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Perumbavoor rape shows why it’s time Kerala did a self check about progressiveness

The media and the general public want everybody to believe that the heinous crime was committed by one or many migrant laborers populating the area.

Written by Prabha Zacharias | Updated: May 13, 2016 7:46 pm
Perumbavoor rape, Perumbavoor rape jisha, kerala rape murder, kerala law student rape Protesters hold placards during a protest in Dadar Mumbai, demanding justice for Jisha, a law student whose body was found mutilated more than a week back in Perumbavoor, Kerala. (Source: Express Photo by Amit Chakravarty)

There is an immediate need to politicise issues related to caste and gender in the Malayali public sphere. There could not be a much more telling time than this when the regional media of Kerala is debating the complexities involved with the brutal rape and murder of the Dalit law student who was found dead inside her house in Perumbavoor on April 28, 2016.

The rape and murder almost immediately made her ‘Kerala’s Daughter’. The media and the general public want everybody to believe that the heinous crime was committed by one or many migrant laborers populating the area. Suddenly she is a symbol of every Malayali woman. Widespread paranoia is generated regarding ‘migrant labourers’, mostly from the Eastern Indian states.

Mass migration of labour force from the agrarian regions of Bengal, Assam, Orissa and Bihar to Kerala for better wage is a new phenomenon in the state. Initially, Kerala was familiar with only a limited and seasonal migration of workers from Tamil Nadu. However, in the past two decades, Kerala has witnessed the mass migration and year round presence of linguistically and culturally unfamiliar people popularly called ‘Bengali migrants’.

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After the incident, Whatsapp messages were shared frantically and urgently asking people to watch out for migrant labourers. Popular stories suggested that the migrants are potential rapists and robbers. But the interesting situation is that, until her death happened, she was not considered as Kerala’s daughter. She was clearly defined and cast away as a Dalit colony dweller surviving in an unsafe makeshift hutment in a wasteland. The culprits in this case are still not found, the elections are at our doorstep and everybody wants a piece of the pie from this ‘Kerala’s daughter’.

Media took pains to find out her academic status. They displayed utmost care in publishing details about it quite prominently. The papers she had yet to clear in her law degree became an indication of her lack of merit.

It is from extremely underprivileged circumstances that Jisha managed to make a successful attempt at studying and dreaming to move forward in life. When a woman like her was raped and murdered, intestines pulled out reminding everybody of the iconic Nirbhaya rape that happened in Delhi in 2012, taking a supposedly innocent dig at her academic credentials is nothing short of casteism displayed by the Malayalam mainstream media.

It is as brutal as the incident itself to show this level of lack of empathy. When Nirbhaya case happened, large populations of Delhi from different backgrounds irrespective of their political preferences marched to centers of power in protest in 2012. The laidback Malayalis on the other hand, wanted to know the pedigree of the organisations who were organising the hartal in her name before offering their support. It is shameful that a left party leader could remark that the protesters have no name and address. If this is not casteism, what is?

On top of it all, her mother was portrayed all over the media, online and offline as somebody who is mentally unstable and who has a foul mouth. Previous incidents reveal that both Jisha and her mother had to constantly deal with knocks on the door at night, flashlights through the windows and even direct threats about caste based lynching. The daughter is reported to have the habit of sleeping with a machete underneath her pillow. She and her mother had recently installed a pen camera inside their household to bring in some sense of vigilance. Attempts at filing complaints with officials failed miserably probably because they were two destitute, unaccountable, Dalit women trying to survive in a world that was hostile, insensitive and extremely abusive towards them.

From the day media started reporting this case, they were publishing photographs of her, her mother and her sister. No sensitivity was displayed while making their identities public. It can be easily observed that in similar cases happened previously, extreme care was observed to maintain the privacy of the victim and family.

This media profiling in short became an example of how caste plays out and makes certain lives easy to be tampered with, commented upon and so on. Attempts were made by the regional media to criminalise her sister. They cooked up stories about her being taken into custody, adding masala to the story as they pleased fit. She later clarified that since it was unsafe for her to travel alone and go to her house, a police officer offered to accompany her, which was later translated into this juicy little story by the media. The sister was shown asking the media to stay away from their lives. As she was speaking, one could see the various regional media microphones literally poking her with their labeled microphones.

It is at this juncture that Kerala, the state that has boasted of progressiveness needs to be critically looked at. A hundred percent literacy or lesser mortality rates do not necessarily make everything idyllic. Kerala might be better than many other Indian states. That does not make it above all criticism. Kerala is a space where women, Dalits, sexual minorities, migrants and other underprivileged communities face numerous micro aggressions on an everyday basis. This case gets this level of attention because of the inhuman level of brutality involved. However, many others are probably facing smaller but non-negligible instances of violence on a daily basis. Kerala and its public engagements with menstruation, women’s bodies, caste issues and criminalising of migrant labourers reflect upon a society that is progressive on the outside and extremely oppressive and conservative on the inside.

The mob killing of a migrant laborer recently, the humiliating experience faced by social activist Daya Bai on a KSRTC bus from the bus conductor because she looked like a vagabond etc are to name a few instances in which caste and class unfolds itself. The way the state and its people has been dealing with its women, its Dalits and its migrant laborers from other states of India should be a premise under which Kerala should do a self check about progressiveness. It is time to stop believing in the tourist department lie that Kerala is a “God’s Own Country.” Clearly, it is not.

Views expressed are personal.

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  1. M
    May 16, 2016 at 7:53 pm
    Are you high ?What have you been smoking of late ??
    1. aji govinda
      May 13, 2016 at 2:06 pm
      A seriously bizarre article. how Does the writer know that it was not a migrant esp if the locality has plenty of floating labor. This murder and the manner in which it was done with the attendent level of injuries and the violence inflicted in the body, are extremely unusual in Kerala. and is extremely common in the north- there are at least half a dozen cases in the northern states in the past one year. lt;br/gt;The writer is constantly working on the casteism angle in a case of murder. If jisha had converted to Christianity would her fate be different?This is the typical way in which missionaries operate .She should leave proselytezing to the Church.lt;br/gt;There are thousands of Dalits who are getting empowered, getting educated, getting socially and economically powerful.More power to them .There are others who need to get there and should be helped. lt;br/gt;Just as there may be immature journalists who may have dug up her not so good academic records , so also this wannabe commentator on her constant drone about her social status. there are millions of single women poor,rich ,not so rich who are targets of such violence .The Nupur talwar case is one example.her caste is irrelevant here.Even rich women are scared to go to a police station alone.anwhere in India. it is a silly commentator who will go on and on one dimensionally about her caste being a reason for her murder.
      1. Mohammad Bin Tughlaq
        May 13, 2016 at 3:05 pm
        The general atude of any Keralite is to put all blames on migrant labourers or anyone from outside the state. They ume that Keralites are perfect and will never commit a crime. It used to be the Tamilians on whom the blame used to be put. Now it is the North and East Indians. They come all the 1000 odd kilometers to eke out a living doing hard work while the locals do only light jobs or no jobs at all and take money as 'nokku kooli' or supervision charge.
        1. C
          Chacko KT
          May 16, 2016 at 11:05 am
          From what I have understood from your comment is that, you are pathetic and bigoted.. you are against people working abroad is because you are a loser
          1. K
            May 14, 2016 at 11:25 am
            Its not self check that is required, its a good border and border patrol with India.Without borders Kerala will cease to exist, or become like Karnataka or Tamil Nadu, which later would degrade into Cow Belt in time, if not addressed now.Is it possible?yeh, at a high costdia will invade and Kerala would be outnumbered.The next option will be special case amendments, like in the case of Kashmir.No land for foreigners in Kerala(This is highly possible). Right now, foreigners cant buy land in Kerala due to the exorbitant prices.This market driven logic has a limit though.Minimum we need paper control at Kerala borders for visitors.You see Kerala ecosystem is highly sensitive, the waters, the lakes, the land, the flora fauna, ancient rights.We cant afford to have Bharatiyans in it as much as we cant afford to have any European entry the sense, Kerala will (And is facing) heavy loss by giving India a free hand, wherein it shouldnt have been that way.Even Military installations need limit,Indian Naval staff are busy swapping wives and having a good time here, most dont return to their respective nations.I believe every state needs border control.A good starting point will be Police Control at Railway Station - Every entry needs to submit Indian ID card for entry and Exist.Its quote possible.This can further escalate later on.
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