Kerala rape case: Will there be justice for Jisha?
It is unbearable to hear the cries of Jisha's mother. It should wake up the conscience of every Keralite. This is the tale of the underbelly of the celebrated Kerala Model. Two dalit landless women, living in a small hutment in a waste land, a mother struggling as a daily wager to eke out a livelihood and educate her daughter. Jisha, made a valiant attempt get out of their grim life through studies as a law student. It is a tale of a lonely struggle of two women in an insecure environment.
In this institutionalised setting, the underbelly of ‘Kerala Model’, justice for Jisha also involves the unravelling of these layers of inequality, apart from more serious efforts to catch the person or persons involved in this brutal violence.
The ‘Colony’: From reports, the households near the canal bund are similar in that they do not have Pattas and most do not even have proper doors or any toilets.
Jisha was well liked by all but as her mother was very protective and did not like anyone going near their hut, people hesitated to do so. Yet it does not explain how no one heard Jishas cries or that of her mother when she found her daughter’s body at night on return from work. Is it because they were a single women household or are people so alienated in their misery?
It is on 6th day everyone woke up. It appears that no local governance, no law and order, extends over the people living in such ‘colonies”. There is no citizenship. There are over 26,000 dalit ‘colonies’ in Kerala, some set up during colonial period, most emerging post land reforms and newer ones emerging in recent years. Do they figure in the ongoing political discourse?
Surely not Jisha's life: In the midst of visits to Jisha's mother by a continuing line of politicians and her traumatic outbursts while talking to them, what emerges is their lone struggle as an all women household in an insecure environment. There would be knocks on the door at night, sometimes sound of someone walking on the roof, finding cigarette butts in a make shift pit used as toilet . Having availed of 5 cents of land under a government scheme, a house was just beginning to be built, giving hope for a roof in a secure environment.
Jisha wanted to pursue law not only to better their own life but also to help others. There is no law for the poor. It appears that the more poor you are, the more everyone looks down on you and your struggle to find work, to earn, to build a better life. There is no more any dignity assigned to labour and hard work by society in Kerala today. This is indeed also a significant cultural shift as well in a state shaped by a strong Left movement.
Response of institutions: Every institution responds only when a violation takes place. Take for instance, the state SC/ST Commission. Was it not the responsibility of the commission to know the situation on the ground, the vulnerabilities, of women and push for redressal. So also is the role the State Women's Commission. Was it not the responsibility of the local police to look for evidence immediately rather than look at Jisha's mobile (presumably to look for any relationship to find fault with her) and only move when public and media pressure is exerted.
Was it not the responsibility of the local elected members, including an MLA, who Jisha’s mother had approached earlier, to respond to her anguish and sense of insecurity. What happened to the Jagrata Samitis (part of local governance institutions)? Is the state’s gender policy, despite its flaws, just on paper?
Not a single narrative: There is single narrative around what Jisha faced. There are many. The political, electoral, criminal investigative process, negligence, post-mortem, perhaps loss of crucial evidence are one part of the ingredients of the narrative. The role of local governance institutions and elected members including the MLA, the ayalkootam, the kudumbashree are the other ingredients of this narrative. What were they doing in the five days that followed the brutal murder or even when the mutilated body was taken to hospital?
This violence could have been prevented if the local representatives whom Jisha’s mother had approached about her insecure environment and isolation as an all women household, financial help for building the house in the five cents of land allotted to her, had received some response. Isolating any one narrative will not help in moving even one step towards ensuring justice for Jisha and also preventing more of such violence
(Dr. Meera Velayudhan, Fellow, Council for Social Development (CSD) Hyderabad, is the daughter of Dakshayani Velayudhan, a member of the Constituent of Assembly of India.)