‘Honor’ dishonored in Kerala

By Dr. George Jacob

Kochi: Kevin Joseph (26) and Neenu Chacko (20) were natives of Pathanapuram in Kerala, called ‘God’s own country’. However, the state is not only losing that tag for all the wrong reasons.

Kevin and Neenu had been in a relationship for three years. Eventually they married. Kevin belonged to a ‘socially backward’ Dalit Christian community, while Neenu belonged to a Christian community which not only belonged to a caste much ‘higher-up’ in the rung of the stratified Indian ‘society’, but was also financially better off than her husband’s family.

They married defying the objections of Neenu’s family, which was piqued with her for marrying a person who was socially and financially ‘backward’ than hers. Neenu’s family perceived her audacious act rife with indiscreetness, as an insult to their ‘honor’, which to them was badly dented. Their marital bliss however, did not last long. It was cut short in the most brutal manner possible.

Kevin went missing soon after their wedding. Neenu and Kevin’s family lodged a man-missing complaint with the police. On May 28, Kevin’s body was fished out of a canal in Chaliyekkara in Kollam (formerly Quilon).

It wasn’t just another ‘straightforward’ death, or as was believed right from the moment Kevin’s body was recovered, ‘just another’ murder. Indeed it was a murder most foul, which had political, social and moral ramifications and implications. Resultantly, the citizenry of the tiny southern Indian state lost faith in her elected government and custodians of law and social order.

Neenu had approached the Gandhinagar Police Station in Kottayam to file a complaint regarding her husband’s disappearance. According to her, her complaints fell on deaf ears. She was told by the police that the state’s chief minister’s programs were going on in Kottayam district, and that the police will be able to look into her complaints only after that!

Clearly, to the police, their duty to oversee smooth conduct of programs of an elected representative of the people took precedence over investigating ‘man missing case’ filed by a distraught person. For what is a commoner after the elections? They’re just nuisance and source of inconvenience to the ruling disposition, which was conferred the legal right to govern by these so-called ‘commoners’.

Kevin’s father also approached the police to complain about his missing son. The police went on ‘deaf mode’ again. Nobody in that police station bothered to even file the complaints. They seemed simply uninterested.

However, other people smelt rat. They surrounded the police station. The situation seemed ideal for politicians belonging to the opposition party in the state, the Indian National Congress to fish in troubled waters. An MLA, the former chief minister of the state, and the leader of the opposition, all belonging to the Congress staged a sit-in protesting against the police inaction. They were joined by the BJP. All these political outfits- birds of the same feather, got together to make hay when the sun shone through an ideal opportunity!

Congress workers under Kollam District Congress Committee marched in the city accusing the chief minister of protecting workers of the youth outfit of the leftists. One of them was involved in the team that abducted Kevin, while another was taken into police custody. Were the leftists involved in Kevin’s abduction and subsequent death? Strange indeed are the ways of politics and its custodians!

The politicians’ usual dirty game of fishing in troubled waters to their advantage was overshadowed and rendered insignificant by the connivance and involvement of the police department in Kevin’s murder by his wife’s family to safeguard their ‘honor’. An inquiry by the Kochi range Inspector General of Police revealed glaring hand-in-glove involvement of the police in Kevin’s murder.

The Gandhinagar police in Kottayam district was aware of the abduction and murder, and yet they ignored Neenu’s complaint. Based on this, an Assistant Sub-inspector and the driver of a police patrolling vehicle were later taken into custody. The very custodians of law seemed to breach it most audaciously. The keys of law and order in ‘God’s own’ Kerala seemed to have been entrusted with wrong persons.

Enquiry seemed to suggest that the ASI not only did know of the crime, but also helped the accused carry it out, along with the police driver. The ASI and the driver informed the first accused, Neenu’s older brother about Kevin’s whereabouts before his abduction and subsequent murder. The media released an audio clip of telephonic conversation between the ASI and the first accused, wherein the former was heard to promise the latter that he would do ‘whatever is possible in his capacity’ to ensure that the long arm of law wouldn’t reach the latter!

Apart from the two police officials, of 14 accused, 3 more were taken into custody. This includes the first accused, Neenu’s older brother, and also her father, who decided to kill the husband of their sister and daughter respectively, to safeguard the family’s honor, which they perceived was badly sullied by one of its member marrying a person who was socially and financially backward.

As they cool their heels in prison, awaiting completion of the case and its outcome, the entire family, dishonored through its efforts to restore lost honor stands with its head lowered before the entire country, and a shocked state awaiting the quantum of punishment if implicated.

‘Honor killing’, a practice once thought rampant in northern India, jolted the distant ‘God’s own’ Kerala! The common man can only consider Kevin’s murder philosophically. For, what is the relevance and priority of a commodity as abstract as honor before life, which itself is so uncertain? In what way does honor thus regained and restored, if at all, through a murder most macabre stand in good stead of that dishonored family, now labeled as ‘murderers’ by more civilized citizenry?

What awaits the dishonored family that attempted to stand for a commodity as fickle, short-lived and uncertain as ‘honor’ is anybody’s guess. If found guilty of murder, or attempt to murder, the family who did not think twice before taking an innocent life with the connivance of law and order machinery could be awarded the most severe punishment in the land, to add to its dishonor.

In the meantime, this murder has been an eye-opener to Kerala’s citizens
• A man was killed with blatant hand-in-gloves connivance of the police, an apparatus supposed to maintain law and order, but now an accomplice in the murder!
• With the arrest of its youth wing members, a finger has been pointed at the government in power in the state. A government duly elected by a people, which they hoped would serve them, and do them good. Did the very political outfit they elected stand guard for the killers of one of them?
• Everything put together, Kerala, supposed to be a ‘literate’ state, known for rule of law and a peaceful society, suddenly seems to be no different from some states in the Indian cow belt, where people are killed like mosquitoes for lost ‘honor’.
• The so-called literacy and vastly superior quality of life and health indices of Kerala were abruptly shorn of all relevance and propriety through this one act of indiscretion that resulted in the murder of one of her citizens, for ‘honor’, which was badly dishonored!

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