Madam Justice, Here’s My Character Certificate

I have been restraining from writing another post regarding the highly patriarchal and hypocritical society in Kerala. My intention is not to blame without reason as well. But the innumerable number of incidents and popular opinion on those incidents is too horrendous that one cannot restrain from responding to those issues.

I recently watched a chat show regarding Child Sexual Abuse. I repeat – Child Sexual Abuse. Can there be even a debate in this regard? Isn’t this a straightforward discussion about how the pedophile should be punished? But apparently not! Kiran Manral and Monika Manchanda might be able to shed more light on how much troll they received in the light of their Child Sexual Abuse Awareness Blog initiative.

However, you would expect that people who are in responsible positions would not make insensitive and irresponsible statements? I am particularly writing about the statements made by Justice Sreedevi, the Chairperson of the Kerala Women’s Commission in the program, Nammal Thammil in Asianet, a mainstream Malayalam channel on 17th September 2011.

Frankly, I would not reproduce all her words considering that this website maintains a particular level of decency. The same reason why I would not even link the video in this post. Along the discussion, Justice Sreedevi makes a statement that if a girl wears revealing clothes (she pretty much describes parts of a girl’s body in a rather provocative manner which, many a man might find “tempting”), then it is very “natural” for any man to be tempted to touch her! She asks, “Don’t men have feelings? When they see this, they will feel like touching and they will touch. Some girls will enjoy this (she makes an expression of women enjoying) and some will get angry. Why create this situation?”

Really madam? Are you the person that I am expected to meet and discuss regarding any harassment I was meted out? Do I have to bring my character certificate, possibly from my right wing Hindutva brothers in Mangalore? I guess, the minimum criteria for any woman to register her complaint would depend on the length of her dress.

I don’t have words to describe my anguish, horror and shock to hear her say the things she did. How can a law enforcing authority, particularly involved in women’s issues talk like this? How can she justify men who violate women? How can she dismiss women’s dignity as easily as she did?

Let me put down the objectives of the Women’s Commission here as translated from their Annual report :

  • To protect women’s rights and their dignity

  • To raise women’s status in society by investigating and resolving issues regarding women’s harassment and violence against women

  • To take actions that empowers women and ensures women’s equality

Seriously. If the head of an institution which is supposed to uphold women’s rights undermines issues that women face based on their “dress”, I am afraid to say, “justice” is so many miles away for lakhs of women. Is this upholding of women’s dignity? She undermines the strength of an institution which was supposed to be the solace for women in Kerala.

Madam Justice, truly, do you understand what you are doing with such careless statements?

I am reminded of Madam Dikshit’s remarks on women being adventurous. Women activists made this an issue in Delhi. I hope activists in Kerala will not take these statements lightly. Such remarks cannot be tolerated. Heads of institutions are responsible to the public for the kind of messages that they spread out. This institution is supposed to be a space where women can approach for resolving their issues without fear of judgement and victimisation. It needs to be what it claims to be.

In the said discussion, a young girl said, “Parents are also to be blamed too. They buy clothes which are too short for their children. This can also be tempting for abusers,” and my heart broke. It felt like, we were walking a million steps backward.

Are our children going to grow up believing that they are responsible for the violence that is imposed on them? Are they going to take the blame even if they were abused by some obnoxious minded paedophile? And most importantly, is our legal system going to “resolve” cases with this framework?

Justice Sreedevi and people who hold positions as important as hers have a responsibility to the society. They are supposed to instil confidence in women to be able to register their complaints of harassment and violence. Imagine the kind of influence that she could have on young impressionable minds, through programs like these – after all, its an “honourable” judge. It was no wonder that the young girl said the things that she did. If Justice Sreedevi boosted the confidence of anyone, it was of all those eve teasers, paedophiles and rapists. Yes Madam, they were tempted and did the most natural thing ever possible.

Horrified and saddened to the core.

Thanks to e-group Fourth Estate Critique for initiating this discussion.

This post was published in Women's Web.