“When you break into a house, there will be beautiful women there. Were you ever tempted or attracted to those women in such circumstances?”, the interviewer asks thief Maniyan Pillai.

A video grab of the interview where the anchor (right) is interviewing Maniyan Pillai, the thief (Left). The two are sitting on a flight of stairs. Maniyan Pillai, the former thief (left)
news Controversy Wednesday, October 13, 2021 - 17:30

[Trigger warning: The story has some potentially disturbing content] A deplorable journalistic question and an equally problematic response from the interviewee — is the highlight of an interview with a former thief in Kerala, by digital entertainment platform, Behindwoods. Behindwoods Ice (the Malayalam unit of Behindwoods), interviewed Maniyan Pillai, a former small-time thief in Kerala, who gained popularity after his misdeeds as a thief were turned into a biography. The book was controversial for glorifying his offences, and now his digital interview has become even more controversial — he bragged about sexually assaulting a woman at knifepoint once when he broke into a house. The Kerala State Women’s Commission has taken a suo motu case against Maniyan Pillai and the YouTube channel. Commission Chairperson Sathidevi has said that Maniyan Pillai should be investigated for rape and has also directed the police to register a case under the Information Technology Act against the Youtube channel.

“When you break into a house, there will be beautiful women there. Some will be in their nightgown or even naked. Were you ever tempted or attracted to the women in such circumstances?” asks the anchor, maintaining a smile on his face, in the 20-minute-long interview posted on October 6 on the YouTube channel of Behindwoods Ice. Even as the viewer is trying to process the question coming from a journalist, Maniyan Pillai, the former thief, reels off his “experience” as if narrating his romantic encounters.

“I have seen many such women, but I had (liking) only towards one," says Maniyan Pillai, as he starts recounting an incident where he broke into a house. "The lights were on and the woman was sleeping with a book in her hand. She was not wearing anything except a thin, white gown held together with just a button. She must have been 22 years old. What attracted me to her was her skin, which was the colour of gold. I have seen several women but this woman looked like an angel. I will never forget it… I have only used her," he narrates to a journalist who is seen smiling along. (This is a shortened version; the full version is more triggering).

“I turned off the light, held a knife to her neck and threatened to kill her if she made noise. And then…” he says. “When women are cooperating I can sense it from their breath. When I was leaving, she said, ‘You cruel person, at least show me your face.’ That was the only mistake I have committed,” says Maniyan Pillai.

“I was presented with several occasions; in fact, some women have even begged me and laid down in the bed for me, be it night or day,” he crowed his response, seeming to portray himself as “an innocent man” who was merely “tempted by” a woman.

The man admitted to committing the crime of threatening and sexually assaulting a woman. While one would expect the journalist to question him critically and call out the crime, he merely asks a follow-up question to the former petty thief’s “romantic” story. “Did you ever try to meet her?” asks the anchor. When Maniyan Pillai said he did not try to meet the woman whom he raped, the journalist jumps to the next question of how he met his wife.

Through the interview, which has now been removed following criticisms, Behindwoods ICE attempted to understand the psyche of a former thief, even as the anchor sounded mesmerised by Maniyan Pillai's past offences. However, the snippet of raping a woman became the highlight of the interview, so much so that they initially titled the thumbnail like this — "A 22-year-old golden-skinned woman wearing a gown with just a button in place, what I did to her - The confessions of an infamous thief.” The team later changed the thumbnail of the video, which is titled, “The night stories of 'thief' Maniyan Pillai who would have become a minister."

Maniyan Pillai was a small-time thief. He gained “popularity” in Kerala after his biography — ‘Thaskaran, Maniyan Pillayude Athmakatha’ (biography of Maniyan Pillai) — was published. The book was written by GR Indugopan and published by DC Books. According to Maniyan Pillai, after a massive robbery, he fled to Karnataka and settled there with all the money he stole. Later, in the 1980s, he planned to contest in the Assembly elections using a fake name, and filed his nomination. However, he was arrested. The book, too, had drawn its share of criticisms as many pointed out that the biography justified his crimes, giving it a heroic angle.

The video, which has gained more than 47,000 views on YouTube and less on Facebook, drew flak from many social media users. Many pointed out the casual manner in which Maniyan Pillai recounted raping a woman, while some called for action against him for sexually assaulting her. Some even criticised the journalist and the channel for airing the interview.

On Wednesday, October 13, Commission Chairperson Sathidevi has said that Maniyan Pillai should be investigated for rape and has also directed the police to register a case under the Information Technology Act against the YouTube channel.

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