‘Suicide of Sunita Babu – Due to Police Harassment‘
A fact-finding report on a Dalit woman’s suicide in Kerala by Sthreekoottayma (A women’s collective)
The suicide of Sunita Babu, a Dalit woman, in Eroor, Thrippunithara of Ernakulum District appeared and was discussed in the media, but not with the seriousness that it deserved. The media portrayed it as a case of suicide driven by the weight of having divulged to the police the whereabouts of her criminal husband. The society saw nothing amiss in this incident. However, the fact of the matter is that Sunita took her own life, having been driven to it by two weeks of harassment by the police hunting for the accused Babu. For two weeks, the police frequented the house of the accused in uniform and civilian clothes, and constantly harassed the women and the children in the guise of trying to get information about the absconding accused, resulting in a tragic end for Sunita who was neither involved in, nor was a witness to the incident. Below is an account of facts of this incident that has not come to light.
April 30, 2013
Chandran is a daily-wage employee working in Vimal Bazaar, owned by T.V. Ramachandran near Mathoor gate in Eroor, Thrippunithura. On the said day, he borrowed a bicycle (that belonged to Ramachandran’s uncle) from this shop, to go home for his breakfast. While he was having food at home, Chandran’s nephews took the bicycle to visit the temple. While the children were inside the temple, the bicycle was left outside, where it was spotted by its owner, Ramachandran’s uncle who was walking along the road. He took the bicycle. When the children came out of the temple, they didn’t see the cycle and went around searching for it. When they were certain that they had lost it, they informed Chandran, their uncle and all of them together started searching for it. Having lost hope of finding it, they went to Ramachandran’s shop, where they saw the cycle in front of the shop. When the children tried to get inside the shop to ask what had happened, Ramachandran said ‘Get out, pulayadimakkale‘ (this is considered an expletive in Kerala and is a casteist abuse .). Ramachandran abused the children calling caste names.
At this time, Babu, Sunita’s husband was passing by, and the children told him about this incident. Babu went inside the shop when Ramachandran shoved him and abused him too similarly saying ‘Get out, pulayadimakkale‘, and called him many other expletives. Annoyed by this Babu grabbed Ramachandran by his shirt collar and Ramachandran hit Babu on his face with the weighing scale, and beat him down.
Afterwards, the Vyapari Vyavasayi Ekopana Samiti (Kerala’s organization of traders and businessmen) was informed. On the accusation that Babu assaulted and beat down Ramachandran, a hartal of all traders was called for the next day. Also, a complaint was lodged against Babu in the Trippunithura police station. Six charges, including non-bailable offences were filed against Babu by the police. When Babu got to know about this, he went into hiding and tried to get an anticipatory bail.
From the day this case was charged (on May 1, 2013), Trippunithura police started frequently visited the homes of Babu, his elder brother, and two other neighbouring Dalit families, and threatened the women and children in the households. They used abusive language that cannot even be reproduced. Babu’s elder brother’s son, who was preparing for his degree examination was unable to study, and was forced to go into hiding.
Babu’s family are CPM activists. His elder brother’s wife is ADS chairperson of the Kudumbashree (Area Development Societies are the second tier of the three-tier organization of Kudumbashree, the state’s network of women’s self help groups). This lady was much abused by the Trippunithura Sub-Inspector P.R. Santhosh who threatened her saying “It’s not the men in this household that I want, it is you”. The abuses showered on them by the police were of the kind that one shudders to utter in front of children. These families lived in terror from May 1, the day the case was charged, till May 16, afraid of the rumbling and growling of the police jeeps day in and day out. Meanwhile, on one of those days, a friend of Babu’s, unaware any of these incidents, came to visit Babu’s bedridden mother. While he was talking to Babu’s mother, the police rushed into the home, took away the clueless friend and questioned him for one whole day in lock-up.
On 16th of May, around 11 a.m. the police jeep came and as usual the police started harassing and threatening the household. By 12 noon, S.I. Santhosh, and the Women S.I. sped to the place in a jeep, and barged into the house, and dragged Babu’s wife Sunita holding her by her hair, pummelled her into the jeep. Babu’s paralyzed mother, who cannot even sit up without help, cried and implored them not to beat Sunita and take her away. This old paralyzed woman was threatened saying “Shut up, or we will shove a gag into your mouth”. Sunita, who was taken in the jeep, was treated like a hardened criminal and the jeep stopped at all junctions where she was displayed in front of the people like a showpiece.
After reaching the police station, she was made to stand in the hot sun for hours to mentally (and physically) harass her. After that she was made to sit in a chair inside the station; she was tied with her long hair around the chair, and the police started to beat her up. After she was tortured, her husband’s whereabouts was forced out of her. After that she was again threatened that her photo will appear in the next day’s newspapers. After some time, some other personalities who appeared to be journalists also came there. Sunita’s relatives who tried to visit her in the station were not even allowed to meet her, and the police lied to them that she had been let off. Later, at 6:30 p.m., Sunita was sent away from the police station with her relatives.
Babu’s family, who were staunch believers in the CPM party’s ideology, pleaded at the feet of the CPM leaders in the area to help them when Sunita was taken away. However, they excused themselves from offering help saying that the minister K.Babu was directly involved in the case and they couldn’t do anything.
Sunita reached back her home by 7 p.m., and narrated to her family amidst tears and wailing about how the police mentally tortured her, and used techniques similar to third grade torture to extract from her the information about Babu. She was crying till 3 a.m. in the morning, and kept asking the family members: “Will my photo appear in tomorrow’s newspapers?”. After 3 a.m. in the morning, having consoled her as best as they could, the family went to sleep. After that, Sunita went to the near-by railway tracks and killed herself by jumping in front of a train.
Her body was taken to Ernakulum Government Hospital for post-mortem the next day morning. None of the relatives were allowed to accompany the body. At this time, the minister K.Babu’s right-hand man Suresh Rafi accompanied the dead body. After the post-mortem, before the relatives could arrive, Suresh Rafi signed and received her body. But he has not visited Sunitha’s house at least once after that. Till date, her family has not yet received her post-mortem report also.
Sunita had to end her life after being hunted by the police. The Kerala Police Act says that ‘All police officers in duty should exhibit good manners and polite behaviour and compassion befitting the circumstances, and should use language that is decent and polite’. Additionally, according to Criminal Law 160(1), any woman or boy below 15 years of age cannot be asked to appear for questioning in any place other than where they live. It was in this circumstances that Sunita, who was not involved in this case in any manner, and not an accused, was taken away from her home forcefully, and displayed in public places in the police jeep, and was detained and interrogated for hours in prison. This is a blatant violation of all laws.
While Kerala claims to have achieved progress, and while leftist parties including the CPM claim to have put an end to casteism, the Dalit and Adivasi communities face torture and discrimination even today. Under a patriarchal order, even as women experience exploitation and violence, Dalit-Adivasi women experience double-exploitation. Brahminism continues as the public consciousness of the society that sanctions viewing Dalits and Adivasis as criminals and thieves. The state also portrays Dalits and Adivasis as criminals conveniently, and hunts them. The political parties, including the CPI, CPM, BJP, and the Congress, that did not stand up for the Dalit families when they were hunted for 16 days also have the blood of these victims of the state on their hands.
• Suspend the S.I. subject to enquiry.
• Register the charges of abetting suicide against Excise Minister K. Babu, Police officers including the Sub Inspector, Vimal Bazaar owner Ramachandran and other officials of the Vyapari Vyavasayi Ekopana Samiti. Additionally, apart from under the IPC sections, also book them for Prison torture, and under the Prevention of Atrocities against SC/ST Act.
• Immediate and appropriate compensation to Sunita’s family.
‘Sthreekoottayma‘ is a collective of woman activists working in different organizations and areas, based in Ernakulam.
[Via Ajith Kumar A. S.]