Soumya, a 23 year old girl from Shornur, in Kerala is dead. Her death is being discussed and dissected in the media and among public of Kerala. Of course, we are very good to find faults with others and we are doing the same in this case as well. Depending on which side of the politics we stand, our direction of accusation differs. With state elections round the corner, we will witness more and more accusations and then everything will go back to normal; business as usual!
I am trying to look at some of the aspects of Soumya’s death which we will not like to discuss because the finger is pointing at ourselves!
Soumya was employed in a super market in Kochi. Her family is so poor that she had to go to Kochi which is at some distance from Shornur to take up that job. She was returning to her home in Shornur, on 4th of February, because there was a marriage proposal and the boy was expected to come home to see her. The young girl must have been with full of dreams about the proposed marriage and the life ahead. As is the usual practice of all women, who are travelling without male escorts, she got into the ladies coach of the train.
Apparently, the ladies coach was empty. At a place near Vallathol Nagar Railway station, a man named Govindaswamy, who is allegedly a drug addict and psychopath, entered the coach and in hte slow moving train tried to molest her. She cried out for help. Though many people heard the cry no one ventured out to see what happened. She resisted the man and was pushed out (or she jumped out to escape from) by him out of the train. Govindaswmay alias Charlie also jumped out of the train. Both these jumps/ fall were seen by other passengers but they preferred not to stop the train or alert the guard. Wouldn’t that have delayed the train and their arrival at the comfort of their homes?!
When the train reached Shornur, one of the witnesses informed guard about the incidents. The guard immediately alerted security staff at station and searched were initiated. Finally they found the girl about 400 meters away from the Vallathol Nagar station, almost half dead. She was not only raped by the man but also attacked viciously on her head with stone.
She was taken to Thrissur Medical college hospital where in spite of doctors’ best efforts she succumbed to her injuries on 06th February.
The blame game
The argumentative Indians that we are, on death of Soumya, we immediately started debates on the death and the attack and began passing judgements against all those whom we found it convenient to blame. We were all disgusted at the callousness of authorities, lack of security, lack of respect for women, lack of police torture on the attacker Govindaswamy and so on.
If we are on the left side of political spectrum (LDF), we attacked Mamata’s railway. If we are on the right side (UDF), we attacked state government. If we are in the BJP, we attacked left right and centre. We attacked railway stations and stopped trains to express our anger. But as a rule, we all refused to introspect.
I blame not railway, not police, not government but our society and its people i.e., you and me for the death of Soumya. Govindaswamy must be punished for his deeds. But who will punish you and me?
Consider this. What made a 23 year old girl to ravel in an empty ladies coach, even after being aware of all the risks associated with such lonely travel? There were enough coaches which were adequately filled with passengers. Some men travelling alone, and others travelling with their family. Yet, Soumya chose to travel in the empty coach.
Could authorities have prevented this?
Some says this could have been prevented if the ladies coach was in the middle and not right at the end of train. Is it right? Why did authorities attach the ladies coach at the end and not in the middle? Well, they have tried it in the past but reverted back soon when the ladies travelling in those coaches felt harassed, not by Govindaswamies but by you and me, who kept moving through the ladies coach; you know for what.
For a moment, assume the ladies coach was in the middle. What difference it would have made? Govindaswamy would still have entered the coach (given the kind of profile being projected) and attacked Soumya. She would have cried out and travelers in other coaches would hear it but not intervene. Finally, she would have jumped out or he pushed her out of the train. No one would have cared and rest would be as it was.
Now consider ‘adequate security’. What is adequate security? Policemen in ladies coach? No? How about policewomen? Could they have stopped a mad man like Govindaswamy on their own even if attack the very policewomen? I doubt it.
The fact is that there is not enough security that can be provided by the authorities. If you protect one place Govindaswamy will find another place where he can attack his victim. No government can provide foolproof security to all its citizens all the time. Personally, I wouldn't prefer that kind of ‘protection’ to me or my family.
While this is not to stop authorities from taking all possible steps to ensure security of women and men, we need to introspect on our own failures.
We are to be blamed!
The men in Kerala never grow up. They are stuck in their adolescent habits of gawking at girls and even trying to touch them whenever they can. You see it everywhere; in the trains in the buses, in offices, in political parties. The harassment goes on. No girl will venture out of the safety of her home after the sunset. If she does that she might in all probability end up in some ice cream parlour or video shooting centre that are fronts for women trafficking. We all know that. But will we react? Oh no; we do not have the time. We need to reach home to be with our family or we need to hurry to be in the queue of Beverages Corporation!
If Soumya felt reassured by the presence of her ‘brothers and uncles’ travelling in the other coaches; if Soumya’s cries were responded to by at least one passenger in that train; if at least one person decided to pull chain and stop train when two people fell / jumped out of the train; this tragedy could have been averted. We did not do that and therefore, you and me are to be blamed.
So long as we do not provide a feeling of security to our girls while they are travelling with us in busses or trains, that they can be sure of us not harassing them through words, stares or touches, so long as we do not react to a call in distress, so long as we do not try to stop a crime in progress because that is inconvenient to us, more Soumyas will be raped and killed by Govindaswamies. If we really feel for Soumya, what we can do in her memory is to take a pledge to change ourselves.
By seeking police torture of Govindaswamy, or stopping trains or attacking railway stations and destroying public property nothing will change. Criminals will be borne again and again. They will attack helpless victims wherever they can. If we do not respond to calls for help, till the cry is from our own sister, mother, wife, or daughter or even grandmother, we will soon find that the last cry was from one of them.