JUSTICE FOR CHITHRA LEKHA sign now

Sir,

We a group of concerned academicians and activists belonging to the Kerala Feminist Network have come to know that Chithralekha, a Dalit woman who is making a living as an auto driver, has been harassed by the CITU and the police in Payyanur, Kannur District, Kerala, on 20th January 2010. It is also extremely disconcerting to note that while the general apathy of the police continue, the trade unions of the CPI (M) has resorted to other ways of demoralizing the struggle of a woman for just and equal, civil, political and human rights.

BACKGROUND

Chithralekha, a Dalit woman, from Payyanur in Kannur, Kerala, was one of the first woman auto drivers to enter a workplace dominated by men from higher castes. Right from the beginning there was a strong resistance to her and there was a three month delay in giving her a membership of the union. Later, when she went on to become an efficient and extremely popular auto rickshaw driver, the resistance against her took a violent turn. Soon she was subject to many acts of workplace harassment by her fellow auto drivers.
On one occasion, the hood of her auto was torn off, she was called derogatory caste names, and a fellow driver even tried to run her over with his vehicle. Chithralekha protested against this, lodging complaints with the police and even managing to get one of the workers arrested with the help of a local Dalit activist. In the course of her protest, she also brought to light the fact that her district and locality still practiced untouchability, albeit in modern forms. Once the issue went outside the purview of the local auto stand, the CITU and the local CPI (M) goons adopted a new tactic and started tarnishing her image with wide spread poster campaigns. Through these posters, Chithralekha was branded as a sexually loose woman, a woman who drinks, whose mother was a sex worker, who talks like a man, who does not listen and who does not know how to behave. With such a campaign, Chithralekha lost all support in the locality.

On December 30th, 2005, they burned down her auto, depriving her of her only source of livelihood. However, Chithralekha continued with her struggle and managed to procure a new auto through her association with various Dalit, Feminists and Citizens initiatives in June 2008. Chithralekha had been slowly trying to get on with her life, though she and her husband were often being attacked in various ways by the local CITU. It was at this point that the current incident occurred.


THE CURRENT INCIDENT

On the morning of 20th January 2010, Chithralekha (along with her husband Shreeshanth) who was about to park her auto rickshaw in front of a medical shop, was asked to move her vehicle from the parking spot by one Mr Ramachandran who is an office bearer of the CITU auto rickshaw Union in Payyanur. When Chithralekha protested, an altercation followed between them and the CITU workers started beating her up. Soon, a police jeep arrived and bundled the couple into the vehicle. They were taken to the police station and severely beaten up. Later she was allowed to go without even registering
a case!! She has visible wounds all over her body and has had to go to the hospital twice after the incident. Moreover, she is unable to move out of her house or drive her auto as she is afraid of further violence. Shockingly there is very little media coverage of this issue and no local support available to her in defending against the attack.

In this context, we strongly demand the State Government to:

1. Take immediate steps to ensure the fundamental rights of Chithralekha to be able to work and live in her own native place, free of mental and physical torture.

2. Implement the provisions of the Vishakha Guidelines on Sexual Harassment at the Workplace for Chithralekha, an auto rickshaw driver.

3. Take stringent actions against the CITU workers and police officers on duty who inflicted violence on Chithralekha during the incident.

4. Constitute an Independent Judicial Commission to conduct thorough investigation into the whole issue

Chithralekha Solidarity,
Kerala Feminist Network

Sincerely,

The Undersigned

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To: Chief Minister Kerala, VS Achuthanandan

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