Kerala's moral police: 23-year-old's suicide shows 'literate' state is still stuck in dark ages

Make no mistake about it, Kerala has blood on its hands. What happened at Azheekkal beach in Kollam in south Kerala on 14 February was a disgrace. Five hooligans decided to be moral police and harassed, humiliated and assaulted a young man and his female friend. They shamed the land that calls itself God's own country.

Nine days later, the 23-year-old man hanged himself from a tree near his home in Palakkad district. In the suicide note he left behind, he reportedly mentions in detail the emotional trauma that forced him to take his life. Progressive and literate Kerala are an oxymoron. This incident of savage moral policing is one among many that prove that despite near 100 percent literacy, much of Kerala is still stuck in the dark ages.

On Valentine's day, the couple was at the beach when this group of hoodlums, obviously deriving courage in numbers, decided to intimidate them. The woman had gone to a secluded spot to relieve herself when the five men tried to molest her. They then proceeded to videograph her in which one of them can be heard asking the woman : "Would you lift your saree at the instruction of any man?''

Representational image.  AFP

Representational image. AFP

The video, a proof of their depravity and vulgarity was subsequently released on social media. The couple is asked what they were doing in a secluded spot even as the two can be heard pleading with the men to let them go. It is quite possible that the threat of public shame using the video was an attempt to blackmail and make easy money later.

The man subsequently filed a police complaint following which the five accused were arrested and remanded to judicial custody. It was obvious from what the victim spoke that the incident had scarred the duo. The man admitted that the two of them had even considered committing suicide but decided to approach the police so that "no one else undergoes such an experience in the future.''

With no counselling and no emotional support back home, the 23-year-old could not cope with the embarrassment of having been exposed by the accused and hyper media activism. The son of a daily wage labourer mother, he had not stepped out of home after the incident. He was working as the coordinator of an e-literacy programme in the tribal belt of Attapady.

Not that the couple did not get support. The incident was shocking enough even for Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan who wrote a sharp note on his Facebook page : ``Have asked the state DGP to take stringent action against the practise of moral policing. Clearly, the men can be seen threatening the victims and the victims are pleading before them. The kind of language the men are using is utterly abusive and cultureless. Whatever situation it may be, citizens have not been given the right to threaten or attack anyone. The fact that the visuals were circulated on social media is a grave violation of the law.''

But the chief minister's sharp tone did not have any effect even on his own police force. This Tuesday, women cops arrested a man and his fiance at the Thiruvananthapuram museum premises. Why? Because the pink police thought the man putting his arm on his fiance's shoulder was "indecent''. They were taken aback when the couple started streaming their argument with the police live on Facebook.

Last week, a law student in Nadapuram in Kozhikode district filed a complaint with the police against the Muslim League for cyber bullying her because they did not approve of her adopting non-Muslim way of dressing and befriending men of other religions.

What do Kollam, Kozhikode and Thiruvananthapuram say about Kerala? That the average Malayalee — in uniform or without it — gets into moral police default mode to protect what he or she thinks is the value system. They draw power from the sanction of middle class society and benevolent parental concern. This when a literate Kerala should ideally be more liberal and aware about the rights of men and women in public spaces.

But then the conservative Kerala society also reeks of double standards. Government data released in January puts Alappuzha at number 4 in India for surfing and sharing of child sexual abuse material. Another Kerala town, Thrissur also figures in the top ten. There is invariably a Kerala connection to the number of paedophile pages that sprout on Facebook all the time. How does the Keralite explain his voyeurism in private transforming into a holier-than-thou moral cop in public?

The homes of men who work in the Gulf are constantly under scrutiny of the self-appointed moral police. In June last year, a 42-year-old man was beaten to death by four men after he was seen coming out of a woman's home in Malappuram. They wanted to punish him for being in a relationship with a married woman who was living alone. But most such cases are not registered as cases of moral policing but incidents of crime.

What is needed now is to counsel the woman who was assaulted in Kollam. Without a doubt, she would be traumatised after her friend's suicide. And Kerala's fake morality has to stop because the state can hardly afford its men and women falling victims to moral policing of the beastly kind.

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Updated Date: Feb 25, 2017 09:25:58 IST

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