Devil's own country?
Media in Kerala are reporting an unprecedented rise in crimes against women and children.

The catchphrase of Kerala Tourism is God’s Own Country. But a glance at the media reports makes one wonder whether it’s not devils own.

A grandfather arrested for having allegedly molested a ten-year-old child for several years. A sordid chapter in human depravity that eventually forced the child to commit suicide. The child’s father has also been arrested along the grandfather. Her mother who apparently knew for some time what was happening to her child. Is Kerala on a high of pathological depravity? Are the people of this picturesque state en masse victims of a neurotic condition that has made the incapable of responding to even worst forms of criminality?

The life of this girl has been a series of tragedies. Her father was arrested two years back and was facing probe for sexually assaulting her. After the incident, the girl and her elder sister along with their mother were living with their maternal grandfather. After her suicide the finger of suspicion is on the grandfather. The girl’s father has alleged that he had been falsely implicated and that the girl’s was a not a suicide but murder. The police team has got permission from the court for conducting narco test on the grandfather and the mother to find out the truth.

New cases of domestic or other sexual assaults including of minors get reported every day. Men of god and teachers, whom many students consider godly, are regularly caught in sexual assault cases. These are clearly straws in the wind that show how depraved the society in Kerala is becoming. The other side of this malady is the moral policing vigilantes that roam the streets of Kerala at all hours. Kerala’s public places are not safe even during daytime for couples. They could be picked up any moment and accosted in the name of morality. There have been instances of even father and daughter being stopped and harassed in broad daylight. All these vigilantes do not prevent women on the street after sundown from getting assaulted.

The educated, the so called socially conscious people just shrug these off as random cases. There are others who smugly dismiss any discussion saying the higher number of cases being reported only shows that the level of awareness has increased with more number of cases getting reported. Some blame the media’s taste for sensationalism, claiming that by focusing on these individual cases they are creating a feeling that the entire society is morbid. There might be some justification in the claims about increased awareness. May be, the media is not showing enough sense of responsibility to undertake serious coverage. It could also be that the ad nauseam reportage does create a feeling of exaggeration. But all these cannot change the fact that Malayalais are a community that is becoming increasingly neurotic.

Deep in the heart, most the people in Kerala are conservatives who fear that his mother, wife, sister or daughter will decide that only she has the power over her body. That includes female sexuality.

Social psychologists may have a dozen explanations why a society drifts into such a condition. But it the deeply ingrained misogynistic traditions of Kerala society cannot be ignored. When the society sees women as a commodity that has to be protected from anything that diminishes its value, the chief of it being the blemish of contact with a man who is not married to her or is not her close relative. The insinuation every time a girl is stopped on the road by a group of people is that she has lost what a misogynistic society holds most important in a female – her chastity or in the case of an unmarried female, her virginity. It would seem that to a misogynist she is nothing more than the ‘purity’ she embodies. The society sees any blemish on a girl as a catastrophe, in fact a social tragedy that would bring a curse on the community, a throwback of a primitive, tribal mindset. In the case of a boy such a deviation is just a boyish mischief and in a man an expression of virility. What a Keralite man dreads most is a woman’s awareness of her own body and the power to decide whatever she wants to do with her own body.

Deep in the heart, most the people in Kerala are conservatives who fear that his mother, wife, sister or daughter will decide that only she has the power over her body. That includes female sexuality. The juvenile curiosity of even grown up men of Kerala about female sexuality is stupidly macabre. That is what makes even middle aged men, if alone, cannot pass women or even girls, without ogling or even passing a comment or two. That seems to give the man a perverted satisfaction about his own virility. It’s a symptom of a deep-rooted feeling of inadequacy in a man that he feels compelled to comment on the opposite sex. Age is no factor in this kind of perversion. That makes women who travel all over India comment that they dread having to travel alone in Kerala.

The women of Kerala themselves have contributed to reinforcing this mindset by teaching girls at home to demure and be ‘modest’. The difference in the treatment of girls and boys within the household is also calculated to reinforce social stereotypes. These otherwise caring boys grow up become into misgynistic demon in all matters concerning women, trying to impose their concepts of morality on their mother, sister, girlfriend, wife and daughter as well as any other women they get to closely interact.

An underlying cause of the rise in crimes is the failure of civil policing. Not only is the police force failing to prevent crimes but also failing to act on time once a crime happens. In many cases which came to light recently, there seems to have been some opening for the law enforcers to intervene at an earlier date to either stop an incident or prevent it from worsening. The crime-police-politician-bureaucrat nexus must be broken if the situation is to improve.

Unfortunately there is no quick fix for the downward spiral that Kerala is caught in. There needs to be a realization that men and women are both sexually active beings and needs deserve mutual respect.