By Nikhil Jayakrishnan
For all its talk of progressivism, the fact remains that mainstream society in Kerala is deeply rooted in patriarchy and misogyny. Incidents during the past few months – from the abduction and sexual assault of an actress to the rape and impregnation of a minor by a pastor – have stripped the state’s veneer of a progressive, liberal society, laying bare the fact that despite the highest literacy rates, male to female ratio and lowest infant mortality rates, women in Kerala are no less vulnerable to physical and verbal abuse than in other ‘backward’ states. Even the international media could not help but take note of this glaring paradox.
“Despite the strides women have made in various fields, their safety in the state remains a sorry affair,” says K C Rosakutty, Chairman, Kerala Women’s Commission, while also bemoaning the patriarchal attitude that still holds a firm grip on public perception of women. “The idea that women deserve equal rights as individuals is yet to gain currency in the popular discourse. This can only be brought about by implementing gender sensitisation at the school level,” she added.
Gender equality, she said, should begin right from home, by treating boys and girls as equals – which is very rarely the case. “Despite our claims as a progressive society, it is hard to see women being given equal importance as men in many families,” Ms Rosakutty noted.
The idea that women are inferior to men is a standard trope of popular culture, one that has been endlessly repeated through films and television. ‘Verum Pennu’ (mere female), a line most celluloid heroes resort to to put women in their place, has been repeated in film after film for so many decades that the idea has been ingrained so deeply in the popular imagination.
“Modern technology has enabled access to sexual imagery which, coupled with the lack of proper sexual awareness, can have dangerous effects on young minds,” Ms Rosakutty added, while emphasising the need to inculcate sex education in schools.
2016 saw 2,568 cases of rape (In 924 of these cases, the victims were children), an increase from 1,983 in 2015, and 2017 has so far given us no cause to cheer. “We need to have fast track courts to ensure that crimes against women and children are dealt with rapidly. It is not uncommon for such cases to be dragged for years, which alone can deter victims from pursuing justice,” she said.