---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Vasundhara Jairath <email@example.com>
Date: Sun, Jan 24, 2010 at 2:00 PM
Subject: [YAM] CHITRALEKHA's AUTO BURNS IN GOD'S OWN COUNTRY AGAIN AND YET
CHITRALEKHA's AUTO BURNS IN GOD'S OWN COUNTRY AGAIN AND YET AGAIN
Today at 9:11am
"*All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. Everyone
is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in the universal
Declaration of Human Rights, without distinction of any kind, such as race,
creed, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national
or social origin, property, birth or other status. Everyone has the right to
life, liberty and security of person."
—Principle 1, ICPD Programme of Action
"They will not allow me to live"
Many people would remember Chithralekha. She has been in the news since
December 30th 2005, when her auto rickshaw was burned in the middle of the
night allegedly by CITU workers whom she had been in conflict with. A few
citizen's initiative had helped her acquire an auto which was her sole
livelihood for the past one year. However a few days ago, she was allegedly
framed in a false case and taken to the police station and beaten up by
women police officers.
Chithralekha is a Dalit woman who lives in a small house on government
allotted land in a small village in Kannur district. Their house is the only
Dalit household at the extreme end of a village made up of well-settled,
middle-class OBC people. A visit to this area would tell us about the gross
historical injustice done to people like Chithralekha whom modern Kerala has
literally pushed to its very margins. From this area, Chithra managed to
study because she was extremely bright and because her mother – who is
accused of being the village sex-worker – underwent tremendous sacrifices in
order to help her daughter attain education. Yet, Chithralekha quit studying
after a while and later married Sreeshanth who is an auto driver and who
also belongs to the Thiyya community, which is an OBC community way above
Chithralekha's caste. This marriage out of her caste itself had angered many
and there were many local attempts to separate them.
However they did not give in and after her marriage to Shreeshanth she
learned driving and went on to buy an auto rickshaw - KL 13L 8527 - in her
own name under the PMRY loan scheme. The auto stand in Payyannur in which
Chithralekha wanted to drive her auto is controlled by the CITU, the trade
union that belongs to the Communist Party of India, Marxist (CPI (M)). The
CITU, like her own village, is also dominated by men belonging to higher
caste communities. Therefore, there was terrible resistance to her running
an auto from their stand. This was shown in the refusals and delays in
granting her a membership card and providing her a safe and supportive work
Soon this progressed to damaging her auto and Chithra lodged a police
complaint about this. For this Chithra was given a punishment by the Union
for taking the case outside the auto stand. Chithra refused to obey the
punishment and one of the auto drivers tried to run her over with his auto.
Chithra again complained to the police and this auto driver was taken to the
police station. However, the Union along with the local CPI(M) members
unleashed a terrible poster campaign against Chithralekha accusing her of
being a loose woman. This had immediate result and even in far away auto
stands a very legitimate struggle of a Dalit woman for an equal and just
working place became a case of loose morals and illegitimate activities.
Chithra lost all local support in the blink of an eye.
Soon on the midnight of December 30th 2005, Chithralekha's auto rickshaw was
burned. Many rumours were spread again saying that it was Chithra herself
who burned the auto which was her only source of livelihood!! However a few
citizen's initiatives within Payyanur helped bring this issue to the
attention of the media and also garner some support in organizing a Dalit
woman convention on behalf of Chithralekha. Many Dalit and Non Dalit
intellectuals participated in this meeting and it was decided here that
there should be an attempt to rehabilitate Chithra Lekha. This initiative
succeeded in procuring a rented auto for her. However, as they were unable
to make any kind of profit from this and could not pay the daily amount of
100rs, Chithra returned the auto to the committee members within ten days.
There was nothing done further to support Chithra even as attacks on their
family was increasing. This drove her to leave her home in Paynnur and stay
in hiding in a rented house in Thaliparambu.
It was at this point that a few people came to know about her situation and
they made this public through the internet by writing articles. Once the
issue came to public attention there was yet another citizen's initiative to
support Chithralekha. A Chithralekha rehabilitation committee was formed as
part of this, based in Kannur, and it was decided that they would help
Chithra procure an auto by raising some money by appealing to people all
over India. Chithralekha Rehabilitation Committee could mobilize well above
the targeted amount and raise Rs 1.5 lakh to procure and give her a new
auto. On 08-06-2008 she was given a new Bajaj diesel auto at a public
function attended by people like C K Janu.
Chithra had been slowly trying to get on with her life, though from the very
next day she and her husband were being attacked in various ways by the
local CITU. Meanwhile she also lost the case she had given against the Union
workers as her own brother failed to provide witness turning hostile under
the pressure of the party. Yet she had rebuild her house with the support of
some local Dalit activists and was fairly managing when suddenly she is
again been implicated in a police case.
On the morning of 20th January 2009, Chithralekha was about to park her auto
rickshaw in front of a medical shop to buy medicine for their son who was
stung by a honey bee. She was also accompanied by Sreeshkanth, her husband.
Mr Ramachandran who is an office bearer of the Autorickshaw Union of
Payyanur menacingly asked her to move her auto away from the parking spot.
She replied that she had the lawful permit to park and had every right to do
An altercation followed between the couple and a few auto workers. After a
few moments, a police jeep arrived and bundled the couple to the vehicle.
They were severely beaten by the autoworkers even as they got into the jeep
and in presence of the police. When Chithralekha told the Inspector that her
valuables and cash were inside the auto rickshaw, the officer assured them
that that would be taken care of.
After reaching the Police Station, the couples were severely beaten again. A
woman police officer beat Chithralekha black and blue and her sari was
almost pulled off. Later, Sreeshkanth was taken to the hospital for a check
for intoxication; though Chithralekha also was compelled to get examined,
she protested and resisted the move, sensing that the police were acting in
a biased manner and they would get her booked for driving inebriated under a
false testimony by some doctor.
Chithralekha was later released but had to go to the hospital due to her
injuries. She has injuries all over the body and also in the lower stomach.
She is not only in great pain, but is also left almost alone without any
help from any one in questioning the actions of the union workers and the
The police and CITU version of the story is that Chithralekha and husband
were drunk and that is why they had to be removed and beaten up!! The only
news item that came in one of the papers also gave this story, without even
giving the name of this woman who had been the cause of many public
intellectual debates in Kerala.
The moment she is accused of being drunk, all local support for her fades
away immediately and all protections of the law are denied to her and all
her human rights stand suspended. We have seen such a suspension of equal
rights happening in the case of Muslims accused of terrorism recently in
Kerala. This is being repeated in the case of Chithra Lekha also.
There is almost no media coverage about the whole issue and there is very
little support that Chithra Lekha has been getting at the local level.
Though there have been various attempts to contact many women and other
groups, by people outside Kerala, so far not a single concerned person in
Kerala has visited her or found out what is happening to her. In the
meantime she and her husband are in such a situation that they can only
surrender the auto to all those who helped her procure it as they are
finding it increasingly difficult to take on the CITU people without any
Chithralekha Solidarity Group, Delhi, with inputs from K M Venugopal,
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