The CPI(ML) condemns the arbitrary and illegal arrest of documentary filmmaker and CPI(ML) Liberation member Divya Bharathi by the Tamil Nadu police yesterday. Comrade Divya, whose most noted recent film was Kakkoos, a searing documentary about manual scavenging, was arrested for her participation in a student protest in 2009.
In 2009, as an AISA activist in Madurai, Divya had organized an agitation of Dalit hostel residents against the abysmal conditions of the hostels. The immediate context of the agitation was the death by snakebite of a student in one of the Dalit hostels. The police at the time filed a case against Divya and other agitating students.
On 25 July 2017, a police team led by a woman police officer barged into Divya’s home, without any warrant or summons and then took her to the local police station as if she were a criminal. She was then produced before a magistrate for not attending a hearing of the 2009 case. But no summons were issued to Divya to attend the court hearing – so there was no ground for hauling her up before a magistrate for failing to appear. The presence of journalists and well-wishers in the magistrate’s court sent a strong message of solidarity with Divya – and the magistrate released her on bail on the condition that she sign the register for a week.
It is shameful that a student activist should be punished for protesting against the death of a student due to the negligent and inhuman conditions inside hostels for Dalit students. Such conditions prevail in Dalit hostels all over the country – in Bhojpur in Bihar also, AISA and RYA activists have held protests demanding better hostel conditions. On one occasion in Bhojpur, a resident of a Dalit hostel was killed by electrocution, and on another, a girl student was found killed on the hostel premises.
The arrest of Comrade Divya is the latest in the string of such authoritarian arrests of young activists by the Tamil Nadu police. Such incidents include the arrest of Valarmathi, a student of journalism at Periyar University, under the Goondas Act for distributing leaflets opposing hydrocarbon projects that threaten environment and livelihoods in the Kaveri delta region. The University administration also suspended her following this case. Kuberan, another student of Annamalai University was also booked under the Goondas Act for protesting against hydrocarbon projects. 65 students of Pachaiappa’s College of Chennai were also suspended for the same reason. A retired professor Jayaraman, and nine others were jailed for protesting with the people of Kadiramangalam against an ONGC project in a Thanjavur village. And the Tamil Nadu police has repeatedly prevented screenings of Divya’s film Kakkoos, because it reveals the dirty secret of manual scavenging in Tamil Nadu and India.
Comrade Divya’s latest film is about the violation of the law prohibiting manual scavenging by a Dean of Anna University Engineering College, Dindigul, and the sexual abuse of the women sanitation workers – a case in which the Tamil Nadu police is busy trying to intervene on behalf of the accused and suppress the matter.
The CPI(ML) and its mass organizations will organize protests in Tamil Nadu and elsewhere in the country against the highhandedness of the Tamil Nadu police and upholding the right of students to protest.