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India: Sexual intimidation of women activists in Tamil Nadu

20 August 2012

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[Text of online petition to India’s National Commission of Women]

Ensure safety and freedom of women activists

Subject: Sexual intimidation of women activists - Threat to life and freedom of movement - Mettur incident -15.8.2012

Dear Madam/Sir

I wish to bring to your attention the shocking event of a young woman activist who was threatened on 15th August with sexual violence and death by over a dozen men working towards vested corporate and political interests.

Shreela Manohar, a 23-year old environmental health campaigner based in Chennai, has been researching and working to stop industrial pollution in Mettur for the past 4 months. She and the organisation she working with (Community Environmental Monitoring-The Other Media) have been associated with the Gonur West Agriculturists Development Union, a grassroots group of farmers in Mettur, providing the union with solidarity, techno-scientific and legal assistance and supporting their field work. Their campaign has been stonewalled consistently by industrial giants operating in Mettur, namely Chemplast and MALCO.

As part of her regular site visits to Mettur, and in particular to witness the Independence Day Gramasabha Meeting scheduled in Gonur Panchayat, Shreela had traveled to Mettur on the 13th of August. On 15th August, while heading to Gonur accompanied with farmers from the Union, Shreela was intercepted by a gang of around 15 men, led by a Mr.Kalaikovan, who threatened her with rape and murder, if she did not cease her campaigning activities in Mettur. He almost unashamedly seated himself on Shreela’s lap, squeezing himself between her and a member of the Union, on a narrow bench in a baker’s shop where Shreela was having tea. Calling himself a functionary of the ruling AIADMK party, he demanded to know why critical issues of pollution and livelihood challenges were being raised in the time of the present regime. He had accused Shreela and the Union members of having been quiet in the previous regime, using furtive political liaisons to extort money from "the company".

Shreela was targeted by Mr.Kalaikovan, who explicitly threatened her with rape and other physical harm, besides threatening the whole group with murder. He instructed ’his men’ to fetch cycle-chains, machetes and logs to terrify Shreela and the Union members who had to leave the place in haste. During this entire period, people at the tea shop and passers-by did nothing to intervene and watched the whole spectacle silently. The silence of people when a young woman is publicly threatened with rape and murder is a cause of extreme worry, reflecting deep cynicism and fear in the society today.

While threatening to kill her if she was seen in Mettur again, Kalaikovan had minced no words in expressing his distaste for women campaigning against industrial pollution. Shreela was effectively stopped from attending the Gramasabha meeting, purpose for her visit to Mettur that day, due to dire threat to her personal safety.

Following this incidence of threat and intimidation, when Shreela approached the officials of the Karumalaikoodal Police Station, she was met with more appalling skepticism toward the role and integrity of female activists. The Sub-Inspector of the station, after criticising Shreela for her involvement in pollution-related research in Mettur, literally alleging that the verbal molestation faced by her was her own doing, and were the repercussions of her own campaigning in Mettur. Extremely reluctant to even receive her complaint, the sub-inspector reprimanded Shreela for not notifying him of her every movement in the area.

The order of events and their implications conjure up images of acid-throwing at women bureaucrats, character assassination directed at women in assembly sessions, armed savage mob attacks and the spate of activist killings that have numbed community workers. The distressing reactions of officials in-charge is more traumatic in such circumstances. With rampant precedence for organised rowdyism resulting in gory deaths and mutilations, our anxiety and fear is rightfully justified.

I demand you immediately initiate impartial action in this regard, as a means to put our deep concerns to rest, to ensure that Shreela is secured against any further harassment, and as an assurance for the safety and freedom of women activists in India.


(To sign to the above petition go here)