Authorities in the south Indian state of Kerala must ensure an independent investigation into allegations of police inaction in a case involving the rape and brutal murder of a 30-year-old Dalit woman in Vattolippadi, Kerala. The failure of the police to investigate previous complaints about caste-based discrimination and harassment against the woman’s family must also be investigated.
On the evening of 28 April, the woman, a law student, was found dead in her home by her mother, who works as a daily wage labourer. Media reports state that the autopsy found 38 wounds on the woman’s body and signs of rape, and her intestines had been partially removed. The police subsequently registered a First Information Report (FIR), but have not yet provided a copy of the FIR to the victim’s family, despite being required to do so under Indian law.
Three men have been detained in relation to the killing. The Kerala government has announced that it will give 100,000 INR as compensation to the family.
“Police inaction in cases involving violence against Dalit women is unfortunately disturbingly common. Even in this case, the police failed to act on earlier complaints from the family,” said Rekha Raj, Programme Manager, Women’s Rights, at Amnesty International India.
Speaking with Amnesty International India, the victim’s sister said, “We have complained earlier against certain individuals who used to threaten us, but the police did not take any action.”
Amnesty International India has accessed a copy of a previous complaint which the victim’s sister said was submitted in May 2014 by her mother to the Aluva district police, in which she states that her neighbour had been harassing and threatening the family. The complaint also states that the local police had not acted on several earlier complaints.
Laila Rasheed, an activist who had worked to secure social benefits for the victim’s family, told Amnesty International India, “The family faced social alienation because they were poor and Dalit. They were not even allowed to draw water from their neighbours’ wells. Both mother and daughter boldly confronted and resisted such injustice. This made them unpopular.”
“Dalit women face multiple levels of discrimination- from the community and often from the police. The Kerala government must hold the police accountable for any inaction on their part,” said Rekha Raj.
Systemic bias against people from Dalit and Adivasi communities make it less likely that crimes against women from these communities will be reported, investigated and prosecuted effectively. A 2005 study on 500 cases of violence against Dalit women in four Indian states found that two out of five women who had experienced violence did not seek legal remedies, primarily out of fear of the perpetrators, or social stigma, ignorance of the law, or the belief that they would not get justice.