In progressive Kerala, rural police are the local khaps
On 4th February when Aparna, a 24 year old Malayalee nurse working in a clinic in Bangalore appealed to the SHO KP Sreedharan of Perumbavur, a village an hour away from Ernakulam, to provide her protection against her family which had locked her up and beaten her for the crime of wanting to marry the man she chose, she was told in no uncertain terms that she would be arrested for immoral acts. She was dragged screaming from the police station by her uncle, businessman Ranjan T, and mother Valsala with the help of the police and shut up again in her house in the Rayon quarters. For a week before that she had been kept prisoner in Manjeri at another uncle’s house: a Vasantha Kumar who claims to be a BJP leader.
Why is the family opposed to the marriage? Samar, the man who Aparna is in love with is only half a Malayalee, Nair, what Vasantha Kumar calls a ‘mixed Hindu’ . He is 11 years older and a divorcee, and the astrological charts do not match. The girl is Manglik. He is not. All good reasons from a family point of view. Aparna and Samar had not been considering immediate marriage. They were merely introducing each other to their respective families, blissfully unaware that this very respectable action would be considered disrespectful and inappropriate. Aparna’s mother wants her to be sent to Qatar with a mysterious family friend based in Qatar, called Yusuf Sheikh (Beta). On the 29th January, she was forced to come home to Perambavur from Bangalore with the usual ruse: the mother is near death, weeping and saying all she wanted was for her daughter to come and see her once, and she could go back. Promise. Aparna fell for it. When she came home to Perumbavur, she was set upon by her uncle, Vasanta Kumar, and the ‘family friend’ ,who scripted the rest of Aparna’s education in good behaviour and morality. All the doors and windows of their house in Perambavur were shut so that she could scream all she wanted but no one would hear. The next morning she was taken to Manjeri, Malapuram, to Vasanta Kumar’s house. She was told that if her boyfriend came to Kerala he would not leave. The uncle would make sure the Ezhava community was goaded on caste lines to attack the young man. He also claimed he had the support of the BJP. Aparna managed to send a desperate text message to Samar to save her, and to get legal help.
Accordingly, Samar filed a habeus corpus writ in the Kerala High Court, and the court directed the police in Manjeri and Perumbavur to record the girl’s statement independently in private. Samar went to the Manjeri police station with his father, since he was told by his advocate Kaleeshwaram Raj, that if the girl wanted to walk out with him, she could, as an adult and no one could stop her. But that was of course not true in rural India, not even in so called progressive Kerala. In Manjeri, the SHO Nazar C K, first told him he did not know who the uncle was, that he would have to get the help of the cyber cell. When Gouri, a local NFIW womens activist called the local BJP office, she found out immediately who he was. Samar approached the Circle Inspector Krishnadas, who promised to record Aparna’s statement. Anweshi’s K Ajitha also spoke with the CI. He then directed the same SHO to do it. Nazar reported that the house was locked and they had left Manjeri for Ooty. The circle inspector called the family friend Yusuf, and said they would have to produce the girl. They agreed to bring her to the police station the next afternoon. Aparna whose phone had been confiscated, and the sim card removed (this was, she was informed by her family, so that the cyber cell could safely not be able to find her), was given back the phone, although her mother stood over her like a jailor to monitor her conversations. She was told they would agree to let her marry if she agreed to stay at home for 6 months and not testify against her family. Aparna and Samar suspected the idea was to break her spirit, and either get her married, or and whisk her away to Qatar where Yusuf claims to have a job lined up for her. She was also told that the police had been adequately persuaded to support the family, and that if she did not cooperate, false cases would be filed against Samar, and he would also be seriously injured. The next day ten people from the family stood around the almost fainting girl, who had not eaten for four days and told her everything would be okay if she just saved her family. Aparna is a good girl, who loves her mother. She said she was okay bit she wanted to marry Samar. She refused to file a rape case against Samar, so they could not arrest him, which was the uncle’s demand. SHO Nazer told her that if she said she was being held against her will, they would have to arrest her family- did she want to do that? Be careful what you say, he said, be a good daughter- go with your family. They then took her to a local magistrate who ‘handed over custody’ of the 24 year old girl to her mother on the basis that she might run away and they had to present her in court. When Samar- who was not allowed by the police to speak with Aparna- tried to point out that she could leave if she wanted and the Circle Inspector too had said so, the SHO threatened and shouted at him to get out of there or else.
Two days later, the scene was to be repeated in Perumbavur. Except that by this time Aparna rebelled. The loving daughter learnt to mistrust her mother and her family. Meanwhile her phone mysteriously blocked all numbers except Samar’s. Everything they spoke was somehow known to her family. Samar’s smartphone suddenly lost all recordings of conversations that he had had with Aparna and her family, including testimonies he had recorded. Samar;s family started getting missed calls from blank numbers. Yusuf and the family crowed that the Kerala police cyber cell was on their side.
In Perumbavur, Aparna told the local SHO K P Sreedharan to record that she was being kept prisoner, that she wanted police protection, that she did not want to go back. Sreedhran refused. He watched as another ‘uncle’ Ranjan T, physically threatened the girl and dragged the screaming girl back home. When she said she would speak out before the judge on the 6th of February in the High Court, the SHO also told her she need not be produced, that she would not get the chance. Aparna hired a lawyer, Anila George, on the phone to represent her, from her illegal prison at home. Her family informed her that since it was now war, they were mobilising local people and that Samar would lose his life after the court date is over, since the statement was already in their favour. And then they would deal with her.
The same night the uncles beat and slapped her, the mother spat on her as they read out all the intimate messages that Aparna and Samar had ever exchanged . The messages are to be used by the mother to file a ‘man maryada’ case against Samar for which Aparna’s signature will not be required. They have said he will not leave Kerala alive.
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