Kerala – touted to the most progressive state in India, validated for showing exemplary leadership and resilience in the face of a pandemic that has rattled the world – now finds itself in the middle of what is a bureaucratic scam storm. On July 4, the customs officials in Kerala seized gold worth over Rs 13 crore from a diplomatic cargo addressed to the UAE Consulate-General Office in Thiruvananthapuram. Sarith Kumar, who had worked as a PRO with the UAE Consulate was arrested in connection to the case the same day. He named a woman Swapna Suresh as an accomplice. Swapna, who has been absconding ever since, submitted a petition and moved the high court for anticipatory bail stating that she was being falsely implicated, claiming that she was employed as a secretary with the UAE Consulate in Thiruvananthapuram on a work on request basis.
Meanwhile, the regional media houses have been relentless at subjecting Swapna Suresh to a media trial, dissecting her personal life, her divorce, her monthly income, her presence at parties, etc. It was not very long ago when Saritha S Nair, who was a prime accused in the 2013 solar panel scam in Kerala, was also subjected to a trial not just by media, with the saris she worn to court trials especially garnering attention. “Does solar scam prime accused Saritha S. Nair have a beautician in Thiruvanthapuram central jail?” asked Justice Harun Al Rashid of Kerala HC had asked back then.
Now, “Swapna Suresh videos, Swapna Suresh dance” are some of the searches that have already begun to come up when one googles the name. Meanwhile no such search results show up when we look up the other suspects – Sarith Kumar and M Sivasankar.
Considering that Swapna Suresh has not even been named in the FIR in the gold smuggling case, media’s piqued interest and subsequent trial of the woman is quite telling of the patriarchal conditioning that sees the rare women suspects in such cases as anomalies. When women like Swapna Suresh or Saritha S Nair become the lone women suspects in high profile cases that involve big names, then ways employed to investigate their angle often takes on a deeply objectifying gaze. A pattern arises – like how it did in Saritha’s case too – where the woman’s personal lives and choices – all get dissected from what is an evidently patriarchal-condescending point of view. Nobody searches for Vikas Dubey, Nirav Modi or Vijay Mallya’s dance or their “videos” on the Internet. On the other hand, Saritha S Nair is now a category to click on, on several porn sites.
The curiosity around Swapna Suresh is so much that a reputed national newspaper published an article with the headline: Who Is Swapna Suresh? Meanwhile the same newspaper does not have any such useful lowdown on Sarith Kumar, who was in fact arrested by the Customs officials in connection to the gold smuggling case. Neither does it provide one on M Sivasankar, the former principal private secretary of the chief minister of Kerala who was sent on a year’s leave after his alleged connection to Swapna Suresh surfaced.
The Media Trial And Vilification Of the Woman Suspect
We did a quick search and were not surprised to see some regional news’ headlines since July 4 indicating how the media just couldn’t reign it in while busily speculating about Swapna Suresh. “Swapna lokathe kallakadathukaar aarokke?” – “Who are the prime suspects?” asks one Mathrubhumi headline also adding a cringey and quite avoidable pun to Swapna’s name. A headline by Madhyamam states: “Vivaha mochanam kshesham Thiruvananthapuratheku; nakshatra partykaloode unnatha bandham sookshichu” – “Returned to Thiruvananthapuram after divorce; maintained high contacts through star parties”. Another Mathubhumi article does a deep delve into her personal life: “Gulf-il bar nadatthi; suhruthinoppam naatileku mungi” – “Ran a bar in the Gulf; Returned to Thiruvananthapuram with a friend”, implicating she ran off to Kerala with a lover which resulted in her divorce.
Meanwhile it is worthy of notice that no such in-depth research was made into the personal and married lives of Sarith Kumar or M Sivasankar, except for alleging how friendly the former got with Swapna or lamenting the fall of an “upright” IAS officer.
In a world that is shaken when women do not always fit into the narratives as victims of wrongs instead as the wrongdoers themselves, quick attempts are made to somehow make these exceptions explainable to our minds. While one set of narratives depict women as demure victims or goddesses, another set of narratives are employed when women are villains – mostly attempting to neatly slate them as home-wreckers and as anomalies in the otherwise sacrosanct gendered public spaces such as the military and politics. So there are quick attempts made to shift the gaze onto the number of saris Saritha S Nair owns, her straightened hair, etc. and in Swapna Suresh’s case, her alleged divorce and affair with an actor and son of a politician – all this, so that these women can be made sense of from the patriarchal lens generally employed to judge women.