprits are, the incident has evoked an outcry in the state.
The revelation of their names has come as a shock to the Child Rights Commission in the state, which is now seeking a report from the director general of police (DGP).
"This is absolutely shocking for us. We had already told the police to ensure that the identity of a minor victim cannot be made public at any cost and that strict measures need to be put in place to stop any such move. Now that this has happened, we are asking the police chief to look into the matter," Shobha Koshy, chairperson, Kerala State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (KSCPCR), said.
The Commission has said that more recommendations for action would follow once a report is released by the DGP. The Commission added that not only those responsible for ideating the hoarding, but also those who printed it would be held liable under the law.
According to Section 23(2) of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, the identity of any sort that compromises the victim cannot be disclosed and anyone doing so can be imprisoned for a period not less than six months.
In most cases, the general public, which includes even our law makers, are ignorant of these provisions and senior lawyers say that since no effort has been taken to generate awareness, it is flouted openly.
"Whenever things which were not considered so serious hitherto are made serious offences by enactment there is requirement of a corresponding enlightenment programme as well, intended not just for the general public but even for the political class. Very often, that has not happened in India and this incident is a clear fall out of it,’’ says Kaleeshwaram Raj, a leading lawyer at the Kerala High Court.
Raj added that the argument whether you can expose the identity after the death of the victim also does not hold water. He said that the POCSO itself might not have talked about such a scenario but there are umpteen number of precedents set by different courts across the country, which clearly mentions that identity of minors should not be revealed at any cost.
"Court is very clear that even after the death of the victim, there is a family that lives in the stigma of the incident especially in our society’s context. You cannot even defame a person after his death. So the victim’s death does not make any difference here," added Raj.
Meanwhile, the local CPM leadership was found passing the buck when contacted by Firstpost. The Puthusherry Area secretary of the party, Subash Chandra Bose, under whom the Walayar local committee falls, was more interested in blaming their political opponents for a similar situation than owning up to their own mistake.
"See, we are not the only persons who have done this. Even the BJP, which took to social media, had even used the girls' pictures. We took down the flex board the moment we realised the mistake. Such things happen and nobody did it purposely," Bose said.
Though the CPM's claims that the BJP had put the picture up on social media could not be independently verified by Firstpost, the Commission said that such violations have been noticed on social media over the last few days and that had forced the Commission to send the initial notice to the state police chief.
But what is more damaging for the CPM is that not just one but a number of such hoardings had been put up in and around the locality, and even hours after the state secretary had left the girls' homes, they were not taken down.
A history of insensitivity
The latest accusations against CPM come at a time when the state's police is also in the docks for alleged inaction in the Walayar twin rape case. The family of the victim has clearly said that had the police acted on time, after the death of the elder sister, they would not have lost the younger one too.
It is now alleged that the post-mortem report of the 13-year-old girl had clearly pointed to rape.
The younger sister had even given hints to who could be the culprit. Though the police had initially picked up a youngster for questioning, he was let off following political pressure, as the man in question was a local leader belonging to the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI), the youth wing of the CPM.
Almost two months after the elder girl's death, the second one was also found dead, hanging inside the house. The same accused has been arrested now. Activists are saying that the police’s inaction is only a reflection of the ruling party’s attitude towards crimes against women and children.
"This is not the CPM we know of. It is as if the party just does not care about the safety of our children. Here in Walayar, the second girl would not have died had the party not intervened and released the culprit from police custody," says M Bala Murali, a local activist and Panchayat member, who has been following the case.
This is not the first such allegation against the ruling party. The infamous Wadakancherry gangrape case is another example. The culprit at that time was a local councillor of the same party.
Like in Walayar, here too the local party chieftain was found compromising the name of the victim and that too before full media glare. Though she was not a minor and had not been murdered, unlike Walayar, the incident yet again exposed the torrid track record CPM, when it comes to fighting crimes against women and children.
Firstpost had earlier reported how the police were hand-in-gloves with the accused, a party man, and how the local investigating officer had insulted the woman and her husband when she went to file an FIR at the police station.
Making matters worse, it was also revealed that the woman had written a registered letter to the chief minister, describing her plight, but no action was taken for a number of months, following which she had to muster the courage to spill the beans at a press meet at Thiruvananthapuram.
"The problem is that the ruling party in Kerala, like almost all other politicians, demands a character certificate from the women the moment she claims that she has been a victim of sexual violence. How do you expect the police to behave any differently?" asks T Parvathy, a leading women’s activist and psychologist in the state.
Perhaps another incident is what the chief minister himself said at a public meeting, a few days into the investigation of alleged sexual assault on a popular Malayalam film actor. While the entire state smelled a rat, chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan reached the conclusion that what had happened to the actor was just the result of a crime by an individual, and that it did not involve a larger conspiracy.
While speculations are still out on whom Vijayan was trying to save, many believe that it is such mindsets at the top that sends our enforcement agencies on the reverse mode, enabling more crimes against women and children to thrive in Kerala.
"Case after case has been sabotaged by such gestures and statements by the CPM leaders in the past as well. Take any such molestation or rape case, you will find a politician who is working out something for the accused. If it was Congress yesterday, today it is the CPM," Murali added.
A week has passed since an 18-year-old student, Mishel Shaji, was found dead in the Kochi Lake. Her parents have alleged that had the police acted on time on the night 5 March, when they had gone to the local station to report her missing, she could have been saved.
The chief minister had to openly admit in the state Assembly that in this case, prima facie there seems to be a lapse on the part of the local police and that it would also be investigated. But that has only done little to quell the outcry against the Left government and its police, which is gathering momentum by the day on social media.
Since the current Budget session of the Assembly, which started in the first week of March, the chief minister, who also holds the Home portfolio, has been cutting a sorry figure in the House, defending his men in uniform before the Opposition for their gross inefficiency in handling cases pertaining to sexual violence.
Unless the ruling party takes proactive steps to change the mindsets from the top down, women and children in Kerala will continue to be unsafe.
Updated Date: Mar 15, 2017 13:00 PM