On the occasion of International Women’s Day, Bahujan Students’ Front salutes all Bahujan revolutionaries who fought for gender equity in the oppressive casteist patriarchal system. It is due to the efforts of these valiant souls that we are here today, enabled to pen these very lines.
We would like to share today the speech given by Bahujan activist Chithralekha from Kerala on 6.1.2017., in a programme conducted by Bahujan Students’ Front in the University of Hyderabad to commemorate the 186th birth anniversary of Kranthi Jyothi Savitribai Phule.
(The speech was translated from Malayalam to English by Susan Joseph and Sandeep K, both research scholars at the University of Hyderabad.)
According to the Indian tradition, Goddess Saraswati is considered as the goddess of knowledge. But what has goddess Saraswati done for the upliftment of the oppressed people? Haven’t she and her fellow gods been denying them their right to education? I am glad to attend this programme organised by the Bahujan Students’ Front-HCU to commemorate the birth anniversary of Savitribai Phule who is the goddess of knowledge of the oppressed classes.
Savitribai Phule was India’s first female teacher. At the age of ten, she got married to Jotiba Phule. Jotiba educated her. It was Savitribai Phule who established the first school for girls. On her way to the school, it was common for her to get harassed by the upper caste people. They pelted stones at her or flung cow dung at her. So she used to carry two sarees: one to wear on her way and one to wear at school. The discrimination I faced is similar to this. I would like to talk about the caste discrimination, the discrimination at workplace and the gender discrimination faced by me.
The Dalit, Adivasi and Muslim students still face backwardness in the field of education. The Najeeb incident at JNU and suicide of Rohith Vemula at HCU are examples. Students from these sections face economic and social insecurity. Even when I was a student, I used to face such discrimination. During such instances as standing in long queue for lunch at school and fetching water from wells in upper caste households, I used to face a lot of discrimination. The Savarna consciousness wishes to retain these even now. It is due to this mentality that I had to face so many assaults and I am still facing them.
I am an auto rickshaw driver. I took an auto in 2004. I was the first Dalit woman auto driver in Edatt, my native place. CITU- the trade union organisation of CPIM is the only union in the auto stand. The first thing I heard on reaching the auto stand was “a Pulachi (an untouchable) has come with her auto.” It went on for some days. I had to wait for four months to get the parking number. When I reacted against this, they commented that the stand has become impure after a Pulachi’s arrival; they also told me not to ride the auto anymore. On 11th October 2005, they brought a Namboothiri- a Malayali Brahmin- to perform the Vijaya Dashami puja. They demanded my auto be kept for the same. I did so. One driver tore my auto and damaged it. I gave a complaint to the union. In fact, I saw the person who did it and gave the complaint against him.
The union secretary refused to take action. So I had to file a complaint with the police. The Panchayat member, the CPIM local secretary, the union president and secretary were the culprits. They sent me back saying that they have charged a petty case. When I went to the auto stand the next day, the auto drivers dragged me out of the stand and pushed my auto away from the parking area saying “Who advised you to file the complaint? You should never touch the auto again.” When I tried to put the vehicle back in its slot, one driver tried to run his auto over me saying “You will come back only if you are alive, right?” I moved away and was able to save my life sustaining only a minor injury on my foot. I could see the ineffectiveness of law and justice. My auto was burned on 31st December 2005. After that for around six months, I worked as a manual labourer and sometimes I went for fishing in the river or weaved mats.
I had been verbally and physically assaulted in public. Even my children used to get assaulted. Once I was taking my daughter to the hospital and they deflated my auto tyres and we were roughed up. (I was given an auto by the social activists). We were fed up with the continuous attacks. And when there was a case, it was we who used to be labelled as the culprits.
I filed a case. They also filed a case against me. But I was always charged with criminal cases. Even though the case against them was charged on the basis of the SC ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, it was charged in a way that they escaped easily. When they file my complaint, they simply write that the offenders called me by my caste name and refuse to write the phrase ‘in a way the complainant felt humiliated.’ So long as they do not write this phrase, the culprits will not be punished. Thus the culprits would be saved.
I was denied justice by the district authorities, the court and the police. When I was convinced that I would not get justice, I started a strike in front of the collectorate starting from October 2014 and it went on for 120 days. When I was assured of rehabilitation by the Chief Minister, I withdrew. When these promises were not kept, I again had to go for a strike in front of the Secretariat which lasted for 47 days. Then I was given assurance for five cents of land and money to construct a house and an order stating that the cases filed against me be cancelled. I got the land. But the LDF (Left Democratic Front) government that followed brought out an order cancelling the financial aid. I still face discrimination from the CPIM.
I attended the programme Chalo Rail Roko in Gujarat organised by Jignesh Mevani. But that struggle did not materialise as conceived due to certain assurance given by the Gujarat chief minister in a chat with Mevani over phone. I don’t know what the organisers of the protest have achieved. The government always tries to suppress the uprisings of the oppressed classes. We should be able to counter this. Even struggles such as Chengara, Arippa and the ‘Nilpu Samaram’ (Stand In Protest) have sacrificed some relevant ideals for the vested interests of a few. The interesting thing is that those who are sacrificing such ideals are the most in the organisations for the backward classes.
When I thought of entering politics for the upliftment of backward classes, it was BSP’s (Bahujan Samaj Party) name that came to my mind. I was its state vice-president and became a candidate for BSP in elections. But what I feel now is to stay away from active politics.
Students should come forward to intervene in favour of the oppressed classes. I stop here wishing you all the courage and strength to fight for social justice without vested interests.
BSF-HCU salutes you Chithra Lekha for your bravery. You are an inspiration to all oppressed peoples especially women. We wish you the best and extend our support in your struggle against casteist and patriarchal oppression. Jai Bheem!
Bahujan Students’ Front – UoH
(All India SC ST OBC and Religious Minorities)