There are presently two sexual assault cases registered by Kerala police against activist and author Civic Chandran. The details of the cases blur a little in press reports, but it can be inferred that the accused targeted women writers and readers at literary events and through social media. Chandran has been granted anticipatory bail in both cases, on similarly conjectural grounds, by the Kozhikode district sessions court.
In one case, the court observed that as a noted leftist thinker, it’s “highly unbelievable that he will touch the body of the victim fully knowing that she is a member of the Scheduled Caste”. In the other case, the court observed that a sexual harassment complaint would not prima facie stand when the complainant was thought to be wearing “sexually provocative clothes”.
In both cases, the Kozhikode district sessions court decided to let Chandran off the hook, through an inflated opinion of Chandran’s character and a misogynistic depreciation of the accused’s character.
Reading about Chandran’s work, and about how he allegedly made statements on the “hypocrisy of people in Kerala towards sex” shortly before these cases, reminded me so much of some other notable cultural activists. Their professed leanings are progressive; their actions and words in actual interactions are not. Some of them were implicated in the MeToo movement. Some were not, and still ramble unscathed, coteries around them preciously protecting their reputations while whispers abound – and will always abound.
There was something I learned during one such scenario that became public some years ago. That was: there is always more, much more, beneath the surface. In that situation, it was easy for many to side with the accused because the most visible case was a little complicated, even for those of us who believe women on principle. But the ripples it set off were powerful: in private, even secret and almost always unrecorded ways, other survivors came forth. Most could not risk the visibility of a call out or a formal filing. All were empowered, in the very clandestine places in which healing happens, in some way. Knowing one wasn’t alone in one’s experience has that effect. Healing is more important than justice, sometimes. I’m not saying this happened for everyone, but if it did, then it happened just as the damage happened – out of sight.
At other times, healing is predicated on justice. The outcome for every survivor who seeks legal recourse has an impact on the emotional liberation or continued suffering of many others. Today, this pertains very visibly to the release of eleven rapists and murderers, who had been serving life sentences, involved in what is known as the Bilkis Bano case, part of the carnage of the 2002 Gujarat riots. There too, a judgement of character on purely casteist grounds – that as Brahmins, the perpetrators were inherently good-natured and had reformed – prevailed over the acute need for the survivor’s physical and mental safety.
The Kerala High Court and the Supreme Court of India have both been moved to address these respective travesties of justice. It remains to be seen whether righteousness will triumph, or if wickedness will be left to ramble further.
An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express in August 2022. “The Venus Flytrap” appears in Chennai’s City Express supplement.