The way the Kerala police handled the death of a 11-year-old girl in Walayar in Palakkad, compared to the witch-hunt of rights activists and dissenting youth on the pretext of combating larger enemies such as Maoists, is a clear pointer to what's wrong with the law enforcement machinery under the CPM-led LDF government.
The government, which came to power riding on the public outrage over the Jisha rape-murder case, makes tall claims of ensuring women's safety. But, in effect, justice still remains a distant dream for many victims of sexual violence, especially from the lower strata of society.
There is no better, or worse, example of police apathy and insensitivity than the death of the two siblings in Walayar. The cops unceremoniously closed the case of the death of the elder girl as a suicide despite the victim's mother complaining to them about suspected sexual abuse. And sure enough, the younger girl, 9, was found hanging in a similar manner 52 days after the first incident.
The girls' mother says she had told the police that her elder daughter was sexually abused by a relative several times before she was found dead. The mother, an illiterate daily wage laborer, still believes that her daughters did not commit suicide but were murdered.
We can blame her and her husband for not reporting the sexual abuse to the cops in time. But before we do that we should look at how things work in rural Kerala. The family must have preferred to keep it a secret than get into legal troubles and the ensuing societal shame. But what did the cops do after she told them of her suspicions? No action for 52 days? And why did they not take the flags raised in the post-mortem report seriously?
As it later emerged, both the girls were sexually abused by at least five paedophile predators. I would like to believe that any hint of action against the culprits by the cops would have offered a sense of safety and confidence to the second victim, who could have then opened up and even avoided her own sad end.
Now, remember the alacrity with which the police acted on cases involving some young activists last December. Be it the arrest of Nadeer on charges of alleged Maoist links or the detention of some IFFK delegates and an amateur writer for alleged insult of the national anthem, the police were quick to act and slap serious charges including sections of the draconian UAPA on them.
It could be argued that the cops involved in these cases were not the same and all these incidents were in various police station limits. But that is no consolation for the victims of these abuses and neglect and for the common tax payer looks up to the government and the police for security.
The Walayar incident marks the way the poor and the downtrodden and their worries are treated by the police. The way the police handled the death of the first minor and the recent attack on a Malayalam actress that grabbed headlines, too, prove this.
The police, as far as we know, lived up to their reputation of tracing and arresting the accused in the actress attack case. At the same time when it came to the sexual abuse and ensuing death of a little girl, the men in khaki remained mute spectators and thus forced the family into another tragedy.
The Left government should have sent out a clear message to the police that there should be zero tolerance to sexual abuse and each case, irrespective of its scale and the status of the complainant, should be investigated thoroughly. Had this happened, the cops in Walayar would have been more responsible.
We must remember that be it bureaucracy or the law enforcement agencies, they do their best only when they are under pressure to act. And the elected government needs to keep applying that pressure by going beyond mere proclamations. That is why these leaders have been elected to rule, or the Indian Constitution would have allowed haughty and insensitive babus and cops to do that.
For the people of Kerala, hope was rekindled in the rule of law – again – by CPM veteran V.S. Achuthanandan, that nonagenarian much slammed by the state CPM's official faction. Like in the case of the activists, where his intervention helped their release from cops' custody, Achuthanandan has weighed in here too – seeking justice for the family and punishment for the errant cops.
Yes, the chief minister, who holds the home portfolio, has made a belated social media post about bringing the perpetrators to justice. But what we need are not posts, but action. Exemplary action against the cops – those who abuse their power and those who do nothing to save the common citizens.
The CPM, which roasted the previous UDF government over the handling of the Jisha case, needs to show the same alacrity as it used to when it was in the opposition.
Do something now. You have the power now, and you have been elected to power because the people were fed up with the UDF misrule. But the people's patience is wearing thin.