The brutal rape and murder of 30-year-old Dalit law student at Perumbavoor has come as a big jolt to Kerala’s ruling Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) that is engaged in a tough electoral battle to break the long pattern of power alternating between the two fronts every five years.
Its attempt to beat the anti-incumbency sentiments by showcasing its ‘development and care’ policy initiatives in the last five years is facing a big challenge with the Opposition parties and women’s outfits reeling out statistics to show that the state was not a safe place for women to live during its five-year term.
Statistics available with the Crime Records Bureau of Kerala police shows massive rise in crimes against women during 2011-15 compared to the term of the Left Democratic Front (LDF) from 2006 to 2010. While rape cases registered more than 100 percent increase in the last five years, sexual harassment cases went up by more than 50 percent.
As many as 5,918 cases of rape were registered between 2011 and 2015 as against 2,809 during 2006-2011. Harassment cases went up from 13,381 during the five years of LDF rule to 20,201 during the UDF period. The kidnapping cases also saw an increase from 881 to 942. However, cases of dowry deaths came down from 114 during 2006-10 to 94 during 2011-15.
The situation in the first three months of the current year too is no different. According to police sources, 323 rape cases, 1,259 molestation incidents and 175 sexual harassment cases were reported in the state between January and March, 2016.
A significant number of the victims are children. Out of the 5,918 cases of rape reported in the last five years, 2,935 cases involved children. The cases of rape reported during the last three years of the LDF rule were only 658. A total of 688 children were kidnapped during the UDF regime. The number of kidnappings from 2008 to 2010 was a mere 281.
The statistics show that at least three cases of rape were reported every day since UDF came to power in 2011. These are the number of cases reported to the police. Senior officials say the number could be much higher if one takes the unreported cases into consideration.
A senior official, who did not want to be identified, said rape was one of the most under-reported crimes in Kerala. Women, especially unmarried girls and their parents have been showing reluctance in approaching the police as they fear that the publicity it brings may affect their future life.
Though the Opposition has attributed the rise in the crimes against women in the last five years to the UDF government’s failure in the maintenance of the law and order, statistics show that it has been showing a steady increase over the years. The rape cases registered an increase from 197 in 1991 to 552 in 2000. Similarly, the molestation cases jumped from 569 to 1,695 during this period.
Social scientists view it as a reflection of the socio-economic changes taking place in the last two decades. Kerala State Women’s Commission member J Prameela Devi cites rising consumer culture fuelled by migration and the proliferation of electronic media as major factors behind the phenomenon.
She said blaming the government and the authorities alone may not help as the society as a whole was responsible for the phenomenon. The pattern of sexual atrocities against women started witnessing a change in the 90s with the sprouting of sex rackets luring girls with promises of jobs or marriages or role in films and television serials.
It started with the kidnapping and subsequent rape of a 16-year-old girl from Suryanelli in Idukki district in 1996. The girl was allegedly lured with the promise of marriage and kidnapped by a bus conductor and pushed into flesh trade. She was allegedly raped by 37 men over a period of 40 days.
The state witnessed a series of similar incidents since then. Prominent among them are the Attappadi, Vithura, Karippur aerodrome, Kovalam, Manarcaud, Kothamangalam, Kollam, Vagamon, Thoppumpadi, and the Kozhikode Ice Cream Parlour sex racket cases.
Most of these cases of flesh trade and sale of minor girls happened with the connivance of the police, politicians, and highly placed bureaucrats. The culprits involve those in power to escape the dragnet of law. This is evident in the low conviction rates in such cases.
A study by the Centre for Development Studies (CDS), Thiruvananthapuram showed that of the total number of cases in courts, only less than 10 percent on the average were convicted and more than three times of the convicted cases were acquitted.
Activists say this could be one of the reasons for the rise in crimes against women. They say Jisha would not have been murdered if the culprits in similar cases were brought before the law.
But Jisha case has no comparison with such cases in the recent past in the state. The law student was raped and killed in the broad daylight and in the ‘safety’ of her home in a gruesome manner despite several steps taken by the government in the recent times including the much-hyped ‘Nirbhaya’ scheme.
The UDF has already started facing several embarrassing questions about the brutal crime in the campaign for the 16 May Assembly election. Many feel that the murder could have been avoided if the authorities had acted on the numerous complaints Jisha and her mother Rajeshwari had lodged with the police about threats they faced from several quarters and their plea for a ‘secured’ house.
Opposition leader VS Achuthanandan said there was a failure on the part of the police. Party politburo member Pinarayi Vijayan suspects that the police had even tried to help the UDF by covering up the incident for five days.
“There’s criminal delay on the part of the police in taking action. The Kerala society is concerned about the manner in which the police played hide and seek in the incident. It shows that girls in the state have no safety even in the confines of their homes,” the CPM leader said adding that it was not an isolated incident.
The incident has raised serious concerns about the safety of women. It shows that women are not safe in their homes. In fact, many consider the high rate of suicide among women a result of the insecurity they feel in the society.
An opinion poll conducted by NDTV in 2014 showed Kerala topping the country with women feeling unsafe. The poll conducted by Hansa Research revealed that 73 percent women in the state felt unsafe. Kerala was followed by West Bengal with 61 percent.
Updated Date: May 18, 2016 18:16 PM