Kerala Behaves With Women
By Sreedevi Jacob
23 June, 2004
The Quest Features & Footage
Malayala Manorama, the largest circulated daily in the country, recently
did what no other newspaper has done in recent times: it ran a series
of articles from anuary 30 to February 3, exposing the difficulties
and trauma that women in the most literate state in India were experiencing
in public, thanks to its men. Theseries was unique in its packaging,
had tremendous impact, and got an unprecedented official response. Titled
`(How) Kerala behaves with women, the newspaper in its introduction
to the series said it was decided to run these articles ``against the
backdrop of the increasing incidents of atrocities against women in
Kerala as well as the spiralling women empowerment initiatives in the
light of Panchayat Raj. The Chief Minister AK Antony had
recently told the Assembly that since he came to power - in less than
three years - 326 women had committed suicide, 20 sex rackets were busted
and 185 women were kidnapped. The series sought to find out how safe
women were to travel alone, spend some time in a public place, go for
a movie, etc, and the results were alarming.
Six women reporters
of the paper - K R Meera, M Vineetha Gopi, Rani George, Subha Joseph,
Neetha Mary James and Gayathri Muralidharan - travelled across the state,
through the cities and districtcapitals, from January 14 to January
20, unescorted, to get a first hand experience of the safety and security
that Gods Own Country was offering them. And they were mostly
greeted with obscene comments, suspicious glances and physical advances.
Here are some of
their experiences which came under collective bylines: On January 14,
as soon as she boarded the general compartment of the Chennai ail at
3.30 pm from Kollam (about 70 km from the state capital Thiruvananthapuram),
the reporter became the centre of attention. She was the only woman
in the compartment and hands began reaching out to her from all directions.
While she held on to a seat to balance herself, the passenger seated
there decided to push himself back and rest his head on her hands. Those
passing by made it a point to finger her, en route. Sensing danger,
hurriedly she moved towards the door.
But ordeal was
not over. A man was sitting near the door, extending his legs casually
across it, in such a manner that she had to cross over them to reach
the door. On her request, he moved one leg and as soon as she moved
forward, he kept the other leg intact, restraining her between his legs.
The reporter requested several times and tried to push the leg with
her bag, but bore no result. She was almost in tears when she could
finally move out.
of another reporter who boarded the Kannur-Kanhangad (the orthern end
of Kerala) bus at 12 a.m the next day was no different. A middle-aged
man chose to position himself against the seat where she was sitting
and each time the driver applied brakes he would lean on her. Finally
she created a wall between them with her bag! If the passenger was so
undisciplined, the driver was evenworse. He had positioned the mirror
to focus on schoolgirls and was making faces at them!
The reports revealed
that if a woman was found alone on a beach or in a bus stand, more often
than not she was taken for a sex worker. One of the reporters who went
to the Kozhikode beach on an evening soon found a man sitting next to
her, as if they came along together. The more the woman moved away from
him, the closer he came to her. When she got up to leave she was confronted
with teenaged boys whistling tunes. In Kochi, the commercial capital
of the state, the investigative journalist had to run away from Marine
Drive, the green patch facing backwaters.
presented themselves from all strata of society here, and added to this
were policemen who had little concern for women preferring to come alone.
When the reporter was walking towards her hotel from the Thiruvananthapuram
ailway station, autodrivers chose to follow her in their vehicles uttering
obscene invitations. They also continued to wait outside the hotel she
The only places the reporters felt safe were the state transport bus
stands at Ernakulam and Thiruvananthapuram. While they were greeted
with enquiring eyes from the public, the law enforcers were quick to
react. Says a report: ``As soon asI reached the KSRTC bus stand at Ernakulam,
the police approached me and asked where I wanted to go. On saying that
I had to go to Kottayam, they showed me a bus headed for Madurai via
Kottayam, and advised that I had better take it because the buses which
were to follow would be crowded. At the state capital also,
when the reporter was waiting alone in the bus stand, disturbed by unhealthy
gazes and urious observers, the police approached and guided her to
the ladies waiting room.
drivers in Palakkad, Thrissur, Alappuzha and Kottayam were the remaining
good souls. When the reporter reached the Alappuzha railway station
by train at 7.45 PM, she requested an auto driver to take her to a safe
place for stay. He consulted with the other drivers in the stand and
took her to a paying guest home. The driver assured her of all security
and was even ready to leave his name and address!
The Malayala Manorama
also supported its reports with surveys. In a survey it held among 1200
women who travel frequently, 72 per cent of the women said theywere
not safe while travelling. Sixty per cent said they had to put up with
unruly behaviour from men. Sixty one per cent of the women had to travel
frequently after nightfall too, and were found to be at a higher risk.
Even those driving vehicles complained of men chasing them and curtailing
their path. It was found that women going to movies were often pinched
and kicked by men. Villages were found comparatively safer than cities
and district capitals.
The reports triggered
unprecedented reactions from the public. The edit page wasflooded with
letters supporting the reports and many public figures chose to narrate
their experiences. Prof J Chandra, Mayor, Thiruvananthapuram, described
her sordid experiences while travelling and wondered about the cultural
growth/development of the state. Dr Elizabeth of Thrani Counselling
Centre also had a horrifying experience to narrate.
In the Letter to
Editor column, G Meera from Thrissur, narrated how she was searched
by a male passenger while travelling by a bus. When she protested, he
abused her. Her husband who was sitting at the back of the bus interfered.
While a section of the women passengers supported her, a sizeable section
was unhappy that they were late to office because of this tussle in
the bus. Some men felt her husband should not have interfered in the
matter as he was an educated man. And the conductor pleaded with them
not to report to the police as it would delay his trip. Madhuri Warrier,
a retired employee, complained about the male incursion into ladies
compartments on trains.
Leela Menon reacted describing the ordeal two Israeli tourists here
subjected to on their visit to Kochi. A fellow passenger tried to molest
the woman on the train and on going around Kochi, many pinched her,
while many others purposely brushed past her. Men of Gods Own
Country have a devils mind, she said in the article. Ajitha, noted
womens activist, said she had to face similar difficulties many
a time in her social life. Noted poetess Sugathakumari, who was former
chairperson of state womens commission, said the number of policewomen
has to be increased and a helpline should be established for womens
for culture G Karthikeyan and state transport minister R Balakrishna
Pillai appreciated the media move. While Karthikeyan described the findings
as undeniable, terming the scenario as cultural decadence, Balakrishna
Pillai, said the state chief minister and the home ministry have to
look into the situation. The survey was raised in the legislative assembly
also, where the members - both men and women - supported the findings.
The reactions are still pouring in. The government of Kerala, on its
part, acted with alacrity. Chief minister A K Antony revealed that he
wrote a letter to the state Director General of Police PK Hormis Tharakan
asking him to take stringent action against perpetrators of crimes against
women. On February 9 (the reports ended on February 3), the chief minister
flagged off a special motor cycle squad called Kerala Rangers to nab
eve-teasers. Each of the 75 bikes in the squad will have a wireless,
first aid, siren, mike and weapons to tackle the criminal. State minister
for Industries PK Kunhalikkutty announced that the social welfare department
was ready to lead actions for the safety of women.
lone voice of dissent came from none other than R Sreelekha, DIG, vigilance.
While every other person narrated her personal experience of trauma,
Sreelekha felt that women could help themselves a great deal by gathering
courage and ignoring male psychological aberrations. She argued this
problem was not limited to Kerala and worse things happen in foreign
countries. Eve-teasing was negligible compared to other crimes happening
in the state, she felt. If the woman cannot react to an offender, she
should go to the nearest policeman/woman, she said. Her remarks irked
The impact of the
reports came as a morale booster to the media in Kerala. In fact, the
state in its recent past hasnt reacted so vehemently to issues
other than politics. And the reporters who ran the series are expectedly,
satisfied. ``Our aim was to find out how safe Kerala is for women. We
had carefully planned out each hase of the investigation. We had a dress
code and we carried heavy bags to give an impression that we were serious
travellers with definite destinations. Many a time, our male colleagues
helped us by following us on our beats, revealed KR Meera,
who led the investigation team. A commendable effort indeed in an era
where journalism toes the line of marketing strategies and advertisement
revenues, rather than focussing on real problems of real people.
(Copy Right: The Quest Features & Footage, Kochi)