Activists continue protests doggedly and say they will not stop until the rape-murder victims get justice
Neethi illathe madakkam illa (Without justice, we won’t return). They can take away our tent and chairs. We don’t need a tarpaulin above our heads. We will continue our sit-in protest here till we get justice for those two young girls who were raped brutally one after the other and killed.
These were the words of volunteers of Walayar Kids Forum who are protesting in front of Kerala Secretariat when The Lede met them.
After holding long marches all over Kerala, voluntarily by people and organisations demanding justice for those girls and penalising those who erred in the probe, a group of volunteers are holding a sit-in protest since January 21.
“Our three demands are justice for those young girls who were raped and murdered, removing Deputy Superintendent of Police (Dy SP) MJ Sojan from service and booking him under POCSO and SC/ST Atrocities Act as the girls were Dalits and also hold a detailed probe to find the other culprits who killed those girls,” PA Prem Babu, a writer who has been actively involved in the protest for the last two months, told The Lede.
When The Lede was talking to Prem, a police team had come to the tent asking the protesters about who had given them the sound and light system. The police had issued an eviction notice to the protesters on February 16 with a 48 hour deadline to move out.
The notice read that “the protesters’ tent is at a highly secure area and is blocking the visibility of the Kerala secretariat. Usually, tents are allowed only for a day or two. A permanent tent is inadmissible. Additionally, it is also creating inconvenience to pedestrians and leading to traffic congestion. So, the tent and banners have to be removed in 48 hours when the notice is served.”
Interestingly, on Tuesday, the police served a second notice too.
It read that the protest is against the state and the central government. The protesters have to inform the police in 12 hours about the details of those who have supplied the light and sound system.
Commenting on the police notice after receiving it, Prem told The Lede that this protest is for getting justice for those girls.
“Let them take away the tents and other things lying here. We are not going to move out of this place till that errant police officer who couldn’t bring justice for those small girls has been thrown out of service and jailed,” Prem added.
Two sisters, aged 13 and 9, were sexually abused and found hanging dead in their makeshift house within a 52 day gap in Walayar, a Tamil Nadu-Kerala border town, located in Palakkad district in Kerala, in 2017. It was the younger sister who found the elder one hanging dead on 13 January 2017.
Even though the post-mortem report of the elder sister had mentioned the sexual abuse, the file was ‘closed’ stating that the death was a suicide.
And in October 2019, in a shocker to the Dalit parents, the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) court in Palakkad district had acquitted the accused in the case citing that the prosecution was not able to prove their involvement in the case.
Initially, there were seven accused in the case. Four out of the seven were acquitted. The third accused was freed due to lack of evidence on 30 September 2019. And a few days later, three of them were released.
According to Prem, after the first sister’s death when there were allegations that timely action from the police would have prevented the death of the younger sister, the department initiated disciplinary action. A sub-inspector who probed the case was suspended.
And after the younger sister’s death, seven people were arrested. IPC 305 (abetment of suicide) IPC 376 (rape) SC/ST (Prevention Of Atrocities) Act, POCSO, Juvenile Justice Act were charged. But in October, other than one person (a minor) all the three were let free.
Quoting eyewitnesses, Prem claimed that the two sisters were found hanging from the same spot on the roof.
“The bodies were about 8 feet up from the ground. Though the police termed it to be a case of suicide, how could the little girls tie the rope that high remains unanswered. This has raised suspicion about the police account of the deaths. The postmortem report had clearly stated that the two sisters were sexually assaulted before their death. They were abused several times, it said. The forensic report of the first victim too said she was subjected to unnatural sex before death. Police failed to establish the role of the accused,” Prem said.
“Additionally, they also failed to establish the second victim’s statement about her sister’s death. She had said she saw two masked men coming out of the house, after which her sister’s body was found hanging. The probe team’s failure to address these points led to the court acquitting the accused,” Prem added.
The charge sheet in the case was prepared by a police team led by Assistant Superintentendent of Police G Poonguzhali and Deputy Superintendent of Police MJ Sojan. They were appointed after serious lapses were pointed out in the probe by the first investigation team. A sub-inspector was suspended and department-level action was taken against the Circle Inspector and the Deputy SP who were part of the initial investigation team.
But Prem says that Sojan was worse than the suspended SI. He had alleged that the girls were not sexually abused rather it was consensual.
A television channel had aired an audio clip of Sojan reportedly saying: “The two children enjoyed the sex; the case will not stand in court.”
In 2017, chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan had posted on Facebook that justice will be delivered. However, according to activists, the Facebook post remained as a post and no serious action was taken to deliver justice.
Ironically, the Child Welfare Committee Chairman N Rajesh in Palakkad had appeared for the culprits in this case.
Renjini Subash, a Dalit women activist, who had joined the long march from January 04 and continued her protest by joining the sit-in protest, said that Deputy SP Sojan should be removed from service for his errors and a probe should be initiated under the guidance of the Kerala High Court.
“This protest is not only for those girls. It is also for those underprivileged women who face challenges daily. Till now, the government has not responded to us positively. When we tried to meet the chief minister, we couldn’t. However, an official at his office accepted our memorandum and mistaking it as a complaint, they have handed over the same to two Deputy SPs in Ernakulum and Palakkad. Additionally, we have got a message that our protest tent will be removed,” Renjini said.
“This state is not protecting women. If it was, then these two petticoats wouldn’t have been hanging here (the two girls were found hanging dead in petticoats). We need justice. We will continue our strike. If they remove the tents, then we will go on a hunger strike,” Ranjini added.
Meanwhile, Nipun Cherian, another volunteer, told The Lede that the entire probe has been sabotaged very scientifically in phases.
“In the first phase, the second sister who was the witness of the first sister’s death gets killed and her body was exhumed in a hurry. In the second phase, Deputy SP Sojan brings in fake witnesses. Prosecution and police sabotage the case and then says that CBI inquiry is welcome. And following that, a judicial probe is initiated, which is, in fact, hoodwinking. And in the third phase, the retired judge PK Haneefa is dragging the judicial inquiry,” Nipun said.
“I would like to ask the judicial inquiry team whether they have asked crucial questions like, why did Deputy SP Sojan say that the girls were enjoying sex even when the postmortem report reveals that the girls were abused? Why has Sojan not recorded the date and time of witnesses’ statements? Why are there contradicting statements popping up? Did they probe whose dhoti it was that the younger girl was found hanging with? How could a nine-year-old girl hang herself at that height? Why was a forensic surgeon not taken to the crime scene?” Nipun asked.
The forensic surgeon 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 inquiry. Nor did the police systematically collect any forensic evidence to link the four suspects to the rape and murder of the two children.
The autopsy report said: “Given the age of the child (9) and the length from the sole of heel to the tip of the right middle finger with right upper limb fully extended upwards, the possibility of homicidal hanging must be ruled out by correlating the measurement at the scene of crime and investigation.”
Meanwhile, on 12 February 2020, Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan said that the government will not object to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probing the Walayar minor sisters' rape case if the parents demand the same in the High Court.
Replying in the Assembly to a notice of adjournment motion moved by Congress MLA Shanimol Usman on growing incidents of crime against women and children, Pinarayi said that the state government has filed six appeals in the High Court after the trial court acquitted all the accused in the deaths of minor girls who had been sexually abused at Walayar.
"A retired district judge, PK Hanifa, has been appointed as an inquiry commissioner under the Commissions of Inquiry Act to investigate the deaths of girls. It has been made clear that the government will not object to any inquiry including CBI probe if the parents demand it in the court," he said.
On February 15, parents of the two girls met the judicial inquiry team and stated that police laxity led to the second girl’s death.
“Police never was serious. They erred in many places. They never updated us. That’s what we have told the judicial inquiry team,” the mother of the two girls told the media after meeting the judge.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau, in Kerala, 3562 cases were registered in 2017 for crimes against children. The increase in the same from 2016 was by 683.
State Crime Records Bureau data reveals that the number of POCSO cases ranged between 2500 and 3000 every year since 2016.
In 2019, till September 2514 cases were being registered under POCSO in Kerala.
And in 2018, it was 3179 and in 2017, it was 2697. Meanwhile, in 2016, it was 2122.
During the first week of February, the Kerala government had sanctioned the setting up of 28 fast track courts for speedy trial in rape cases and other cases registered under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.
Kerala Social Justice and Women and Child Development Minister KK Shailaja said that the state government has decided to set up POCSO courts to ensure that the victims are given timely justice.
Of the 28 fast track courts, four courts have been allocated in Thiruvananthapuram district, three in Thrissur and Malappuram districts and two each in Kollam, Kottayam, Idukki, Ernakulam, Palakkad, Kozhikode, and Kannur districts.
The Kerala minister said that the POCSO courts are being jointly established by the central and state governments in consideration of the High Court data which reveals that 12,234 cases of POCSO and rape are pending in the state.
The union government in September 2019 had proposed to set up a total of 1023 fast-track special courts for expeditious trial of over 1.66 lakh pending cases of crime against women and children across the country.
The department of Justice under the union Law Ministry had stated that the special courts are expected to dispose of at least 165 cases per year.
Further, as per the Supreme Court's direction, out of the total courts, 389 courts are expected to exclusively handle all the cases that are registered under the POCSO Act while the remaining courts will deal with either rape cases or both rape and POCSO cases.