When Wayanad-native Suresh Babu and his two daughters set out from their home to catch a 10 pm bus to Bengaluru last week, they did not in their wildest dreams anticipate the events that would unfold next.
While the trio waited at a bus stop around 6 kms from their home in Kalpetta, self-proclaimed moral police decided to give a lecture on morality. According to Suresh, the men questioned their relationship and harassed them suggesting that he had kidnapped them and "they knew what Suresh and the girls were up to."
A group of at least 15 people, all auto drivers, walked up to Suresh and his daughters - aged 13 and 18- and questioned what they were doing together at that hour.
Recounting the incident, Suresh tells TNM, "Even though the bus was at 10 pm, we reached the bus stop by 9.30pm. A few minutes later, my elder daughter pointed out that a few auto drivers were staring at us and talking amongst themselves. I told her not to pay attention to any of that and we continued sitting there."
A few minutes later, one man walked up to Suresh and proceeded to question him. Despite Suresh clarifying that the girls were his daughters, the moral police refused to step aside.
"The first question he asked me was, who the girls are. I told him they were my daughters. He then questioned me over why I had my hand around one of my daughter's shoulders. He said that he saw what I was doing, with my hands over her shoulder. Despite repeatedly telling him that they were my daughters, he kept saying I cannot be their father. Then a few more people joined him and started harassing us," says 43-year-old Suresh.
At this point, Suresh - who does aluminium fabrication works - says that one of the girls intervened and said that they were indeed his daughters.
"But the men did not budge. They asked us to show proof that we are indeed father and daughters. Two men then caught me by my shirt collar and pushed me. They also took my daughters a few feet away from me," Suresh says.
While he was unable to reach the police on the phone despite repeated attempts, Suresh reached out to the Nirbhaya cell to complain. The ordeal continued till their bus arrived at 10.15pm, he says.
"When the bus came, I had to physically pull my daughters from the crowd and we ran to get inside the bus. Once inside, I called up the women's cell to complain," Suresh says.
All this happened in Kalpetta town, in the midst of several people. But no one came forward to help them, Suresh says.
He adds: "That's the problem with our society; nobody will react when such things happen. Plus, those men painted a picture that we are doing something immoral, so no one stepped in to help us. What is this incident indicating? That a father cannot go out at night with his daughters?"
Suresh says that the incident has caused mental trauma to his younger daughter. The 13-year-old is now scared to venture out of her home, even to go to school, fearing that the men will harm her.
After returning from Bengaluru on Saturday, Suresh proceeded to file a complaint with the Kalpetta police.
Kalpetta police says that an FIR has been registered against 15 people and that they are yet to be identified. An identification parade was held on Monday when Suresh identified two men.