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

Chithralekha stands next to her charred auto in front of her house. Photo: Special arrangement

Kannur: E Chithralekha, a Dalit autorickshaw driver at Kattampally near Payyannur in Kannur district, who has been fighting the CPM's high-handedness for the past two decades, will begin an indefinite stir in front of her residence today.

Her 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 income for her family. Chithralekha has urged the police to level charges under sections in the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act on the culprits.

The 47-year-old said she would sit for a 'dharna' next to the charred autorickshaw in front of her house.

“My family is on the verge of suicide as we have lost our livelihood after the auto was burnt down by a CPM gang. Three weeks have passed since the vehicle was destroyed in front of my house. But, the police are not at all investigating the case,” said Chithralekha, adding that she will continue the protest till her family gets justice.

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

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

Denying the allegations of police inaction, Valapattanam SHO M T Jacob said they were trying their 'best to nab the accused'. "But we have not yet received any specific evidence leading to them,” 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 we have not got any lead,” he added.

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

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

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

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

Her husband, Sreeshanth M (48), 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 so-called lower caste, my family, relatives and other members of my caste boycotted us. When my wife decided to drive an autorickshaw to earn a livelihood, other drivers belonging to CITU turned against her and abused her over the caste,” he said.

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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