Kerala with its exceptional tag line God’s own country has got some exceptional statistical data too.
High female literacy rate (87.86 % when compared to National Average of 54.25 %), low female foeticide rates, high female to male ratio(1,083 women per 1000 men) etc are some of the bright things we are told and retold. Sometimes Kerala is even referred to as a role model state.
But are things as good as they seem or are we just seeing things through rose colored spectacles?
Before attempting to answer the above question, let us look at some other disturbing statistical data .
The average child sex ratio in Kerala has fallen to 959 girls per 1000 boys, flagging a significant decrease in the number of girls compared to boys in the 0-6 age category.
Though no cases of female foeticides are registered in Kerala , experts are of the opinion that at least 1000 girls not being born in the state every year.
The high female literacy rate or the rising education rate amongst the woman population of Kerala is seemingly not causing a rise in the number of employed women. In fact our female labor force participation rates is among the lowest,the rate has in fact fallen from 26.8% in 1991 to 24.3% in 2001, the decrease most prominent in rural areas
Woman in Kerala are certainly not enjoying the level freedom that such a high education rate as ours ought to bring.So looks like we have ended up in a society with higher percentage of educated women who are denied the opportunity to work , with restricted freedom. Could they be blamed for being frustrated?
Shouldn’t the favorable literacy,education and health factor in turn make the women realize their potential and encourage them to be more independent?
Statistics clearly points at rising rate of crimes against women and children.This year Newspapers have opened our eyes to some ruthless cases of violence against the kids.One girl , who was tortured by her father and step mother ,was unfortunately killed and yet another boy barely escaped death.
Atrocities against woman is not anything uncommon in Kerala.Eve teasing ,cat calls,molestation and harassment at public places are something women in Kerala have learned to live with. An ideal woman is the one who avoids any such potential incidents and if at all subjected to one ,silently averts it, lest her morality is questioned.
Do you still remember the ordeal of PE Usha, a women who tried to do the forbidden thing ?She dared to file a complaint against a man who tried to sexually assault her in a bus !! The incident was all over the paper back in 1999.
I casually googled to find out what happened to the case and stumbled upon this article which compares Usha’s fight with the famous Ruchika Girhotra Case
This is what Usha has to says about her experience at the police station
“The first question they asked me was why I was travelling alone at night? What followed was a volley of nasty comments and embarrassing questions and demands for a graphic description of the act. They even asked me to remove the semen stained clothes in the police station”
Her colleagues turned hostile and accused that the man couldn’t have got an erection without her co-operation and she had complained only because people noticed it.
Apparently ,no action was taken against this harassment at work place even when a complaint was lodged with the university registrar requesting inquiry.
The article ends with Usha’s quote -“My personal life suffered and people who stood by me were harassed. My daughter suffered trauma. It was unfortunate that I had to defend myself at every stage. Many people I thought were friends deserted me when I needed them most, and once a man spat on me at a railway station”
So much for taking a stand and fighting against injustice.No wonder women avoid travelling alone at night!!
You don’t agree? Please think about how many women you would find travelling alone after say 8 pm in Kerala!!
Back in my college days,inmates of girl’s hostel had a curfew of 6 pm-6:30 pm.We usually had classes till 5 pm and had to dash back to respective hostels , the boys on the other hand used to roam around till late nights. If we needed to buy something urgently after this cut off time, the only option was to call up a male classmate and ask for help.Also, for every college event after 6, all the girls had to be escorted back to their respective hostels by the student’s union volunteers , even if there were a whole bunch of them.If a girl did not want to sit through the whole programme or wanted to dash back to hostel for something, she couldn’t do it that easily. This was around 6 years back, but I think the situation must be more or less the same even now.
I think the tendency amongst people of Kerala, both men and women a like, to judge girls/women unfairly and blame the victims,is high.
Any harassment/eve teasing incident is rendered as the result of victims bad dressing choice, bad choice of hang out places or bad choice of being out at a not so safe hour of the day.Moral Policing is something we are eager to volunteer into.
How often have we witnessed talk shows were women themselves proclaim that “The girl was wearing provocative dressing.Her parents should have been more careful etc”?Yeah..I know how provocatively girls dress in Kerala, where we are taught again and again to dress neatly.The dress that is found’provocative’ in our state could be some of the most decent dress wore elsewhere. Girls and women suppress their urge to dress as they please until they cross Kerala border.
Every rape victim is naturally tagged as characterless. I happened to see a heartbreaking video of an interview with the parents of the famous Suryanelli rape case.
(You can watch the interview in youtube)
The father, in a tired emotionless voice, was stating how they had go in exile, for anonymity ,to a place far from their home after the fateful incident.Their the neighbors and relative had stopped interacting with them.The local guides were stopping in front of their house to point the ‘Suryanelli girls’ house to the tourists. The girl was accused of loose morality , theft and what not!!
Seventeen years since the incident, the victim and the family are still awaiting justice, which in itself is the gravest injustice.
There is vithura case , kiliroor case and numerous famous cases where delayed justice pokes fun at our judicial systems. These victims are usually harassed and threatened when some big shots are involved. The society doesn’t need any convincing, for them these victims are the ones at the wrong end, the ones who crossed the sacred line of morality.
In most of these cases the victim and the family is not only blamed, but cruelly isolated and considered an outcast.
In yet another talk show, when the father of the Kiliroor victim was trying to explain his ordeal, a ‘gentleman’ cruelly proceeded to accuse that it was a case consensual sexual work which happened with the knowledge of the parents.
How heartless and cruel can we as a society become?
Early marriages are also not uncommon in Kerala.The most literate state’s government passed a circular that legalized the ‘registering of the marriages of Muslim women between 16 and 18 years and men who had not attained 21 years on furnishing a certificate of religious institutions’.
Yes, the circular was withdrawn later, but the fact that a government could pass such a law is astounding.Lately, the forced marriage of a minor girl , an inmate of an orphanage,to a foreigner was sensationalized by the media.
The convener of a newly formed Muslim Vyakthi Niyama Samrkshana Samithi (Muslim Personal Law Protection Committee) recently commented as follows
“Mohammadan law states that any girl who attains puberty can be married off. The Muslim personal law has not fixed specific age for the marriage of Muslim girls. So any law that fixes 18 years as the age for the marriage is an infringement upon the constitutional rights of Muslims“.(source)
I would like to believe most of the sensible Muslim fraternity are against such a movement , but can’t help feeling uneasy that the law might get passed after all.
So much for the literacy excellence and high sex ratios.Kerala is no better place for women, if only worse.
I have heard that Kerala used to be a Matriarchal society. I am not a historical expert to comment the authenticity of this statement. But I am contemporary enough to assure that today Kerala has its root deep in hypocritical patriarchy.