Only days after women across Kerala walked through random streets in the night to claim their right to public spaces, a woman and two of her male friends were subjected to moral policing in the capital city. Five men were arrested a day later but only after higher authorities intervened.
Sreelakshmi Arackal, a B.Ed. student, and her friends were sitting at the Shangumugham Beach at half past 11 on Saturday night when a few men came asking rude questions about their intention of being out there at this hour. Sreelakshmi and her friends had come to beach, tired, after organising a protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens in the city all day.
“When I asked what their problem was, they said this was their area and not to make any ‘dialogues’. They pushed me too. One of my friends tried to take a video and then he was manhandled,” Sreelakshmi tells TNM.
They went to the Valiyathura police station by 1.30 am – early morning of January 12. The police there had apparently turned against the complainants, asking them a number of questions. “It was so disappointing that this was happening at a time the state was organising women-friendly initiatives like the Night Walk. We tried to tell the police all that, but they kept making us feel like we did something wrong. Only the SI was cooperative, going out to the beach in search of the culprits,” Sreelakshmi says.
They went home that night and were asked to come early morning to file a complaint. Sreelakshmi wrote on Facebook about her experience, posting a small video of the moral policing gang they managed to take on the phone. She also put down the questions of the police: “Why were you at the beach at this hour? Don’t you know that it is not safe there?” and to the older persons who accompanied Sreelakshmi to the station, “If you had a daughter of this age, would you let her go out at this hour?”
Biju Prabhakar, Secretary to Social Justice Department, came across Sreelakshmi’s post. So did senior police officials who then told her that the two incidents- the one at the beach and later at the police station- should not have happened. Two of the policemen who were at the station that night were sent for behavioural training, Sreelakshmi says. “And the next day when I went to register the complaint, it was a wholly different treatment. The police were very polite and took my statement. They arrested five of the culprits the same day. Yesterday I went to the station again to identify them,” Sreelakshmi says.
But she is not exactly satisfied. Sreelakshmi asks, “What if it was someone else in my place, someone who did not have enough contacts? Higher authorities or senior police officials cannot always intervene in all such cases. I wish that every woman would get the same just treatment that she deserves when she goes to make a complaint and not be made to feel like a criminal.”
In her post, Sreelakshmi had written that after that night’s treatment at the station, she wouldn’t go to the police anymore, even if she becomes a victim of gang rape.
It is after the post that Biju Prabhakar intervened in the case. He put a post too, detailing the incident and then naming the five men arrested. He also goes on to advise parents living in the area of Vallakadavu, where the accused are from, that they should think twice before marrying off their daughters to such men. “People should understand that the women marrying these men would face abuse that includes sexual perversions. If women’s organisations spread campaigns against such men, many girls would be saved in Kerala,” the IAS officer’s post said.