The rape, possible torture and murder of Jisha, a landless Dalit law student in Kerala, has outraged activists and society at large because she is not the first victim of the rising violence and inequality faced by women in the state, but what’s equally outraging is the opportunistic rush of politicians to exploit the situation.
For years, every single statistic of consequence has been screaming to the politicians and policy makers in the state that the inequality and violence against women was really bad and was rising. And activists have been shouting from street corners and rooftops, asking for enabling policies and transformative processes; but the politicians did practically nothing.
There was no difference between the Congress-led and CPM-led governments, who alternated in power. Otherwise, the state which boasts of a very high Human Development Index (comparable to that of Bahrain) wouldn’t have recorded a rate of crime against women that’s much higher than the average for the rest of India. However, when it comes to exploitation of tragedies, even if they are brutal rapes and murders, the politicians don’t want to miss the opportunity.
The worst among the greedy politicians were the CPM leaders, who appeared to have already tasted blood in the upcoming elections. After feasting on sleaze of the “Solar Scam” - in which the central character, a scorned woman who curiously allowed her to be politically exploited after being allegedly dumped by the ruling front men - they have now got a new victim to play politics with. And they are doing it with absolutely no shame or morality.
The leaders and their cadres indulged in every single possibility - street protests asking for the arrest of the culprits even before investigations were completed, Facebook posts that lamented the oppression of Dalits, women and marginalised communities; and mob attacks against the chief minister and home minister who visited the victim’s mother. What’s more, the state secretary of the party even promised construction of a new house for the victim’s mother.
The obvious irony is that Jisha is certainly a victim of all that the CPM leaders have said in their Facebook posts, their protest marches and on TV discussions, but can the latter absolve themselves of their role in perpetuating the situation? They too had ruled the state almost as much as the Congress did, and spoke principles much more than the latter, but what have they done to halt and reverse the trend?
The writing has always been on the wall - despite the glitter of remarkable human development, in terms of social marginalisation and violence, women in the state have been among the worst off in the country. And it was always loud and clear in the statistics: they have high literacy, great scores in academics, but no jobs; at home, they get badgered, violated both physically and psychologically, and raped; and in the streets and public places, they are troubled by hooligans and moral policemen.
Data from the Centre for Development Studies (CDS), in as early as 2003, had shown that 74 per cent of educated women (in their sample) in Kerala were unemployed despite better education than men in all categories except in diploma and secondary levels. The situation remains more or less the same even today despite the advent of IT and new age jobs. The workforce participation data in 2011 Census shows that only 34.78 per cent of women are engaged in any gainful employment in the state, which was far too lower than the national average. In fact, in terms of employment, a highly literate, educated and ostensibly more empowered women from the state fare no better than the woman in a considerably backward Bihar. In comparison, TN’s average is 45.58, and Himachal Pradesh’s, 51.85.
Now, look at the incidence of rapes.
The numbers are six times higher than that of neighbouring Tamil Nadu, which has no globally celebrated human development glamour that Kerala boasts off. And the available numbers from the National Crime Records Bureau for 2015 shows a continuing rise. In terms of the overall rate of crime against women, Kerala’s average is 63 per 100,000 as against the country’s 56.3.
In other words, Kerala’s women are more educated, are in better health and live longer, but they are far more disempowered than their peers in most of India. They stay mostly at home and face more violence then other women in most parts of the country. How strange is that?
The problem is a conservative, lazy, indulgent, and consumerist society masquerading as Left. TN doesn’t have too many talking heads waxing eloquent about women’s rights or political ideology - but as data shows, women face far less violence and enjoy far greater employment opportunities. The situation is the same in many other seemingly less “progressive” or “developed” states.
And this is not now. This has been the case for years.
The other aspect of the tragedy of Jisha is violence against Dalits. Jisha and her mother had been living in a one room hut on a tiny patch of poramboke land abutting a canal for several years. Reportedly, the local community had been hostile to her and she had been threatened many times. The facts that the bleeding-heart politicians see now - she as a socially discriminated Dalit, poor girl, living in an unsecured hut in poramboke, constantly under the threat of eviction and physical violence - have always been there. Why didn't anybody come to her rescue when she needed it the most?
Kodiyeri Balakrishan, the CPM secretary in the state, has promised to build a house for her mother. Why just her? Why not all the landless Dalits in the state? Does it take a rape and a murder to qualify for party/government largesse?
It’s been 13 years since the state police fired on and killed landless Adivasis who were staging a protest in Muthanga in northern Kerala, but has the core problem been solved? The CPM had made considerable political capital out of the tragedy, but the leader of that protest, CK Janu, recently joined the BJP because she was disgruntled by the unfulfilled promises by Marxist leaders who backed her. Today, the same leaders who still cannot ideologically accept the Dalit politics because it’s incongruous with their idea of class struggle, are shedding tears for landless.
Anyway, every tragedy is an opportunity for social change. But, unfortunately what we see is only political opportunism and the CPM is repugnantly blatant because they want to win at any cost.
Updated Date: May 04, 2016 14:40 PM