Filmmaker Arrested Like a Common Criminal:Is It Now Illegal to Speak Up for Dalits?
"The conspiracy of silence on the septic tank deaths"
July 29, 2017
A camera that does not hide the truth. But captures the utter degradation of manual scavenging, the plight of the Dalits who still engage in this work in the face of government denials, and die in septic tanks.
Kakoos (toilet)…to your conspiracy of silence on the septic tank deaths is a documentary by Divya Bharathi, that jolts the viewer out of his/her comfort zone. And in the climate today, it is perhaps to be expected, that the state would have targeted Bharathi and arrested her for a case that was registered against her as a student, eight years ago. More so, as the Tamil Nadu police has prevented screening of her film that exposes the state —not just in Tamil Nadu but across India—as being a conspirator against the Dalits on this vexed issue.
What was that case that had the cops rushing to Bharathi’s address and arresting her as if she was a common criminal? Bharathi, as a young student, had participated in an agitationseeking compensation for a Dalit student who allegedly died after a snakebite at the Adidravidar Welfare Department Students hostel in 2009.
The Mathichiyam police picked up the 28 year old filmmaker from her residence in Alagakulam, without warning, like a common criminal according to her supporters and produced her before the judicial magistrate. She had been booked on the charge of preventing doctors at Government Rajaji hospital from discharging their duties on December 21, 2009 along with seven other students. They were protesting against the death of Ramesh who they all alleged had died because of lack of proper medical attention at the hospital.
Bharathi was produced before the district court, and granted conditional bail with the order to sign in the court for a week. Activists, students and others were present in the court in her support, even as all expressed shock at the sudden, unexpected arrest.
This arrest is being viewed by rights activists and political groups as part of a sustained campaign by the state against Dalits where persons exposing the discrimination, are targeted, harassed, attacked and arrested. Given the nature of the case, most spoken to were categorical that the arrest was provoked more by her recent documentary on manual scavenging where she had exposed the role of the state, than a seven year old case based on an agitation by a bunch of college students.
The Peoples Union of Civil Liberties in a statement flayed the government for the arrest stating that this was “carried out with the inner motive of suppressing the voice of the protesters, especially the women protesters.” The statement condemned the police action, pointing out that Bharathi had not appeared before the court as she had not received a proper summons for those hearings. PUCL has appealed to the Tamil Nadu government and the police “not to strangle the voice of democracy by using various draconian laws against people who make protest within the provisions of the Constitution.” It has urged the government to respect the voices of the people, and not reduce the democratic space by “making this state a police state.”
The CPI(ML) has also in a statement condemned “the arbitrary and illegal arrest” of Bharathi who was earlier with their students wing AISA. She was arrested with warning, and treated like a criminal by the police who took her to court. “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”, the statement said giving details of several instances across the states where the marginalised have been targeted by instruments of the state.
Published first in The Citizen.
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