It happened some 18 years back. A girl in her teens disappeared one fine day from her School hostel in Munnar in Kerala, in January 1996. Some 40 days later, she miraculously re-appeared in her father’s office, who was a postmaster. In these forty days she was raped by several men, including some of the influential lot; this was perhaps the reason that the local police tried to discourage her from pursuing the complaint.
The victim stated that she was forced to elope with her lover, who was a bus cleaner. Raju, her lover, abandoned her during the journey and later a woman named Usha befriended her. This woman tricked her and brought her to a lodge where a man named Dharmarajan raped her. Late this duo took her to homes, hotels, in cars and public buses across the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. She was forced to take liquor and sedated with pills. She was paraded before several men, influential men…retired professor, lawyers, business men, government officials…..who raped her.Later when she fell seriously ill, she was let go with a threat. Doctors who examined her later, said that her private parts were so badly ruined that a mere touch in these areas would induce blood.
I can not even imagine the plight of that girl and her parents, whose simple life became so complicated and tragic within a short span. But their troubles had only begun; they were forced to re-live the torture of those horrendous forty days again and again.
Their difficulties were worsened when the girl identified P.J.Kurien, a congress leader and the then Union Minister, from a newspaper photograph as one of the accused who raped her in a guest house. However, as it happens and which happens in “all” criminal cases where a powerful person is indicted for some crime — almost everyone, from the principal investigator to the bogey witnesses, tried their very best (allegedly) to keep Kurien’s name out of the files, infact prove it as a case of “mistaken identity”. And Kurien, whose wikepedia profile states his occupation as “political and social worker, Teacher and Educationist”, went on to win the 1996 Lok Sabha elections ( source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suryanelli_rape_case).
In 1999, almost three years after the rape(s), the first-ever Special Court to try a case of sexual assault was set up by the Kerala government, which tried 40 accused and the mastermind, Dharmarajan with “alleged kidnapping, wrongful confinement of a minor girl, rape and gang rape of the victim”. In 2000, the Special Court sentenced the 35 persons with RI, four were let off. The Court also gave the maximum possible punishment in the case to Dharmarajan, stating that he, a lawyer himself, was hardened criminal and his act was devilish.
No, the story does not end here. This actually becomes murkier and murkier; it shows why so many rapes go unreported in this country.
In 2005, the Kerala High Court acquitted the 35 convicted earlier and found Dharmarajan guilty of crimes related to the sex trade. His sentence was reduced to five years. Among various baseless reasons given by the High Court bench to justify their judgment was the reason that the “victim’s statement could not be taken at face value, because she had shown ‘deviant behaviour’ earlier. It also said that the accused could not be considered guilty of statutory rape, as the victim had just passed the legal age of consent (16 years) and the accused could not be punished for gang rape, since there was no “culpable common intention (among them) to commit rape”; plus there was no evidence to suggest that the intercourse was not consensual. Shockingly the Court described the alleged rapes as a “willing journey of a misguided girl”, and claimed that the male accused were “guilty only of the immorality of going to a woman, who they thought was a prostitute”.
Such is our system. This explains why people like Abu Asim Azmi and Mulayam Singh Yadav can dare to give gibberish statements in media against women…it explains why we listen and absorb it passively, except few dharnas here and there. This is not the mindset of one man but of the society. More than catching the accused, we are keen in measuring the length of the dress of the girl/woman brutalised, keen to see when and why did she step out of her house. We try to find every reason to justify the RAPE, to make it look less-inhuman and to make it look an act of ‘vengeance’ or ‘she brought it on herself’.
The Suryanelli rape case would have ended in the pile of innumerable cases buried forever in official files…..had there been no rape on that fateful day in December 2012 in a bus in Delhi. The NIRBHAYA rape stirred and shocked almost everyone. It made people rethink their past judgments and thus in that moment of dysphoria this case was brought to the notice of the then Chief Justice of India. The Supreme Court, in 2013, described the Kerala High Court judgment as “shocking”, and set aside the Court Judgment, directing it to take a re-look at the case. On April 4, 2014, after 18 long years, a division bench of Kerala HC convicted 24 of the 31 accused and sentenced them to prison terms ranging from four to 13 years.
But look at the irony of our political system. In January 2013, the government of India released a new anti-rape law, in response to the Verma Committee report on rape and sexual violence on women in India. Of the many recommendations of the Verma Committee, a key one was for the government to ensure that no politician charge-sheeted with rape be allowed to be in office, which the law in India currently permits. On February 19, when the Rape Ordinance was discussed in Parliament it was chaired by P.J.Kurien !!!!
I am intentionally not using the word ‘victim’ here for the girl, because she is not the victim alone. Her family, her parents and the whole women-folk are victims here. The Suryanelli girl, the name given by media to her as she belonged to the Suryanelli village, must be around 33 years now. As I was reading some media report, she is still haunted by the ghosts of her past, she is scared to move out in public, her family faces verbal harassment and social boycott. Her family had to move houses constantly, and still continue to be ostracized by society, and face harassment from various quarters. Her only sister chose not to marry, her father fell chronically ill. She managed to get a clerical job in a State department, but in 2012, she was arrested on some alleged financial irregularities. No prizes for guessing why she was arrested. So sensational was this case that a film Achanurangatha was based on this in 2006. Why it so hard for us to accept the reality of “Rape”. The very sexual organs which we worship in form of “Shivalinga-female vagina” have become the tools of vengeance, male dominance, crime. Whenever there is a rape…..there is an attempt to justify the savageness of men and suppress the sexuality of women.
And sadly, the Nirbhayas, Pari give timeline to these rapes, they are like 9/11 attacks….they shake the society from its delirium atleast for some days ..only to get lost again…..