WSS Statement on the Rape and Murder of the Dalit Law Student from Kuruppampady, Kerala

WSS condemns the gruesome incident of the heinous rape and murder of a 30-year old law student from Kuruppampady village, Vattolippidi Canal Bund near Perumbavoor in Kerala’s Ernakulam district. On the evening of April 28th 2016, her mother, a daily-wage labourer returned home to find her younger daughter’s body raped, mutilated and murdered. She was studying for her law exams at home when the incident took place. Her body had 38 injuries, including in the genital area.

We are appalled by the inaction and apathy extended towards the family for several days by the State, the administration and the media. The police refused to file a First Information Report on the night of April 28th 2016, when the mother of the victim approached them. Only after five full days of pressure by Dalit Activists in Kerala was an FIR registered. Additionally, the mainstream media’s handling of the case was one that completely went against basic tenets of respect and dignity that should be accorded to a victim in death – her photos were paraded and widely circulated, dwelling unduly on the horrific details of the torture she was subjected to. Ethical standards of privacy of the family in question were violated. This is similar to the kind of intrusive publicity that Rohith Vemula’s mother was also subjected to.

It is not accidental that the family consisted of a single mother with two daughters, who lived in abject poverty that is uncommon in contemporary Kerala. They were also ostracized within the middle class Savarna neighborhood that denied them access to water and a toilet. Despite these hardships, the family continued to struggle and survive. The younger daughter had to initially give up her studies due to her family’s financial situation, but later showed a fresh determination to pursue a degree in law and hoped to work towards access to justice for the poor and marginalised. This entry into educational institutions has been a vital aspect of the journey of emancipation and mobility undertaken by the Dalit-Bahujan community, which was historically denied to them. The rape, mutilation and murder of this student should be seen as retaliation to this claim of public space by a Dalit woman. We condemn the way in which the middle class community has shunned all responsibility by placing the blame on ‘outside’ migrant labourers.

This rape is not a stand alone incident in the daily violence meted out to Dalit bodies when they access public spaces in Kerala. To cite few cases in the recent past, just two days back a Dalit nursing student was raped in Varkala, Thiruvananthapuram. Chitralekha, a Dalit auto rickshaw driver in Payannur, Kannur District has also been continuously harassed by CPI (M) goons who are members of CITU since 2004. This gruesome incident in Kuruppampady is yet another case among a long list of incidents of caste and gender based violence against Dalit Women that also demonstrates state apathy towards the Dalit community. In Kerala the crime rate against SCs is 26.8 and that against STs is 27.8, while the all India crime rate against SCs is 23.4 and against STs is 11.0 (NCRB 2014).

Caste-based violence and gender-based violence do not work in isolation, but are hand-in-glove with each other. They have to be placed in the larger history of violence meted out on the basis of caste and gender. The inter-sectionality works in an insidious manner on the bodies of Dalit women. We see gender-based violence tied with caste-based violence, both of which are used as tools of violence and discrimination and perpetuated by the State and its machinery. Caste is the underlying reality of the country. Hence, any attempt at looking at gender-based violence minus the caste reality grossly misrepresents gender-based violence.

We demand

  1. Immediate arrest of all those involved.

  2. Speedy trial of the case as per Criminal Law Amendment Act 2013 and the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989.

  3. Competent legal representation for the victim.

  4. State to provide adequate compensation to the family of the deceased.

  5. Independent inquiry by NHRC, NCW and NCSC.

  6. Action against police officials who refused to file an FIR on day of the incident as per S.166a.

WSS is a nationwide network of women from diverse political and social movements comprising of women’s organizations, mass organizations, civil liberties organizations, student and youth organizations, mass movements and individuals. We unequivocally condemn state repression and sexual violence against women and girls, whether perpetrated by the state or by non-state actors.

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