A 22-Year-Old ‘Kitchen Bandh’ and Victory for a Rape Survivor
On Wednesday, the police came looking for Kathija, a rape victim in Kerala. But for once, it was a visit that brought good news, the victory of a village’s two-decade old “kitchen bandh” for justice.
The police had come to her house in Kollada, 75km away from Kasargod town in northern Kerala to hand over a long overdue court order. On Monday, the Thalassery Judicial Magistrate First Class court had ordered that Rs 2.5 lakh be paid to her as compensation for a crime committed against her when she was a newly married woman. Her husband and his friends gangraped her at the Kannur fort.
Under the banner of the Sthree Neethi Samithi (SNS), 500 women of the village marched down the hillside to the panchayat ground for the “adukkala panimudakku” (kitchen bandh) in 1993. For two days, they refused to cook anything at home for their families, and instead, publically cooked food in the ground.
Joint convener of the SNS Sulfath M Sulu recalls that Kathija was around 20 or 21 when it happened.
She was married to a man named Ibrahim. He convinced her parents that he worked in Bengaluru and one day they left home saying that they were moving to Bangalore. But when they reached Kannur he took her to Kannur Fort and she was gangraped.
– Sulfath M Sulu
A Planned Crime
Now, a school teacher at the Cheruthazham Government Higher Secondary School in Payyanur, Sulfath says that the headlines the next day said that a woman who visited the fort along with her husband, was raped. The reports said that the rapists knocked her husband unconscious and committed the crime.
That is how some of my activist friends and I decided to meet this woman and went to her husband’s house. We were not allowed to meet her. We became suspicious and inquired into the matter. When we met her and she told us that her husband also raped her along with the others and that is how we realized that was a planned crime.
– Sulfath M Sulu
When the police closed the case after arresting two people the activists decided to form SNS and fight for justice.
It was 22 years ago and people had many misconceptions about the woman who got raped. The village considered her as a woman with bad morals. So we literally had to visit each house and convince the villagers about the importance of giving support to that woman. We were successful, the whole village was with us later. – Sulfath M Sulu
With the backing of the women of Kollada, the group decided on two-day a kitchen boycott as means of protest.
“For those two days women did not prepare food at their home. It is a hilly area and women came out from their houses down to the ground shouting slogans. Around 500 homemakers assembled in the ground, cooked food there, and shouted slogans all day. It got the attention of the national media then,” she said.
The group wanted that the case be re-opened and investigated under the supervision of senior officials. The government agreed.
“Some SP ranked officer was in charge of the re-enquiry. They proved that it was her husband’s plan and that the other culprits were his friends. The court found them guilty and they were imprisoned for 7 years,” she said.
Within two years, Ibrahim and his four friends had been convicted and the court had also ordered that they pay Rs 50,000 each to the court as compensation, to be awarded to Kathija.
Kathija has married again and has a daughter. She declined to be interviewed for this report. After serving out his sentence, Ibrahim reportedly married again, but it is unclear what happened to him. As for the SNS, it doesn’t exist anymore, but at least one of its activists still refuses to be cowed down by injustice.