Kerala: CITU men assault Kerala dalit woman auto driver

Red roadblock for Dalit auto driver

By Preetha Nair in New Delhi

CITU men assault Kerala woman to force her to quit means of livelihood

A DALIT woman who dared to drive an autorickshaw for a living is allegedly facing the brunt of Left goondaism in Kerala’s Payyannur district.

Chitralekha, 34, alleged Centre of Indian Trade Unions ( CITU) — the powerful Left trade union wing of the CPM — wants her to leave the profession, considered a male bastion.

The woman said she and her husband have been beaten up by CPM party cadre and the police several times. Her autorickshaw, the only means of her livelihood, was also burnt by them.

Despite Kerala- based women’s groups joining hands to buy her a new autorickshaw, she lives under constant death threats and has to put up with casteist taunts.

On January 20, Chitralekha and her husband Sreeshkanth — who’s unemployed — were allegedly brutally attacked by CPM men for parking their auto in front of a medical shop, where they had gone to buy medicine for their son.

What ensued was an exhibition of the CPM-police nexus. “When I refused to remove my auto, a local union leader and some other people beat us up. The By Preetha Nair in New Delhi police reached the spot and took us to the station. We were severely beaten up by them and kept in the lockup till evening,” said Chitralekha.

The police also slapped a case against Chitralekha and Sreeshkanth, claiming he was in an inebriated condition. “I am scared to work now. They might even kill me and nobody will question them,” she said. P.P. Damodaran, CPM area secretary, put the blame on Chitralekha and said she “doesn’t behave like a woman”. “Why are such incidents happening only to her? This means something is wrong with her. She doesn’t follow any societal rules and is a headache for us,” he said. Brinda Karat, CPM politburo member, declined to comment as she “wasn’t aware of the issue”.

Kozhikode-based women’s group, Anweshi, visited the couple after the incident. “They had bruises all over their bodies. The police have no right to beat them up even if the man was drunk. It’s a perfect example of the CPMpolice nexus. Chitralekha has the right to earn her livelihood, but local politicians won’t let her,” said K. Ajita, president of Anweshi.

Chitralekha’s nightmare began in 2004 when she got an autorickshaw under Prime Minister’s Rozgar Yojana. On her first day at work, she was taunted by an allmale group of non- Dalit, CITUaffiliated drivers who heaped casteist abuses against her.

It was only after three months and many petitions to CITU leaders that she managed to get permission to park in the auto stand.

Her vehicle’s hood was ripped apart by fellow drivers but she was only ridiculed by the union when she sought help. “ I filed a complaint, but this led to more trouble.

I was dragged out of my vehicle and an auto was run over my feet. I didn’t go to the police as I knew it was of no use,” she said.

“ My colleagues then resorted to character assassination and said

I was a prostitute. But I learnt to ignore their barbs because for me, it’s a question of sustenance.” But Chitralekha’s auto was burnt by fellow drivers in 2005. No action was taken against the accused, but it was the beginning of a harrowing ordeal for Chitralekha and her family who began receiving death threats. The goons wanted her to withdraw the case. Finally, Chitralekha and her husband had to flee Payyannur and remain in exile for two years.

A civil society group intervened and started collecting money to bring them back. “ We started rehabilitation work for Chitralekha and collected money to buy an auto for her,” said Jenny Rowena, an activist and lecturer in Delhi University.

K. M. Venugopal, human rights activist, said: “ It is a clear case of gender and caste politics. The CPM won’t let people live if they don’t toe their line.” Chitralekha’s case may be one among the many that dot CPM’s opportunistic casteist politics. It also brings to the fore the devilish underbelly of God’s own country.