Stripped of livelihood, Dalit auto driver Chithralekha to begin indefinite stir seeking justice

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Kannur: E Chithralekha, a Dalit female auto driver at Kattampally near Payyannur in Kannur district, who has been fighting the state-ruling CPM for two decades, will begin an indefinite stir in front of her residence today.

The fresh protest is against the alleged inaction of the Valapattanam police in probing the case of a gang burning her autorickshaw, the only source of revenue for her family. Chithralekha has urged the police to slap sections under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act on the culprits.

The 47-year-old will sit for a ‘dharna’ next to the charred autorickshaw in front of her house.

“My family is on the verge of suicide as we lost our livelihood after the auto was burnt down by the CPM gang. Three weeks have passed since the vehicle was destroyed in front of my house. But, the police are totally inactive in investigating the case,” said Chithralekha, adding that she will continue the protest until her family gets justice.

“I can identify one of the members of the gang and told the police about it. I see him in front of my house every day, but the police are not doing anything.”

Chithralekha has said the auto was the only source of income for her family. Photo: Facebook/Chithra Lekha

Valapattanam SHO MT Jacob denied the allegation of police inaction. “We are trying our best to nab the accused. But, no specific evidence leading to them has been received yet,” he said. “Though the complainant had traced a suspect, there is no evidence to prove his involvement in the crime. The police had also checked CCTV footage in the region, but no suspicious lead has been received,” he said.

Two-decade-long battle
Chithralekha has been relentlessly fighting against the might of CPM in its fortress of Payyannur for the last two decades.

The alleged social boycott in the CPM stronghold area started against the Dalit woman after she married Sreeshanth, a member of the Thiyya community

A file photo of Chithralekha riding her auto. File photo: Facebook/Chithra Lekha

Chithralekha began riding an auto in 2004 to make a living. Her decision triggered strong protests from other auto drivers, allegedly those belonging to the Thiyya community and with CPM leanings. She and her family were assaulted several times allegedly by auto drivers belonging to the CITU, the trade union of CPM.

On December 31, 2005, her auto that was parked near her house was set on fire allegedly by CPM workers. Though the police arrested the accused, he walked scot-free after witnesses turned hostile.

Her husband, Sreeshanth M, whose family supported the CPM, was also attacked on several occasions.

Victims of casteism
“CPM workers started showing enmity towards us and boycotted us due to caste discrimination,” Sreeshanth said. “As I married a woman from a lower case, my family, relatives and other members of the caste boycotted us. When my wife decided to drive an auto to find a livelihood, other auto drivers belonging to CITU came against her and abused her over the caste,” said the 48-year-old.

Sreeshanth and Chithralekha fell in love when they worked in Vadakara. Sreeshanth was an auto driver and Chithralekha was a nurse at a private hospital.

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