CPM workers' attack on Kerala Dalit women is an embarrassment to the LDF government

A major promise of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) during the campaign for the 16 May Assembly elections was protection of women, especially Dalits.

The arrest of two Dalit sisters in Kannur district on the complaint of a CPM worker, within a month of LDF assuming power, raises doubts about the promise they made in the context of the brutal rape and murder of Dalit law student, Jisha, at Perumbavoor in Ernakulam district on 28 April.

Opposition parties and several NGOs have pointed out the serious injustice behind the arrest of Akhila (30) and Anjana (25), under non-bailable offence on the part of the ruling party and the police. The siblings, who are daughters of Congress leader N Rajan, were called to Thalaserry police station for questioning on 17 June, and then arrested and sent to jail.

The arrest came after a complaint was lodged by M Shijin, a leader of CPM’s youth wing, the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) that the two had entered the office at Kuttimakool on 11 June and attacked him with sharp weapons.

The accused have denied the charge. Akhila, who went to the jail with her 18-month-old child, said they had gone to the office to question the verbal abuse by CPM workers. She said Shijin had lodged the false complaint in retaliation to the case they filed against CPM workers for insulting them by calling them by their caste name.

Police resort to water cannons to disperse Youth Congress protesters who were protesting in front of the Government Secretariat over the arrest of two Dalit sisters at Thalassery in Kannur on Monday. PTI Photo (PTI6_20_2016_000107B)

Police use water cannons to disperse Youth Congress members protesting against the arrest of two Dalit sisters at Thalassery. PTI 

She said that a group of party workers had also attacked them and damaged their house, following the incident. The party workers also launched a campaign against the sisters on social media. Unable to bear the false propaganda, Anjana tried to commit suicide by consuming an overdose of medicines after she came out of jail on Saturday. She is now battling for her life at the Indira Gandhi Cooperative Hospital at Thalaserry.

The trouble for the family started after N Rajan quit the CPM and joined the Congress. It assumed serious dimension after Rajan contested the November 2015 local body elections on the Congress ticket. Akhila said that the CPM leaders started harassing them after they refused to yield to their pressure.

K Sudhakaran, a senior Congress leader at Kannur, said that the harassment was part of the strategy adopted by the CPM to deter the cadres from leaving the organisation. The party also resorts to physical violence in several parts of Kannur, the cradle of the communist movement in Kerala, to counter their political opponents.

More than 250 people have lost their lives due to political violence in the district in the last three decades. Sudhakaran views the arrest of the two Dalit women as an indication of the rise in political violence following the return of the LDF to power.

“Our government had succeeded in checking the violence to a great extent. The CPM men are now trying to resume violence as they think that the government will protect them. The arrest of Akhila and Anjana by the Thalaserry police embolden them,” says Sudhakaran.

He alleged that the police had resorted to ‘unusual’ action to please the CPM. The police arrested them without verifying the veracity of the complaint and the issues behind it, he said adding that it was beyond common sense that the two women could assault the CPM worker in their office.

The development has come as a big embarrassment to the LDF government, which is basking under the credit of having masterminded the arrest of the suspect in the Jisha rape and murder case, with Congress and the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Tribes taking up the case.

While the state Congress has been staging protests, party vice-president Rahul Gandhi is trying to take it up at the national level. He has already talked to Akhila over phone and gathered the details.

The CPM has alleged the hands of vested interests behind the development. KK Shailaja, Minister for Health and Social Welfare, said there were strong grounds to suspect backing of forces, which are trying to malign the image of the LDF government to women. She feels that the women would not have gone to the party office without support from powerful quarters.

However, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who also holds the home portfolio, has refused to comment on the issue. When newsmen sought his reaction, he asked them to contact the police, who incidentally have justified the arrest.

Kannur district superintendent of police Sanjay Kumar Gurudin, said there was no lapse on the part of the police. He said that the police had arrested the sisters after ensuring that the complaint was genuine.

However, Bharatiya Janata Party leader PS Sreedharan Pillai, a practicing lawyer, said that the non-bailable offence slapped on them by the police was not in consonance with the law and the Supreme Court rulings. He said that the magistrate who remanded the women to judicial custody had also failed to comply with the guidelines of the apex court with regard to the arrest of women.

He said that the police decision to slap charges under Section 458 (lurking house-trespass or house-breaking by night after preparation for hurt, assault, or wrongful restraint) of IPC against the women was unwarranted. He said that his inquiry had revealed that the women had no such intention. They went to the CPM office under sudden provocation.

The BJP leader said that the police may have slapped the harsh charges under pressure from CPM. In fact, Akhila said a police official at the Thalaserry station had told her that there was pressure on them from the CPM to arrest them.

Dalit activists have viewed the incident seriously as this is in the series of several similar cases. They point out the persistent hounding of Dalit woman autorickshaw driver Chitralekha at Payyannur for the last 15 years as a glaring example of the intolerance CPM men shows towards Dalits.

The party men have damaged her auto rickshaw thrice and attacked her and her family members several times ever since she took up the profession for a living. The latest attack on her vehicle was on 3 March, 2016.

A solidarity mission commissioned by Feminists Kerala Network to find out the facts behind an incident of violence involving Chithralekha in 2010 found that the attack on her was part of untouchability prevailing in the region even now.

Their investigation revealed that it was the result of a fascist atmosphere created by the CPM in the area, where many villages are controlled by the party.

“Once the party takes over a village, it enforces an extra judicial power over all the people who live in that village. The CPM exists and thrives in the region through the use of such power over entire villages. Anyone who questions the party or goes against its wishes are harassed, alienated, ostracised and sometimes even killed,” the mission’s report says.

The odyssey of Chithralekha is not an isolated one. Several other Dalit women auto drivers in the region have also faced such intimidation, sexual harassment, caste-related abuses, accusations of promiscuity and immorality, and damage to their autos.

Updated Date: Jun 20, 2016 18:50 PM

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