Kerala is in a state of outrage over two child deaths that took place in Walayar over two years ago – of a 13-year old girl and her nine-year old sister 51 days after the first, both belonging to schedules caste.
Both were found hanging and all the four accused booked by the police were acquitted by Palakkad First Additional Sessions Court (POCSO). It is the acquittal that has caused the current furore, and naturally so. One of the accused had already been discharged last September and the remaining three were acquitted for want of conclusive evidence. The 17-year old accused No: five is facing trial in the juvenile case, on counts of abetment to suicide and POCSO (Prevention of Children from Sexual Offences). However, the court observed that while it has become clear that the crime was committed, the prosecution could not produce sufficient evidence about the culprits' guilt. And what we hear from the legislative assembly hall and outside, are responses to the question why the police failed to produce conclusive evidence about the crime.
The elder sister aged 13 was found dead by hanging in the single-room house on 13 January 2017. Despite indications in the post-mortem report about the girl having been subjected to sexual torture, the police did not make serious enquiry. Later, even after her 9-year old younger sister was found hanging following torture, police did not react with vigilant enquiry. The probe gathered vigour only when the matter kicked up controversy, but even then there were no eye witnesses sufficient to warant punishment. In the meantime, two witnesses turned hostile too. In the case of the first girl's death, no statement from even her mother was included in the documents submitted to the court. If the probe went along such lines, there was no prospect of the arraigned accused being punished, as was pointed by top police officers and legal experts. The mother of the girls also alleged that the culprits had the audacity to walk around in the area only because of the protection offered by the 'sickle-bearing' political party.
When vehement complaints were raised that the lawyer who appeared for the defence was also the chairman of the Child Welfare Board, Palakkad, he was removed from the post. Given these circumstances, in the Walayar case where there is a clear instance of denial of justice, chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan who is also in charge of home ministry, and his party are evidently on the defensive. Thus, instead of taking pains to justify their side, the chief minister has taken the stand that the government is prepared to demand follow-up investigation of the case, or go in appeal and appoint an expert lawyer for it or even to transfer the case to the CBI. How far such steps are possible in a case in which judgement has already been issued, is in doubt. Even if there is a leeway for some of these options, legal experts point out that with all evidence having been destroyed by now, there is only bleak pospect of the victims getting justice. It is only that such measures may help assuage the ongoing protests.
Viewed overall, conscientious human beings are disturbed that brutal sexual assaults on children, especially girls, have been continuing unabated in the state. In spite of laws coming in force like POCSO, things have not only not improved a bit, but have even deteriorated further. One reason for it is that when incidents are reported, police is not able to step in promptly, enquire vigilantly, and then catch culprits, whoever they be without fear or favour, file cases and present evidence before the judiciary. It is not only the inefficiency of the law and order machinery, but also their lack of courage and political pressures that influence action. And when the victims are poor and from the marginalized sections, as seen in Walayar, the situation is all the more pitiable. Unfortunately the experience is that even the people of the party claiming to be of workers and the exploited and their government are no able to set a different example. Add to it the complicating factor that the incentive for those in responsible positions is not meritorious performance, sincerity or commitment to the job, but loyalty to the party or obligations to party men.
On another level, the core of the issues gets ignored because of the political equations in which Opposition UDF indulges in allegations and politcal capitalisation of the incidents such as of Walayar when LDF is in power and vice versa. Both sides conveniently forget that aside from them there is a large population of ordinary men and women who are not active party workers. Above all, if the reins of power are wielded by those who are convinced, and convince others that being progressive lies in declaring war against virture, truth and moral and ethical values, then the only way is to pray that God save his own country.