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It was on February 14, Valentines’ Day, that 24-year-old Aneesh and his lady friend found themselves at the receiving end of moral policing goons at the Kollam beach in Kerala. When Aneesh’s friend went to relieve herself in a scrubby area as there were no toilets nearby, a gang of five drunken men sprang up on her and tried to assault her. After the woman raised an alarm, Aneesh came to her rescue but found himself being confronted by the gang and accused of immorality. He was assaulted and his face plastered on social media through videos posted by the men. After the police intervened, Aneesh and his friend warned that they were on the cusp of committing suicide after being insulted and humiliated on social media by the moral policing gang.
“I am standing somewhere between life and death. The reason why I have reacted strongly to the incident is so that no one in Kerala should go through such a situation,” Aneesh told reporters in Kollam.
Ten days later, Aneesh’s warning came true. His body was found hanging from a tree, nearly 50 metres away from his home in Palakkad. He took the drastic step after his mother and sister went out to work.
Suicide note points to continued harassment
A suicide note recovered from Aneesh’s body reportedly named the two accused who have been arrested in the case. In his suicide note, Aneesh has written about how he was constantly and continuously harassed by friends of the accused through social media without any reason whatsoever. His mother told a television news channel that the cause of his suicide is linked to the harassment he faced in the incident in Kollam. Police sources said post the incident, Aneesh had fallen into depression, did not eat or venture outside. Aneesh had not reported for work either.
His body was found by the locals after Aneesh’s family reported him missing. His body will be sent for post-mortem after which he will be cremated today.
The state human rights commission has reportedly filed a case and demanded a report from the Palakkad and Kollam units of the police within three days. The commission has also requested the state government to take steps to stop the intrusion into the private lives of people through social media especially by moral police.
Not the first time
What Aneesh experienced at the Kollam beach on Valentines’ Day has ugly precedents in a state that prides itself on being literate, liberal, socially aware, culturally diverse and a home for dissenting perspectives.
A few days ago, a couple in a public park were confronted by the police themselves and accused of sitting in a vulgar position. The man, who went live on Facebook in a video, said in his defence that he had merely put his hand on the woman’s shoulder. “How is me putting my hand on the woman’s shoulder vulgar,” the man is seen asking the police in the video.
Last year in Malappuram district, a man was beaten to death by a gang in a suspected case of moral policing. Instead of informing the police, the gang took it upon themselves to deliver justice.
In November, 2014, a popular ‘Kiss of love’ protest against vigilantism ended in violence although it initiated similar movements across the country. It was vociferously opposed by right-wing political groups.
In 2011, a young man was assaulted by a group of men who were opposed to his love affair with a woman. He succumbed to injuries the next day. Three years later, nine members of the gang were found guilty by a district sessions court.
Similarly in June 2011, a woman on her way to work was attacked by a group of drunken men because she rode pillion on a male colleague’s bike.
Click here to read the story in Malayalam