The brutal rape and murder of a Dalit woman in Ernakulam district has shown the callous attitude of the police and the ineffective response of the state government ahead of assembly elections
By Naveen R Nair in Thiruvananthapuram
The national press was quick to tag Jisha’s rape and murder on April 28 as Kerala’s own Nirbhaya-like episode. It may have employed this headline-grabbing comparison rather simplistically because of the eerie similarity between the brutalization of the 23-year-old Nirbhaya who was gang raped in a moving bus in Delhi on the night of December 16, 2012 and Jisha’s rape, torture and murder.
In fact, the manner in which this 30-year-old Dalit woman, who had completed her law degree at Ernakulam Government Law College, was tortured and her innards and sexual parts mutilated and torn asunder bore a horrific resemblance to the gruesome Nirbhaya case where the rapists physically assaulted the victim and subjected her to intense and humiliating torture.
The post-mortem conducted on Jisha’s body revealed shocking and disturbing details. The perpetrator (the police reportedly said that there is only one person involved) of the crime stabbed her 38 times, a sharp weapon was used to extract her intestines, her chest was pierced with a double-edged knife and severe head injuries were inflicted on her before her death.
Jisha was brutalized like Nirbhaya. But that is where the similarities end. While the Delhi woman became a victim after she and her companion boarded an empty bus in which the off-duty driver and staff were cruising around looking for fun, Jisha was killed in her own home in Perumbavoor, some 40 km from Ernakulam. She was alone on that fateful evening. Her mother, a daily wage labourer was out on work and when she returned home, she discovered her daughter’s body.
Was the crime a carefully-planned murder? Perhaps, as some have suggested, was Jisha a victim of caste oppression? Even 12 days after the shocking incident came to light, there is no clarity on who committed the crime and why Jisha was targeted. The police team is still groping in the dark and not a single arrest has been recorded although close to 30 people have been detained, questioned and let off. Distant relatives, migrant labourers and even neighbors have come under the needle of suspicion. TP Senkumar, Kerala’s director general of police, refused to comment on the ongoing investigation.
Jisha’s sister Deepa was the last person to be questioned. Police say that a sketch brought out of the suspected killer closely resembles Deepa’s friend who is a drug peddler and a prominent history-sheeter. But the investigation team has so far been non-committal, fielding tough questions with the clichéd “every possible angle is being probed’’.
Unlike the Nirbhaya case, there was no immediate public outrage for the first five days. But protests soon picked up and given that the murder came at a time when the assembly election campaign was heating up in the state, the Jisha case also became politicized. The nature of the crime and the police inability to nab the killer was projected in several quarters as a manifestation of the deteriorating law and order situation in the state under the watch of the UDF government.
The public response in Kerala is building up towards a Nirbhaya-like protest, and can be seen on the streets of Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi. Social media platforms have be-gun to play the catalyst role in the protests. Activists cutting across political allegiances are up in arms against what they say is a gross devaluation of life by the state machinery. They allege that despite huge lapses on the part of law enforcing agencies, the state government has not quite woken up.
Lawyer and social activist Harish Vasudevan sums up the anger spreading across Kerala. “Jisha’s death is the latest in a number of such incidents that show us how the state has completely failed in not only protecting life but even in bringing to task those who have failed in their line of duty, be it the police or other agencies. There seems to be an adopted policy of not recognizing errors or rectifying them,’’ said Vasudevan.
Though the police was informed about Jisha’s death on April 28, the body continued to remain at the scene of crime till the following morning. One look at Jisha’s lifeless body with 38 injuries would have been enough for even a police constable to flag the case as a highly sensitive one.
But not only did the police fail to anticipate the gravity of the case, but even the post-mortem, which in such sensitive cases need to be carried out in the presence of senior doctors, was callously done by a postgraduate student of Alapuzha Medical College. This was revealed in the report of the institution’s principal—something which the health secretary now denies.
Crucial evidence which could have helped nail the culprits was lost by the delayed police response. This was followed by a cremation done in undue haste on April 29 at around 8.30 pm. It is rather unusual to cremate a body so late in the evening unless under compelling circumstances.
This has not only raised eyebrows but also a pertinent question: What was the police trying to hide by first responding slowly to the crime and then showing such a tearing hurry in cremating the body? What if a second postmortem was warranted or fresh examination of the body was needed for investigation?
The callous attitude of the police did not end there. The crime scene was left unprotected, leading to loss of crucial evidence in the early stages. Forensic experts landed at the scene late, reportedly five days later. This was too late for even the best in the business to recover evidence which would have provided the investigators leads to work on.
Forensic experts say that lack of manpower and basic forensic facilities are to blame rather than negligence. “The state still has 12 positions for forensic assistant professor lying vacant. In all, there are just five police surgeons in the state. Everyone knows that the forensic department is perhaps the most neglected one in the state. How can one crack crimes under such circumstances?” asked Dr Hitesh Sankar, a forensic expert.
He goes on to add: “What you get initially from the scene of the crime is what is most important. If the police failed to secure the crime scene in time, as it seems now, then they would have literally lost all leads and they need be held accountable.”
With the police investigation making very little headway, an activist in Thrissur filed a PIL at the Kerala High Court pleading for either a CBI probe or a court-supervised investigation. But the Court refused to intervene saying that it was not right for the judiciary to step into an ongoing investigation, which the government told the court, was proceeding in the right direction. But the High Court, perhaps understanding the need to monitor the case, directed the government to file a report on the progress of the case in two week’s time.
With the police stumbling in the dark, the Jisha case has hit the headlines at the worst possible time for the Congress-led UDF government. Two terrible incidents (the Kollam temple fire and the Jisha case) in the last one month have clearly dented the UDF’s image, reinforcing its tag as an anti-people, anti-Dalit government.
It’s not surprising that the CPM and the BJP are pulling out all stops to make Jisha’s rape and murder an election issue. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP president Amit Shah and Home Minister Rajnath Singh have been raking up Jisha’s name at every rally in the state. And the Left parties have been citing the case at even street corner meetings.
It remains to be seen if Jisha’s death will weigh on the minds of the voter on the polling day. And more importantly, will her case be forgotten once the assembly elections are done and dusted?