Five years on since the attack that shook Kerala; Where do we stand?


Athira MR

The pertinent question that pops up as one analyses the 2017 incident and all that took place in the past five years is, where do we stand in terms of justice? How can a case such as this be twisted around for years? Does the willpower shown by the survivor mean nothing? The questions burn like a massive wildfire.

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Representative image | Photo: Mathrubhumi

We hear shocking stories all the time. Stories that may leave you feeling worried and shattered, stories that linger and keep gnawing at your conscience and most of the time stories that slowly move away from your minds and inch closer towards total oblivion. But there is a single piece of news that rocked Kerala inside out back in 2017, a piece of startling news that Keralites can never forget no matter how hard they try.

The date is February 17. It was exactly five years ago, on this very day that a prominent Malayalam actress was abducted and sexually assaulted in a moving vehicle as she was travelling from Thrissur to Kochi. The attackers recorded the video of the assault and later dropped her off. The actress filed a complaint on the same day and the police registered a case.

The actress identified one of the attackers as Sunil Kumar, who goes by the name Pulsar Suni. He had worked as a driver for many actors including her. The police arrested three of the seven accused. Two accused including Pulsar Suni were on the run for a while before they finally appeared before the Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate. The evidence including the visual of the assault was handed over to the Angamaly Magistrate. A rigorous investigation ensued.

What followed is a gush of messed-up twists and turns, spewing and spilling all sorts of conundrums. The next shock came when the so-called 'Janapriya Nayakan' of Malayalam, actor Dileep's name surfaced as the case was being investigated, and that too as one of the key conspirators in the case. This was after the police found the letter that was allegedly sent by Pulsar Suni to Dileep.

But the biggest of all shocks, the most horrifying fact that was thrown at our faces was how unsafe a woman really is in society.

The actor was arrested on July 10, 2017. He was expelled from the Association of Malayalam Movie Artistes (AMMA) following this as protests mounted across the state.

A strong voice demanding justice for the survivor rose from the multitudes, but an equally strong voice of dissent arose from the other side. This was the voice of the toxic fans and many others belonging to the film fraternity who pledged their support for Dileep. The voices stood locked in a stand-off.

Women in Cinema Collective (WCC), an organization for the welfare of women working in the Malayalam cinema industry was formed a few months after the attack on the actress. They pledged their allegiance to the actress and started the 'Avalkoppam' (With Her) campaign on social media that brought together an inevitable force that stood with the survivor.

WCC submitted a petition to the Chief Minister of Kerala, requesting an inquiry into the case on May 18. The state government constituted the Hema commission in July 2017 upon the demand from WCC. The detailed report on the issues faced by women in the Malayalam film industry was submitted to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan later on in 2019, which is a whole other ground for discussion by itself as the report has not come out even after 2 years. WCC condemned and protested against the decision of the AMMA organisation to reinstate actor Dileep when the case was still sub judice.

Dileep, after spending 85 days in jail, was granted bail and released on October 3, 2017. Stirring up much turbulence, AMMA presided by actor Mohanlal decided to take Dileep back into the organization in June 2018. The trial against the actor, Pulsar Suni and the other accused finally began in January 2020 after three years. The case was set on a rocky road. With many key witnesses including Bhamaa, Siddique, Edavela Babu and Bindu Panicker turning hostile and Special Public Prosecutor A Suresan quitting the case, the case and the investigation took on a sluggish pace.

Things were looking pretty bleak until director Balachandrakumar, a close confidante of Dileep, came forward with fresh accusations against the actor. The 'fresh evidence' including voice clips have put the actor in a tough spot. A case has been registered against the actor for allegedly planning to endanger the investigation officers in the assault case.

With all the recent hubbub over the case, the actress took to her social media handle to share the story of her relentless fight. That was the first time the survivor revealed her identity. Many big shots of Mollywood, including Mammootty and Mohanlal, other actors including Zoya Akhtar, Prithviraj Sukumaran, Tovino Thomas, Sonam Kapoor and several other celebrities pledged their solidarity towards the survivor. The post found its place across the statuses and profiles of thousands of people, a simple show of how much support and love people have for the survivor. The 'Yellow Revolution' has shown us what it's like to be united by love in the duel for justice.

The Kerala High Court granted an anticipatory bail plea to Dileep and others in the conspiracy case against them for trying to endanger the officers. In the most recent development, the Crime Branch has decided to interrogate actor Dileep over the conspiracy case. Along with Dileep, other accused including his brother Anoop and brother-in-law Sooraj will also be questioned again.

The fights led by WCC are still strong, they have strongly come out against the non-availability of the Hema Commission Report. Their campaign 'Refuse the Abuse' declaring protest on cyberattacks against women also saw much acceptance. The WCC members also met the Women’s Commission chairperson P Sathidevi recently demanding the disclosure of the Hema Commission report.

The pertinent question that pops up as one analyses the 2017 incident and all that took place in the past five years is, where do we stand in terms of justice? How can a case such as this be twisted around for years? Does the willpower shown by the survivor mean nothing? The questions burn like a massive wildfire. The words of Malala Yousafzai could be recalled here - 'There are two powers in the world; one is the sword and the other is the pen. There is a third power stronger than both, that of women.' And of course, we are talking about not just a woman, but a very brave woman who decided to speak out against the assault. Let us salute her, let us stand by her, let us see to it that she doesn't fail in this fight for justice!

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