By Amrith Lal,
P K Surendran & K.Ajitha
15 March, 2005
a revolutionary communist who later turned into a crusader for women's
rights in Kerala state of India. Here is an interview with her
depict Kerala as a progressive state. How do we then explain the prevalence
of violence against women in the manner of organised sex rackets in
The emergence of
sex racket gangs in Kerala is very closely connected with the introduction
of policies related to globalisation. The thrust of the development
policy of any government that comes to power in the state is now tourism.
The target group is mainly the working and middle classes of Europe
and America and on offer is an attractive package of liquor, drugs and
women thrown in. The so-called 'sex industry' in Thailand is famous
for its sex clubs which recruit girls aged between 10 and 15 for prostitution.
The hidden agenda of the present tourism policy is sex tourism. This
is the cause for the emergence of these gangs. They are supported by
the existing state machinery as well as the political system.
The Suryanelli sex
racket case where 36 people were sentenced by a special court was touted
as a case of justice being delivered without delay. Now the Kerala high
court has acquitted all but one of those sentenced. What impact will
it have on other cases?
The high court's
Suryanelli verdict has sent shock waves throughout the state. It is
not only anti-woman, but also inhuman. It was the only case which was
executed by the investigating agency (the police) fairly well though
there was an attempt to exonerate some politicians. The special judge
also gave a strong verdict which enabled the girl and her parents to
slowly come to terms with reality and face life. But the HC verdict
has given a green signal to the sex mafia which is involved in trapping
adolescent girls. The argument that the girl willingly submitted to
rape is very clearly contradicted by the medical report which says the
girl was suffering from painful pelvic infections when she was brought
to the doctor. It was very clear that the innocent village girl brought
up in a restrictive atmosphere had eloped with her lover longing for
a happy married life. She was then repeatedly raped. She was terrorised
and physically tortured by the accused. The verdict may become a precedent
if there is no conscious attempt to make the judiciary gender sensitive
and revert the verdict by appealing to the Supreme Court.
Why is it that people
involved in sex crimes are seldom punished? Are our laws less supportive
of the victims?
The accused in such
cases are highly influential, both financially and politically. Whichever
government comes to power, it is able to buy over and torpedo the investigation
by influencing the political elite. Our laws are also less supportive
and insist on very minute pieces of evidence like the age limit. If
the victim is above 16, the law considers sexual assault as rape only
when it is proved that the victim was unwilling. It is very difficult
to prove such a thing because generally the victim doesn't know the
technicalities of the Evidence Act.
The judicial system
has to take into consideration that more than 95% of rape cases are
not reported fearing social ostracisation. A rape victim is always blamed
for 'attracting' rape, no such stigma attaches to the rapist. In other
words, the victim is victimised even by the justice delivery system
and then the victim has to carry the stigma of rape throughout her life.
The judicial system puts the victim and her tormentor on an equal plane.
And even if there are laws protecting women's rights, judges who are
insensitive to women's issues can ruin a case. Gender sensitivity of
the judicial system and individual judges is crucial and decisive in
What has been the
response of the civil society including the mainstream political parties
in the fight for justice?
The civil society
is generally patriarchal in its thinking but in specific cases like
the ice-cream parlour sex scandal to which Muslim League leader P K
Kunhalikutty has been linked, it has reacted positively. In the Suryanelli
case too, the reaction has been positive. But the silence of eminent
cultural personalities is alarming. Civil society in Kerala is changing,
but only slowly. Political parties, especially those of the Left, are
now increasingly becoming aware of the need to fight these atrocities.
But they also resort to opportunism especially when the issue hurts
both visual and print have played a positive role in bringing
the facts behind the ice-cream parlour case and have supported the struggle.
Though the media is controlled by big business, some flexibility is
allowed by them for their own survival.
Are people sensitive
to the plight of these girls?
Society is by and
large very patriarchal in its outlook. The victim is always looked upon
as a sexual object and a person of loose character. There is terrible
hostility to accepting her as a normal human being. Political parties
and the media highlight the issues for political advantage but rarely
pursue the case until justice is delivered. This hostile atmosphere
demoralises the victim and her supporters.