In the last two weeks, Divya Bharati, director of Kakkoos, has been facing intense harassment over thousands of phone calls threatening rape, acid attacks and murder. FIRs have been filed against her in at least twelve different places in Tamil Nadu. The News Minute has also reported that she has been forced to leave the state because of the threats and lack of police action against the individuals making these threats.
Divya’s film Kakkoos that released on 26th February is a powerful film about manual scavenging in Tamil Nadu. The film documents the work and lives of sanitation workers; reveals how ubiquitous manual scavenging is; how in addition to the oppressive work, these workers (mostly Dalits) also face social ostracization; how laws against this practice have achieved nothing; and finally the failure of Left and Dalit organizations in tackling the problems.
When the film was released in February, it ruffled enough feathers in the administration that police tried to ban screenings, but neither the film or the director suffered violent mob action until the end of July. Ironically the recent attacks against Divya has been led by Puthiya Thamizagam, that claims to represent Pallars, a Dalit caste in south Tamilnadu. Divya Bharathi believes some of the callers and stalkers are connected to the BJP as their ‘true caller’ identity links them to the party. Divya complained to the police and the cyber cells about the harassment she was facing, but they did not take any action. On the other hand, FIRs have been registered accusing Divya of defaming a community, instigating violence between communities and under Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. One of the first complaints, was filed by ex-MLA Krishnasami, leader of Puthiya Tamilagam. He had alleged that the film Kakkoos had defamed the Pallar community by mentioning them as a manual scavenging caste.
Why have these attacks started months after the film’s release? Madhivannan of CPI (ML) told TK that Divya’s troubles started after she supported the struggle of sanitary workers at Anna University Engineering College in Dindigul. The workers were being ill-treated by the college principal Dr.Chithra Selvi. The workers had filed a complaint against the principal with the Dindigul collector. Somehow, the collector office sent the complaint back to the principal who threw the complaining workers off their jobs. This forced the workers to compromise, and 13 out of the 15 were taken back into the job. The couple who organized the complaint were kept out of the job.
Divya posted a video on Youtube on July 21st documenting the suffering
and struggle of these workers. Divya Bharati’s harassment started soon after she uploaded the video. The first incident was her arrest on 26th July morning in Madurai on the basis of a 2009 FIR. The FIR had been filed because of her participation in a student protest when she was a Law student, and the case has been dormant for all these years. The court gave her bail on the evening that day.
Following this, ex-MLA Krishnasami, filed a complaint against Divya. Her film Kakkoos mentions the Pallar caste, as one of the ten castes to which manual scavengers belong. This irritated some members of the community who were powerful and upwardly mobile. This is a Brahminical mindset, says Madhivannan. Instead of fighting against the caste-based oppression of manual scavenging, these groups focus on themselves being viewed as above these practices — as a `respectable’ caste. Although Krishnasami is from the Pallar caste, he has sided with Hindutva forces in supporting the beef ban, said Divya. Divya learned later that Dr. Chitra Selvi was also from the Pallar caste.
After this Divya’s phone number was made public on Facebook . This opened a floodgate of attacks. She received more than two thousand threatening calls, and she was stalked. Many of the callers identified themselves as BJP functionaries. Divya told us that Hindutva forces are targetting her, as she had announced that the subject of her next film is the beef ban and the threat of hindutva. In her interview with outlook, she said that `the BJP is trying to woo Dalit voters, and Krishnasami is their weapon. ‘Divya told us that one of the complaints against her says that her actions are against the sovereignty of India!
Left Side Media organized a press meet and convention on 9th August in Madurai to raise broad-based support for Divya in the face of this harassment. The convention was attended by members of CPM, CPI, Popular front of India, PUCL and Ilam Tamilagam. A surprise participant in the convention was Irom Sharmila from Manipur who was on hunger strike for 15 years, demanding that the Indian Government withdraw AFSPA (Armed forces special powers Act) in Manipur. Divya narrated that Ms Sharmila was moved to tears when she saw the film Kakkoos. She has promised to stand behind Divya, in her fight against manual scavenging, and her fight in making political spaces open to women.
On the day of the press meet, a non-bailable warrant was issued against Divya by Madurai police. Ironically, the complaint against her was under the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act — the reasoning offered was that Divya, a non-Dalit, through her defamation of the Pallar (SC) community, has affected their livelihood. In spite of this onslaught, Divya sounded confident. She expects the non-bailable warrant will be quashed by the Madurai High court bench next week.
These incidents show how various political and civil institutions are being systematically hollowed out. The police has been co-opted in Divya’s witchhunt — they have charged her based on baseless complaints. On the other hand, Divya’ genuine complaint about harassment went unheard by the cyber cells of Madurai and Chennai. Dalit leaders are being co-opted by Hindutva forces, and have turned against Divya, who has relentlessly struggled against manual scavenging.