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Kerala's Sex Industry

By Amrith Lal, P K Surendran & K.Ajitha

15 March, 2005
Times Of India

K.Ajitha was a revolutionary communist who later turned into a crusader for women's rights in Kerala state of India. Here is an interview with her

Social indicators 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 state?

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 this matter.

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 their interests.

The media — 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.











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