where are praful bidwai, prakash karat, n. ram, and sitaram yechuri?
Woman driver breaks into male bastion - and pays heavy price
This northern Kerala district is known for its killing fields - more
than 100 people lost their lives in clashes between Marxists and radical
Hindu activists over the past decade.
A Dalit woman who dared to drive an auto-rickshaw to make a living is
the latest victim of political hegemony. She was banned from parking her
vehicle in the designated place, physically harassed for complaining to
the police and finally saw her only means of livelihood destroyed when
her auto-rickshaw was set on fire.
Chitralekha (30) is now fighting her case in a court with the support of
rights activists, including CK Janu, a tribal woman leader. But the
powerful Auto-rickshaw Workers' Union, affiliated to the Communist
Centre for Indian Trade Union Congress (CITU) is putting all its weight
behind the alleged attackers.
She stormed the male bastion when she bought the three-wheeler in
October 2004. But she had to wait for three months before she got
permission from the union bosses to park her vehicle at the Payyanur
College auto stand near her house. After numerous petitions to the local
CITU leaders and several recommendations, she was also given a
membership in the union.
But already in a spot for marrying a youth from another community, she
was hunted like a prey from the first day that she started working. She
was greeted by an all-male group of non-Dalit drivers who used to insult
her by calling her caste name (pulachi). The hood of her vehicle was
torn off. When she approached the union to protest, she was ridiculed
and turned away.
A complaint to the police against a 'comrade' led to more trouble. There
were more abuses and physical attacks. Co-workers dragged her out of the
vehicle and attacked her causing serious injury on her leg that needed
long hospitalisation. "They were calling me all names. One of them
shouted that pulachies shall never ride an auto here and that it was the
union's decision. By the time I was out of hospital, I had lost my
She now pins her hopes on the Special Court (SC/ST Atrocities) in
Thalassery, which is hearing the case. A Citizens' Action Committee
formed to help her at Payyanur dumped her after the communists swept
assembly elections in 2006. The committee had arranged an auto for her
on lease but that did not work because of local opposition. Now she
feeds herself and her family by working at a construction site.
In August this year, several Dalit rights activists in Kerala formed the
Chithralekha Rehabilitation Committee in Kannur, a traditional Congress
stronghold, as part of fresh initiative to support her. "We are
extending unconditional support to Chithralekha's fight for justice. We
are raising funds from people to purchase a new auto-rickshaw for her
and to help her fight her case. We have already received Rs 50,000,"
said KM Venugopal, its convener.
Last month, a local court sentenced the man accused of hitting her to
one month in jail and imposed a fine of Rs 25,000. "The slow progress of
the trial and the culprits not being booked is because nobody dares to
stand up against the Marxists and give evidence in court. In Payyanur,
only the party's writ will rule," Venugopal added.
(Source: Gulftimes dated 27 December 2007)