Trigger Warning: Rape, Sexual Abuse
Kerala is reeling under the shocking news that the First Additional Sessions Judge of the Special POCSO court (Protection of Children From Sexual Offenses Act) acquitted the four men accused of brutally raping and causing the deaths of two young Dalit sisters in Walayar, Palakkad district in 2017. The POCSO court acquitted the accused not because of their innocence, but because of lack of evidence submitted by the police and the prosecution. The girls were 13 and 9 years old at the time of their deaths. Both were discovered hanging in their shanty home. The youngest child’s dead body carried a photo of her older dead sister.
On January 13, 2017, the oldest child was discovered dead in the one room shack where she lived with her parents. Fifty two days later, on March 4, 2017, her younger sister, aged nine, was also discovered dead in the same house. The local police had initially done nothing more than file a case of “unnatural death” for both children. The children’s parents who were day laborers from the impoverished Dalit community, without money, affluence or voice, had nevertheless persisted in pursuing a criminal case against four men known to the parents and the local community to have sexually assaulted and raped the children. The father had witnessed one of the accused sexually assaulting the eldest daughter. The mother had given testimony to the police that the eldest child had told her that she had been sexually assaulted by one of the accused. At the time of the older child’s death, the younger sister had given a statement to the local police that she had witnessed two men running away from the house the afternoon of her sister’s alleged suicide.
On January 13, 2017, the oldest child was discovered dead in the one room shack where she lived with her parents. Fifty two days later, on March 4, 2017, her younger sister, aged nine, was also discovered dead in the same house.
While the Walayar police had initially dismissed the older child’s death as unnatural and not shown any interest in registering a criminal case against any of the accused, the rising public outcry over the suspicious death of the younger child and police inaction resulted in the arrests of five individuals, including a minor, on charges of rape, sexual assault, crimes against children, abetment of suicide, and prevention of atrocities on Scheduled Castes and Tribes. One of the accused, Pradeep Kumar, was acquitted on September 30 for lack of evidence. The remaining three, M. Madhu, V. Madhu and Shibu were acquitted on October 28 for lack of evidence. The trial of the fifth accused, a minor, is pending.
Postmortem reports of both sisters indicated that both children had been subjected to horrific, repeated sexual assault, including anal penetration. The senior surgeon in forensic medicine who conducted the postmortem of the younger child had attached photographs of fatal trauma to the anal-genital areas in his postmortem report to legally document the sexual assault as an aid for prosecution. However, the police and the prosecution did not pursue this line of enquiry. Nor did the police systematically collect any forensic evidence to link the four suspects to the rape and murder of the two children. The court also dismissed the testimony of all the witnesses who testified to the terror and fear of the children towards the four men as unreliable accounts.
Perhaps the most appalling and egregious element in this tale of blatant corruption of justice is the role played by the present chairman of the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) of Palakkad, Kerala, Advocate Rajesh, who also represented one of the accused men in the Walayar case. CWC Chairman is a political appointment by the current CPI-M government of Kerala. When public outcry questioned the appointment to the office of the chairman of a state department specially designated to look after the welfare of children, an individual who defended one of the men accused in the rape and murder of two children, Advocate Rajesh contended that since his appointment as the CWC chairman, he had not extended legal defense to the individual accused of rape and sexual assault in the Walayar case. At present, one of Rajesh’s junior advocates has taken over the defense of those accused in the Walayar case. Public pressure has made the Kerala government remove Rajesh from the post of CWC chairman.
These two children did not commit suicide. They were brutally sexually assaulted and killed, in all probability. The men who raped them, and raped them and terrorized them repeatedly, and killed them, are walking free in Kerala.
In 2017, investigators had puzzled over how two small children who were no more than five, and three and a half feet tall, could hang themselves from an eight foot high ceiling. Noted writer and activist K. R. Meera has noted that the forensic examination of the nine year old child’s stomach contents showed that she died before digesting pieces of a mango, the last food item the child had eaten before she died: “Meera asks the CM if he believes that a nine-year-old would kill herself after staving off hunger with a mango”?
These two children did not commit suicide. They were brutally sexually assaulted and killed, in all probability. The men who raped them, and raped them and terrorized them repeatedly, and killed them, are walking free in Kerala. The chairman of the Child Welfare Committee himself defended one of the accused men. Sympathizers and supporters of the now ousted CWC chairman see no conflict of interest in a lawyer who defends child rapists being at the helm of a government organization such as the Child Welfare Committee.
But the award for the most failed government office should rightfully go to Kerala police. Kerala police was recently in the news in flying colors for catching a serial killer and solving multiple murders spanning fourteen years. They can walk around with their uniforms, caps, medals and ribbons, but what is it all for? Kerala police did not collect and process a shred of evidence to aid the prosecution to send the accused men in Walayar to prison for their heinous crime, the crime of killing two small children. Kerala Police, if you cannot bring child rapists and child-killers to justice, if you cannot speak for the children, what good are you to the rest of our society?