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Kerala, which boasts of comparatively better education systems and women’s empowerment than other Indian states, is now witnessing a series of brutal attacks on women across age groups. The attacks seem to be a bid to suppress a cultural revolt by a new generation that has been trying to challenge and replace patriarchal systems of social life.

The incidents have sent shockwaves, particularly among young women who have been struggling hard to assert their space in an otherwise patriarchal Kerala society. These women, having national and international exposure through education and employment, are fed up with the system of moral policing, excessive parental control and widespread community ‘watch’ over their personal life which is all-pervasive in the state. Visible attempts by young women to outride the patriarchy by taking to ‘living single’, ‘living together’, ‘dating’ and  enjoying pub life have been met with acts that result in the brutal suppression of women.

A tendency to poke their noses into others’ lives — a widely criticised characteristic of Kerala society — with no regard for an individual’s privacy has become a curse for the upcoming generation. Both the aged as well as young men who have no exposure to the changing world have become villains in the path of young women striving to attain equality in the new brave world. Whenever young women question moral policing, there emerge a series of attacks against them, both mentally and physically and both online and offline.

Street thugs, both online and offline, who appoint themselves the arbiters of morality have been trolling women online as well as attacking them physically in real life. Whether it is the business hub of Kochi, the cultural headquarters of Kottayam or the state capital of Thiruvananthapuram, there is no safe space for women. Fed up with the constant threat looming over them, most Kerala women nowadays prefer leaving the country, rather than living a life of oppression.

Visible attempts by young women to outride the patriarchy by taking to ‘living single’, ‘living together’, ‘dating’ and  enjoying pub life have been met with acts that result in the brutal suppression of women

Unlike in Tamil Nadu where, as per data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), reporting of crimes against women has shot up by 43.25% between 2019 and 2021 — an increase of 5.35% in such crimes at the all-India level — there is no such drastic surge in cases in Kerala, where reporting of crimes rate is one of the highest in the country.

Going by Kerala Police’s crime data there has been no significant change for the last 10 years there has been no significant rise or fall in the number of reported atrocities against women. The year 2020 was an exception, when 12,659 cases were reported — the lowest number of cases — as the state was under a lockdown for several months due to Covid. Last year (2021), the post-Corona period, witnessed the highest number of cases of violence against women (16,199). This year till October the total number of cases reported was 15,403.

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There has been a surge in the number of serious incidents during the post-Corona period that grabbed headlines for their brutal as well as inhuman nature. Simple things such as raising a questioning eye, dressing uniquely, even feebly protesting abusive remarks, preventing attempts at sexual aggressiveness or just taking a ride in the night with a boyfriend are enough to make women vulnerable in Kerala society. Anti-women and anti-social elements have been spreading terror across the state.

One of the most gruesome incidents came in the guise of moral policing at Kottayam — known for its high literacy rate and intellectual grace among Kerala’s cities — on November 28. Three youths brutally attacked a 21-year-old girl student and a male friend who accompanied her. The student and her friend were on their way to Medical College Hospital to meet another friend who had been admitted there. The duo was having food from a wayside eatery at Central Junction, Kottayam when the three men made some abusive gestures and lewd comments.

The girl protested and they left the eatery without finishing the food, speeding away on her bike. The trio then chased after them in a car and waylaid them at Thirunakkara. A heated argument ensued and it ended in a brutal attack. Though the youth tried his best to protect the girl, he was also beaten up. Even after the girl fell down, she was kicked many times. The girl was admitted in a hospital and underwent several diagnostic tests before she was deemed safe from injury.

Though there was pressure from a section of the CPM — the party which leads the coalition ruling Kerala — to prevent the arrest of the accused, the majority of the public stood with the girl and her friend, resulting in the arrest of all three  accused.

Whether it is the business hub of Kochi, the cultural headquarters of Kottayam or the state capital of Thiruvananthapuram, there is no safe space for women

According to the girl, the three accused made vulgar comments and stared at her rudely when she was at the eatery with her friend. “Later, when I reacted and left the place, the trio followed us in a car and attacked us midway. They dragged me off the scooter, hit me in the face, and repeatedly kicked me in the stomach,” she said.

Interestingly, later it was revealed that both the victims as well as the accused were workers of organisations of the CPM. The girl and her friend belonged to SFI, the students’ arm of CPM, while the accused were members of Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI), the youth organisation affiliated to the CPM.

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The incident triggered widespread protests in campuses across the state. At CMS College, Kottayam hundreds of girl students made a human wall to demonstrate against the attack, and three students cut their hair down in protest. “Nights are for everyone. We have equal rights over the night hours as boys do,” the protestors said.

Another incident took place in the business hub of Kochi. A 19-year-old female model was brutally gangraped by three men a few weeks ago. Kochi is more cosmopolitan and has a comparatively better night life than other Kerala cities. The model had gone to a pub near Cochin Shipyard around 8.30 pm on Thursday, November 17, along with a friend, a fellow model. She alleged that her drink had been spiked. Soon after sipping on it, she lost control and collapsed. The accused offered to take the girl home. Her friend encouraged her to go with the accused but did not accompany her. The three men took turns to rape her on the moving car. Later, police also arrested the friend Dimple Lamba, a native of Rajasthan, for colluding with the culprits by mixing drugs in the girl’s drink. The issue came to light when the girl sought treatment at a private hospital.

Kochi also witnessed an attempt-to-murder incident at Kaloor locality in broad daylight. The boyfriend of a woman working in a salon attacked her with a machete, slashing her hands. Though the accused targeted her throat, she blocked him with her hands, which saved her life. Police say the man’s motive was personal vendetta. The accused Farooq, a native of Uttarakhand, and Sandhya, a native of West Bengal, got acquainted in Kerala and were living together for the past four years. Later, Sandhya ended the relationship and left Farooq for a better life with another man. Angered by this, Farooq tried to kill Sandhya.

Women in the State capital Thiruvananthapuram are also unsafe. A female medical practitioner who was on a morning walk at the Museum compound, just a few metres away from the police station, was molested by a man on October 26 morning at 5: 45 am. The museum premises is the most sought-after ‘morning walk’ destination for the movers and shakers of the city, including major politicians and top cops. Police arrested the accused, the driver of a Kerala minister, on November 1. In another recent incident, two girls returning from a civil service coaching centre were molested by a biker at Kowdiyar, a posh locality, in Thiruvananthapuram.

Many leaders of both political camps, the Congress-led United Democratic Front and Communist Party of India (Marxist) -led Left Democratic Front are also also facing complaints of sexual harassment of women

The reported cases are just the tip of the iceberg, as not all incidents are reported to the police. All three incidents were reported to the police as the victims had been so brutally attacked that they had to go to hospital for treatment. Hospital authorities are required to intimate the police about injuries that are a result of a crime. Even among reported cases, those with no influence or economic means would not pursue the cases to the end, as they are risking their lives by antagonising the perpetrators of the crime who tend to be gangsters or goons.

The recent crimes against women have put a spotlight on feminist groups and civil society in Kerala that had played a key role in empowering women of the state in the past few decades. Divisions and infighting among Left-oriented feminist groups have left them ineffective. Civic Chandran, a well-known activist who has worked for the uplift of Dalit women, has been accused of molestation by a woman writer. Feminist groups of Kerala are divided over the issue, with one supporting him and another opposing him.

Political parties, engaged in the pursuit of power, are not ideologically capable of creating any change. Many leaders of both political camps, the Congress-led United Democratic Front and Communist Party of India (Marxist) -led Left Democratic Front are also also facing complaints of sexual harassment of women. Recently, there was a complaint against Congress MLA Eldhose Kunnapilli by a woman alleging physical torture and sexual abuse. There were also complaints against leaders of Communist parties by women workers who had complained to the party leadership that they faced sexual abuse as well as assault.

Many political observers say that the political parties have been infiltrated by criminal elements. The murder of TP Chandrasekharan, a CPM rebel, some years ago, had brought to the fore the nexus between politicians and criminals. CPM leaders allegedly entrusted contract killers with the task of assassinating the firebrand comrade of yesteryears.

When the convicted goons complained that they were being tortured at Central Prison, Viyyur, a galaxy of CPM leaders including then politburo member late Kodiyeri Balakrishnan rushed to the prison.Political observers also point out that the second consecutive victory of CPM-led LDF in the Kerala legislature resulted in the migration of many criminal elements towards CPM. The number of CPM workers and workers of class and mass organisations involved in crimes has increased manifold since.

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