On Wednesday afternoon, a man climbed atop a mobile tower located at Vazhuthacaud in Thiruvananthapuram, threatening to jump down. After repeated efforts by the police and fire force, he climbed down and was sent home. Life went on in the capital city as before. No one even seemed interested in wanting to know the reason behind his suicide attempt.
KV Shaji belongs to the Ulladan tribe of Kerala and works as a driver in the State Soil Conservation office in Idukki. Speaking to The News Minute, Shaji admits that his intention was not to die, but rather try and get justice for his dead daughter.
His 19-year-old daughter Shani K Shaji was raped by his senior officer in January 2016. After the women police team who was in charge of the enquiry submitted a report citing the incident a made-up one, Shani committed suicide by hanging herself on January 9.
Shaji sounds distraught when he says he cannot actually consider killing himself because his family of five comprising his wife, two surviving daughters and two sons would be orphaned.
“I was posted at that time in the Kollam office. My daughter used to bring me lunch there. I would mostly be out when she came, so she used to leave the lunch-box at the office and leave. That day -in the first week of January- District Soil Conservation officer Anand Bose and the office peon too were there. Bose is almost always drunk. With the help of the peon, he dragged her to a room in the office. I don’t want to go on,” Shaji sobs.
Three days after the incident, the police in a report to the higher officer termed it a fabricated case. After Shani’s death, the case was handed over to the crime branch, but no further progress was made.
Shaji and his family
What makes it even worse for Shaji is that the accused continues to work in the same office, and has not been asked to offer an explanation even once.
Shaji however was threatened on many occasions, with mounting pressure not to pursue the case. “I lost my daughter. How can I keep quiet? I was not ready to accede to their unjust demand and now they have transferred me to Idukki,” he rues.
Even the office peon who had played the accomplice did not have to face any enquiry. The SC/ST Commission too reportedly turned a blind eye to Shaji’s woes.
“I joined the service in 2000. Since then I have suffered caste discrimination, unequal treatment, apart from mental trauma. All these years, I have been transferred to all districts except my own. There were instances where officers have refused to sit next to me, while I drove the vehicle,” he recalls.
Shaji bore everything for the sake of his kids for whom he dreams of a bright future. The real problem -he says- began after he was allotted a place to stay at the NGO quarters.
“I had met the then PWD Minister VK Ebrahim Kunju and requested for quarter allocation. With the Minister’s intervention, I was given one in the NGO quarters near the Kollam Collectorate. All our neighbours were higher-ranked officers. They did not like me and my family staying there. Since the Minister had directly intervened in my case, they could not do anything. So they resorted to spreading rumours that my wife and three daughters were prostitutes,” Shaji bursts into tears.
Shaji feels that the majority of people want tribals to be restricted to tribal colonies and not aspire for a better life. “They want tribals to live in colonies. For them, tribal girls are only fit to have babies out of wedlock, like what happens in Wayanad and Attapady,” he avers.
Shaji says that he has now got into the habit of keeping a strict tab on his two surviving daughters: “If they are late even by five minutes, I get terribly worried, as I have come to understand that for the majority, tribals are a category to be hunted down,” he sounds distraught.
One of his daughters is a student at the Thiruvananthapuram Civil Service Academy. “Many have helped me, but now I am unable to sleep just thinking about the safety of these two. The daily threats too have become unbearable,” he wails.
Since his salary increments are being blocked by the department, he finds it very difficult to make ends meet. “My six-member family survives with a monthly income of Rs 13,000. I don’t even have a house of my own. Since I have a government job, I am not eligible for one under the SC/ST category. I now only want to ensure that my remaining four kids have access to proper education, and that my dead child gets justice due to her, as she was forced to die, after losing her dignity,” Shaji has nothing more left to say.