The price of silence
The small municipal town of Pollachi in Tamil Nadu's Coimbatore district has numerous first generation learners. It is easier to soft-target women in such a situation, as precisely has happened in the small town. The apprehension of few accused at the end of February brings more than a semblance of justice to the victims; it brings to highlight the prevalence of normalised sexual abuse of the vulnerable to appalling extents. This has snowballed into a major scandal with the emergence of local reports that at least a few hundred women in the town were victims of organised racket of sexual abuse, blackmail, and extortion. The reports state that just one survivor has filed a complaint despite that fact that many have confirmed on police helpline that they have suffered abuse, blackmail, and extortion at the hands of predators. The apparent reason for them not putting in a written complaint is the pervading culture of victim-shaming. Further, among the accused was a member of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (who was subsequently removed from the party), and Opposition parties allege that the case involves those much higher in the State's ruling party leadership. What we see here is that the crumpled social fabric is losing focus from the issue at hand and instead, this incident is pushed towards unnecessary politicisation. The case was subsequently handed over to CBI upon the Governor's consent, but this does not address the reasons that led to such disgrace.
Sexual abuse, assault, misconduct are much more prevalent than perceived but hardly spoken about due to social apathy in general for such things. The price of not speaking up is enormous – and is paid collectively. Young women from the town are expressly avoided for matrimonial consideration by neighbouring regions and communities. Apart from taking a toll on their self-esteem and self-worth, higher education of women is severely threatened. They are encouraged to enroll in correspondence courses instead of regular ones. This is a very retrograde trend whereby education is a mere formality or socially acceptable method of biding time (until marriage) and not valued for its intrinsic quality. If women are not free to go out and get education, they are virtually incapacitated to go out and do anything on their own. Legal intervention is only the first step in setting things right. Ultimately it is a social issue that must be addressed by a concerned civil society. Silence must be actively discouraged. Survivors must be supported.