Palakkad: As Sunday, October 25, marked one year since a POCSO court in Kerala acquitted all the accused in the alleged rape and murder of the Walayar sisters, the victims’ parents started a hunger strike demanding justice. The case has taken a new turn as the Kerala High Court, on October 19, had considered the state’s statement of no objection to a retrial and reinvestigation. Meanwhile, many activists and the parents have been demanding a judicial probe into the case, since there have been many allegations of investigation lapses from the Kerala police.
After the High Court postponed the case to November 9, on the same day as the Court made its statement, two female police personnel who claimed to be from the Palakkad Women’s Cell approached the victims’ mother for her statement. The mother alleged that the officers did not note down her statement exactly as she had told it. Activists allege that the officers had arrived without the direction of a senior officer or the court. This further calls into question the problematic police probe in the matter.
After the original investigation, and the acquittal of the accused due to lapses in the prosecution’s case, many have argued for the removal of the erring investigators. Their demands were met with a positive nod from Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. However, instead of disciplinary action, the officers were promoted. The then Deputy Superintendent of Police Sojan was promoted to SP and Sub Inspector Chacko is now a Circle Inspector. Even more problematic is including Sojan’s name in the list of officers to be conferred the IPS title. Moreover, the stepfather of the children had alleged that officers urged him to cope up to the crime and promised to help him if he did so.
These are not the only controversial postings and promotions to be associated with the case. N Rajesh, who had appeared for the third accused in the case, was later appointed the Chairman of the Palakkad Child Welfare Committee. This prompted widespread protests and the administration removed him from the post as a result. However, by then the posting had created a suspicion of foul play in the case as the appointment happened around the trial.
The two minor Dalit sisters were found hanging in their hut in Walayar in 2017. The 13-year-old elder sister was found on January 13, following which the nine-year-old younger girl testified seeing her sister’s attackers. The younger sister was found in a similar state on March 4. This is during a time when the state has been accused of not acting on the many Dalit atrocities throughout Kerala, especially a few involving some left activists.
The original probe did not pursue murder, but a case of unnatural death and they tried to push the suicide argument. The case began to pick up traction following the younger sister’s death and the post mortem report claiming sexual assault. Much before that, the autopsy report of the 13-year-old had stated that the girl died by hanging, and added that while there were no genital injuries, the “anal orifice appeared stretched with multiple mucosal erosions…” The police, having ignored this fact, had to follow through when the conditions repeated in the case of the younger girl.
Ramesh Chennithala, Opposition Leader
After further postmortem report indicating multiple cases of sexual assault on the girls, with younger one’s report indicating vaginal penetration as well, the police added more sections to the investigation. After days of work, the investigating officers arrested five people — V Madhu, M Madhu, Shibu, Pradeep Kumar, and a juvenile. However, the courts acquitted the accused due to lack of evidence, since the prosecution’s side was filled with hearsays, inconclusive and circumstantial evidence. This called into question the efficacy of the investigation.
The PK Haneefa commission, assigned by the government to probe into the case, emphasised the serious lapses that led to the acquittal. The former District Judge found serious holes in the prosecution’s case and blasted the police for the tardy investigation. The committee recommended taking action against the then SI PC Chacko. While criticising the two special prosecutors, Jalaja Madhavan and Latha Jayaraj, the report said that they had “not succeeded in truly and faithfully utilising the evidence gathered during the investigation and in conscientiously presenting all the matters proving the charges against the accused persons during the trial of the cases…”
The committee further added that the prosecutors did not take any steps to rectify the shortcomings of the final investigation report, despite claiming the evidence to be inefficient. The panel suggested that the two prosecutors may not be recommended to the post of Public Prosecutors in Sessions Court in the future due to “glaring lapses committed by them”.
As the High Court starts hearing statements from November 9 onwards, it reignites hope for the family.
However, the family will continue with their hunger strike. BJP State President K Surendran and Opposition Leader Ramesh Chennithala visited the protesting parents on Monday, October 26. Ramesh Chennithala asked, “If this is the condition of rape victims in a state like Kerala, then what is the difference between UP and Kerala and Hathras and Walayar.” Expressing solidarity with the protesting parents, he added that the officers who allegedly botched the investigation would not be there if UDF comes to power.
Two weeks ago, the parents had held a satyagraha in front of the Secretariat in the name of justice for their daughters. This is not the first time they had had to do that. The parents have pleaded with CM Pinarayi to get justice, and the mother had written a letter to the latter against the promotion of the cop who botched the case. Speaking of SP Sojan, the father had alleged that the officer’s “cope up, and we will help” stand pushed him to attempt suicide. The Justice for Walayar Kids Forum has also been pushing for the punishment for SP Sojan.
The Opposition Leader, after meeting with the parents, on Monday, said, “The government shouldn’t be this cruel. How many times have the UDF raised the Walayar issue at the assembly, and the government has turned a blind eye at all times.”
Further criticising the government, Surendran said, “CM Pinarayi Vijayan is trying to overturn the investigation of the rape and murder of the Walayar sisters by using intermediaries. The truth will come out only through a CBI probe.”
Meanwhile, Minister for Welfare of SC, ST, and BC, has been in the limelight for questioning the parents’ protest. He said, “I don’t understand why the mother is protesting now. The case is under the court’s consideration and the state can do nothing at the time. Moreover, the administration cannot take action against the officers so quickly, since it has to follow protocol.” He has also recently faced criticism from Tribal communities in the state for not having provided necessary facilities when it comes to their access to education.