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regular-article-logo Tuesday, 27 February 2024

Kerala polls 2021: Fighting to seek justice for my daughters, says Walayar mom

Her children, aged 13 and nine, were found hanging from their shanty in Walayar, Palakkad, 52 days apart in January and March 2017

K.M. Rakesh Kannur Published 02.04.21, 01:21 AM
V Bhagyavathi campaigns in Dharmadam. In an affidavit, Bhagyavathi has consented to be photographed.

V Bhagyavathi campaigns in Dharmadam. In an affidavit, Bhagyavathi has consented to be photographed. KM Rakesh

Fate has played a cruel joke on V. Bhagyavathi. The bereaved mother, whose name means “lucky”, lost her two underage daughters one after another when they died by suicide following repeated sexual abuse. Now, she has decided to challenge chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan in the electoral field in her fight for justice for her children.

Her minor daughters, aged 13 and nine, were found hanging from their shanty in Walayar, Palakkad, 52 days apart in January and March 2017. The children died apparently after failing to bear repeated rape by multiple men, including a minor — some of the perpetrators known to the family.

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Tragedy after tragedy unfolded in front of the eyes of Bhagyavathi as the accused were acquitted after two years of trial for want of adequate evidence.

Four years after the trauma struck the poor family of daily wage labourers, “Walayar” Bhagyavathi, as she prefers to be identified as, is engaged in an arduous campaign at Dharmadam in Kannur district where she is contesting as an Independent.

“When I decided to contest against the chief minister from Dharmadam, several people had asked me if I wasn’t afraid of opposing a powerful man like him. My answer is that I am contesting as part of my fight seeking justice for my daughters,” she told The Telegraph on Wednesday while campaigning at the Thalassery campus of Kannur University.

Contrary to popular perception, she said no one had threatened her “so far”.

“So far we have not received any threats from anyone. In fact I have been receiving a lot of support,” Bhagyavathi said.

She has been provided two policemen who accompany her during the entire course of her daily canvassing.

“I am not afraid of anyone or any party since I am not here to grab anyone’s seat. I am here only to seek justice and send a message across to this government that denied justice to my minor daughters,” the woman, who is being addressed as “Walayar mother”, said.

Amid widespread allegations about some local CPM leaders helping the accused, the state was in for a shock when a special court in October 2019 acquitted the four adults for want of adequate evidence. The minor accused was let off because of his age.

In February this year Bhagyavathi tonsured her head to protest government apathy and vowed never to grow her hair until justice was served.

The state government in January handed over the cases related to the two girls’ death to the CBI after Kerala High Court ordered a retrial due to “miscarriage of justice” and set aside the acquittals. While the fourth accused, Pradeep Kumar, died by suicide in November 2020, Valiya Madhu and Shibhu have been arrested and sent to judicial custody following the reopening of the case. But Cheriya Madhu is still on bail, while the juvenile has not been re-arrested considering his age.

The media had initially been in a quandary over how to report on Bhagyavathi, blurring her image to protect her identity and that of her daughters in keeping with the provisions of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012. The Act prohibits the disclosure of any information that could lead to the identification of rape victims who are minors.

But Bhagyavathi decided to use her image and full name in publicity materials like handouts and banners.

To ease the restrictions, Bhagyavathi even furnished an affidavit declaring that she had no objection to being identified by her name. According to the affidavit, she has consented to her pictures being used in mainstream and social media.

“I keep telling people that they must make good use of this election to choose between good and bad. It is high time our state had a government that showed concern for the poor, women and children,” she said, accusing the Left Democratic Front government of not doing enough to get the accused in her daughters’ case prosecuted and punish the policemen who botched up the investigation.

Kannur is a CPM bastion where the Left Democratic Front won eight of the 11 seats in the 2016 elections. Vijayan had then trounced his Congress rival Mambaram Divakaran by 36,905 votes and is forecast to repeat a similarly robust victory.

But the “Walayar mother” is not one to be cowed down by the Goliath she is facing. “I already won this election in my heart the day I filed my nomination papers. That is my way of telling aggrieved mothers like me to stand up and fight for our rights,” she said.

As opposed to being afraid of contesting against Vijayan, Bhagyavathi said her experience in Kannur had been quite good. “I received maximum support from the people of the Dharmadam constituency. Shopkeepers and individuals make donations whenever I go around campaigning. This shows that the people have understood my fight.”

Bhagyavathi on Tuesday campaigned in Vadakara in Kozhikode district for UDF candidate K.K. Rema, widow of T.P. Chandrashekaran who was hacked to death in May 2012 allegedly for breaking away from the CPM and forming the Revolutionary Marxist Party.

She is set to campaign from Thursday in two reserved constituencies of Tarur and Kongad in Palakkad district just to highlight her cause and not to pitch for any party.

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