'Had to Prove I Did Nothing Wrong': 2017 Kerala Sexual Assault Case Survivor

She broke her silence on her sexual assault in the ‘We the Women’ programme.

5 min read

"It has been a very difficult journey, these last five years, but the hardest of all had been the 15 days in court proving that I did nothing wrong," said the survivor of the 2017 Kerala sexual assault case.

This is the first time that the Malyalam actor was speaking on camera about the incident and its aftermath. She broke her silence in an interview to journalist Bharka Dutt at the We The Women Global Townhall 2022 event that celebrates women, hosted by The Mojo Story.

The survivor was sexually assaulted in a moving vehicle in February 2017, allegedly by men hired by actor Dileep who is a top name in the Malayalam film industry.

The case is being heard in a court currently, and Dileep is accused of masterminding the assault. She made it clear in the interview that this was not going to be a tell-all, since she is legally bound to not disclose certain details as the trial is underway.

Admitting that she was nervous about speaking out, and visibly shaken, the survivor talked about the incident that happened in February 2017, turning her whole life upside down.

“[There were] constant questions [in my mind] as to why it happened and why me. Constantly searching for something to blame it on. I lost my father in 2015; so I thought maybe if he was alive, this wouldn't have happened. Then I thought if I didn't have a shoot the next day, it wouldn't have happened. So many what-ifs. So many times I wanted to go back to that time before it happened so my life would be normal. I was blaming myself. Everytime I start thinking about it, I came back to the same point, like in a loop. A blame game was going on for a very long time,” she said, as she recounted the days after the assault.

When Dutt asked her what made the transition from victim to survivor possible, she said it happened after 15 days of going to court.

“My trial happened in 2020. I had to go to court for 15 days. Those 15 days, it was a whole different experience of trauma. But after the 15th day, I came out of court feeling like a survivor. I realised I am not a victim anymore. I am not just standing up for myself but for the dignity of all the girls who would come after me. My mind convinced me that I am a survivor, not a victim anymore,” she said.

In January 2022, the actress had put out an Instagram post, for the first time revealing her identity as a survivor of sexual assault.

A number of times, she spoke about the support system she had – from her friends to her family to members of the audience who offered hugs and words of support when they saw her on the streets.

But there was also another group of people who kept making unflattering remarks publicly on television, victim-shaming her often.

“They would say that I should not have done that, I should not have travelled, accusing me and blaming me for what had happened. There was also a kind of negative PR happening on social media, saying that this was a fake case, that I faked it. That was very painful. I was devastated. Something so unfortunate had happened to me and I had been broken into a million pieces. [But when] I was trying to stand up and pick up the pieces of my life, these things were pulling me down again,” she said.

Luckily, she said, she was not on social media at the time, so didn’t have to go through all the hate comments there. Even in 2019, when she opened an Instagram account, there were nasty messages filling up her inbox – “Why don’t you go die? Why don’t you kill yourself?"

The abuse from Dileep's legions of supporters and the process of seeking justice has made her want to drop the case many times, the survivor said, to "just go back to a normal life".

But what keeps her going is her will, she said.

“That I should fight and that I should prove that I didn't do anything wrong, that I am innocent. My dignity has been shred into a million pieces and I want to get it back. My friends, family, the WCC (Women in Cinema Collective) have all been standing by me. The strength they give me is enormous. I have gone through this, I had to endure it, but now let me prove my case,” she added.

The survivor said she has learned to ignore the bullying, the victim blaming. What saddens her and makes her angry are the stories from other survivors from different parts of the world, sharing their own episodes of sexual assault, and not be able to fight for justice, she said.

“I was shocked seeing the number of messages from women across the country, the world, on the kind of trauma they went through (after an assault). They say you represent us. That is so sad. They have kept this pain, this trauma, within themselves because they are scared to open up. They are scared this will affect their life, their career. Living with it is horrific. If I didn't file a complaint what would have happened to my life? That was horrifying to think about. I would rather give a strong fight without worrying about the outcome than seeing people walk away without punishment,” she said.

We should normalise the practice of a survivor coming out in the open and speaking about the trauma they went through, she added.

The interviewer pointed out that other survivors who spoke out have had a hard time, like another survivor who lost work opportunities when she named Vairamuthu, a Tamil film personaity, as an abuser.

The survivor said that she had offers but found it too traumatic to take up work in Malayalam cinema after the incident.

“I had been denied work before the incident. But afterward, I had a lot of offers, and people insisted that I should work in Malayalam again. From (director) Aashiq Abu to (actor-director) Prithviraj, to (director) Bhadran sir, to (actor) Jayasurya…but I had to turn them down. Because I was too traumatised to come back to that industry and work again, to pretend like nothing had happened. I stayed away for my peace of mind. But I continued working in other languages. However, I have now started listening to new scripts (in Malayalam),” she said.

(This piece has been published in an arrangement with The News Minute and edited to keep the survivor's identity confidential.)

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