“An unwritten social boycott existed against us. People stopped talking to us. Nobody is visiting my home. In tea shops, grocery shops wherever I go, I feel humilated,” says Unnikrishnan, father of a POCSO offence survivor, who hails from Kattoor village in Kerala’s Thrissur district.
The boycott started after Unnikrishnan filed a POCSO case against DYFI’s activist Sayuj. Unnikrishnan alleged a CPI(M) Kattoor local committee member prepared a mass petition against him by collecting signatures from at least 400 families. Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) is an associated youth wing of CPI(M).
Sayuj, along with his wife and three children is living at Unnikrishnan’s ancestral home, situated next to his home, for the past one and half years. Unnikrishnan signed an agreement with Sayuj to sell the house for Rs 3.5 lakhs. Unnikrishnan later canceled the agreement as his 10-year old daughter expressed her discomfort in selling the property. Sayuj agreed to vacate the house by the end of August.
Child sexual abuse
On August 20 this year, on Onam eve, Unnikrishnan’s wife Bindu, who works as a nurse at a private hospital in Thrissur, returned her home at around 7.45 pm. Her daughter told her that she forgot to send classroom assignments to her teacher. As Bindu scolded her daughter, she started crying and it lasted for hours. For the past few months, Bindu has been noticing strange behavioral changes in her daughter. Her daughter breaks down easily over petty things and also got triggered over small issues. Around 10.30 pm, Bindu sat next to her daughter and consoled her. “I asked her what the matter is. ‘Mom, I am not crying over the homework issue, I want to share an important thing with you’, my kid told me,” Bindu told Maktoob. “She pointed her finger towards my neighbor’s home and asked when are they leaving. I replied that they will leave soon. I asked her did she picked up a fight with the neighbor’s kids. She replied no. Then what? Is it Sayuj chettan(uncle)? She nodded yes. I asked her what happened, initially, she hesitated to open up. She insisted to call my husband,” Bindu recalled.
The 10-year-old recalled an incident that happened in the fourth week of June last year when Sayuj’s wife invited her for having Biriyani at her home. “Sayuj, his children, and my daughter were sitting on a bed in the hall and his wife was busy in the kitchen. My daughter told me that Sayuj sat next to her while having the food. According to her, he lifted her froke and touched her private parts over the panty. My daughter, who got scared by the act, dropped the biryani plate and ran away,” Bindu said. She recalled that on the next day of the incident, Sayuj’s wife had told her that her daughter left home without eating Biryani. “I asked my daughter why did she never told us about the incident. She replied that she was afraid that my husband would pick up a fight with Sayuj and she was scared of Sayuj. She added that it’s because of that reason she asked us not to sell the house to Sayuj. I felt numb,” Bindu told Maktoob over the phone. “Finally, after opening up about the incident, my daughter seems relieved. Her smile and smartness reappeared,” 51-year-old Unnikrishnan said.
“My kid was so excited about Onam celebration and Pookalam (floral carpet). I don’t want to spoil it. So we decided to go to the police on the next day after the Onam celebration,” 42-year-old Bindu said. On August 22 at around 3.30 pm, they went to Kattoor police station and filed a complaint against Sayuj. Kattoor police Inspector Sajeev MK registered FIR 484/2021 under sections 354 A(1)(i) of the IPC, Section 9m, 10 of the Protection Of Children from Sexual Offenses(POCSO) Act 2012 section 3 of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. “The police sent us to Irinjalakuda hospital for medical examination and the Kodungallur magistrate recorded my daughter’s statement at around 10 30 pm. Sayuj was arrested on August 23 morning and sent to the district jail,” Bindu said.
Unwritten social boycott
“On the next day of the arrest, CPM workers, under the initiative of CPM local committee member Unnikrishnan, collected 400 family signatures and prepared a mass petition. The petition said that I fabricated the case over a property dispute issue” Unnikrishnan said.
“In addition to that, there seems to be an unannounced social boycott against me and my family. Grocery shopkeepers stopped talking to me. People stopped sitting next to me in tea shops. Friends turned away faces and stopped visiting my house. They closed their doors whenever I passes in front of their houses. People started spreading rumours against me. They called me a drunkard and alleged that I fabricated the case to extort money,” Unnikrishnan alleged.
His wife Bindu alleged that the villagers did not even sparing their cattle. “We had four buffaloes. Some villagers untie it from the grazing field and create a nuisance. We had to sell one buffalo and gave the rest three to my brother,” said Bindu.
Casteism at its peak
According to Unnikrishnan, the whole village, irrespective of party differences, stood against them. Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP) state committee member Resmi Mohanan, who visited Unnikrishnan’s home and talked to his daughter, corroborated the family’s claim of social boycott. “Irrespective of politics, caste became the driving factor in this issue. There are at least 78 families in Unnikrishnan’s locality, 50 of which belong to the Ezhava community. Unnikrishnan’s family is the only Pulaya family living there. The rest of the houses are of Muslims. As the accused hails from the Pulaya community, all of them unified against Unnikrishnan,” Resmi said.
Apart from BSP, a handful of Dalit community organisations also offered support to Unnikrishnan and visited his family. The issue garnered public attention following mainstream media reports.
Meanwhile, a local Youtube channel Irinjalakuda Voice published a report refuting the family’s claim of social boycott. The report, quoting locals, alleged that the case was fabricated over a property dispute issue. In that video, locals alleged that Unnikrishnan was a drunkard and they are afraid that Unnikrishnan might frame them in another sexual assault case. In the video, locals can be seen supporting the accused Sayuj.
Kattoor Police circle inspector and Unnikrishnan’s panchayat ward member Ambujam denied the allegations of social boycott. “We did not get any complaint of social boycott in Kattoor village. It is normal that people will stop talking to a person if they had some issues with him,” the circle inspector said.
Kattoor grama panchayat 14th ward member Ambujam, who belongs to the Congress party, alleged that Unnikrishnan cut the phone call when she contacted him offering help. “The allegation of social boycott is false. Nobody issued a notice to boycott his family. Some of his friends indeed stopped talking to him. It might have mentally affected him. Most of the villagers are supporting Sayuj,” said Ambujam.
“How can the case be fabricated? A 10-year old will never lie about sexual harassment. I talked to the girl and her family. I don’t think her family will use her as a pawn to settle a property dispute,” Resmi Mohanan added, refuting the villagers’ claim.
However, Unnikrishnan and his family are planning to leave their home and relocate to another village. “We are isolated in the village. It’s difficult to survive. We are planning to relocate within three years. I think it’s better for my child’s well-being too. I don’t want her to live in a hostile environment. I don’t want that gaze on my child,” Bindu said.
It’s not the first time, CPI(M) faced the allegation of a social boycott. Chitralekha, a Dalit auto driver from the Kannur district, had earlier accused CPI(M) members of boycotting her family and attacking her house. There are multiple reports of such social boycotts in ‘party villages’ across the state.