By Navmi Krishna:
On April 28, Jisha, a 30-year-old Dalit law student was found brutally murdered in her house. Her body was found lying in a pool of blood by her mother Rajeswari who works as a casual labourer. There were more than 30 stab wounds on Jisha’s body; deep cuts on the chin, chest and neck; her genitals were pierced and slashed open with a sharp weapon, exposing the intestines; her nose and a breast had been chopped off. There were marks of a heavy blow on the back of the head. She was also strangled with a shawl. The body was found nude and there were nail and bite marks all over.
Considering the brutality and the evidence of rape involved, it is only natural to assume that the incident would attract a great deal of attention. However, this was not the case. It took the local media five days of social media lobbying to take notice of the ‘sensation quotient’ that the case offered. Even then, had it not been the peak election season in Kerala, it is doubtful that the case would have got the traction it did.
The facts so far are thus. On April 28, at around 8 p.m., Jisha’s mother approached one of her neighbours, crying, and told them that Jisha was inside the house but not responding to her calls. The neighbour, Verghese, the prime witness in the case, lit a torch to help her get to the backyard. He did not go inside. On understanding what had transpired, he called up the police.
Jisha’s family lived in a tiny uncemented one-room house with an asbestos roof in the purambokku land (the land belongs to the government – the residents could be described as illegal squatters) along the side of an irrigation canal. They had no toilet – her mother says that the neighbours objected when they tried to build one. Jisha’s family had no contact with their neighbours – so much so that no one accompanied her body when it was taken to the medical college for autopsy. In fact, many of them had no idea that Jisha was a law student until the media reports emerged. While this might not sound unusual from the perspective of an urban flat-dweller, it is an uncommon state of affairs in rural India. The neighbours claim that Rajeshwari, Jisha’s mother, is mentally unstable and that she was hostile towards them. However, one of their immediate neighbours, Sumesh, a college teacher, held a different opinion, “This is not true. She was quite normal. Her ferocious attitude may only be a strategy to keep men away,” he said.
The apathy that the police showed towards the incident was evident right from the beginning. To begin with, contrary to official procedure in rape cases, the autopsy was not performed in the presence of a police surgeon. More shockingly, rape was not mentioned in the initial FIR even though it was evident from the preliminary inquest – it was added later by an additional petition filed to the magistrate. The explanation given was that it was confirmed only after the post-mortem report came in. Furthermore, the body was released to the relatives and cremated the same day, thereby destroying any chance of retrieving crucial evidence. Three weeks and a much publicised “re-shuffling” of investigative teams have transpired, but there appears to be no significant progress in the investigation.
To blame only the police for Jisha’s death, as tempting as it is, would be short-sighted. Jisha’s plight is the result of the incompetence of the Panchayat which turned a blind eye to the plight of its members. As per Ashraya – Destitute Identification Rehabilitation and Monitoring Project for the rehabilitation of destitute families, the Kudumbashree unit of the particular Panchayat (largest women-empowering projects in India, launched by the Government of Kerala in ’98) is responsible for identifying the families in their ward that satisfy at least eight of the nine conditions that are used to define ‘extreme poverty’. The conditions include families comprising of only women, families having income below Rs. 1 lakh per annum and/or those belonging to Scheduled Castes, among others. A cursory glance reveals that Jisha’s family should have been eligible to be a part of this program which would have helped them to secure a house or at least a BPL card, thus ensuring food security. This clearly did not happen. Those responsible for this grave travesty of justice need to be held responsible – not only to apportion blame but to identify the challenges they faced, if any and to work on how to overcome them. Of course, if this negligence was a case of cronyism due to which Jisha suffered what she did, that needs to be dealt with severely as well.
Collectively, India has seen and mourned for far too many ‘Jisha’s in recent times. Every instance has brought forth an emotional plea for stronger laws and stricter deterrents. What many fail to focus on is the gap between the existing laws and their implementation. We need to work at the grass-root levels to ensure that the visions of the policy makers are implemented as they were intended to be. Only then can the essence of the #JusticeForJisha hashtag be fulfilled.