CPI(ML) activist and documentary filmmaker Divya Bharathi whose first film Kakkoos has come under much controversy, has left Tamil Nadu fearing her safety. Only those in her close circle of around ten people know where she is currently.
Speaking to TNM via phone, Divya said, "I don't think the police will try and track me. I mainly left because of the harassment I received from the caste groups...they went on about rape, acid attacks."
On July 25, Divya was arrested in Madurai for a case that dates back to 2009. The police did not bother to issue summons or an arrest warrant. The court released her, instructing her to sign at the police station in Madurai for a week.
"I had to go to the police station every morning at 10 to sign for the 2009 case. I was drinking tea at a stall near the station. On the fourth day, I got a call saying 'How dare you stand and drink tea there like a man? We're coming after you, watch out!'. When I traveled to Pollachi for a screening, I got down from the bus at Dharapuram to avoid people following me...I got into a car and the next minute I got a call. They said, 'Yes, this is the fear we wanted you to have!'" she says. Kakkoos, her film on manual scavenging, has faced several obstacles with the police objecting to its screening at many places, including Madurai where Divya resides.
However, after the activist put out a video about the alleged harassment of sanitation workers at the Anna University campus, Dindigul, by dean Chitra Selvi, she claims that there has been a targeted campaign against her. TNM had earlier reported about the abusive phone calls, death and rape threats that Divya Bharathi has been getting.
Divya has subsequently got a new number although the old one is still in existence and continues to ring.
"As far as I know, there are 12 complaints against me in Madurai, they have registered an FIR for cyber terrorism among other charges. The complaint was made by Bhaskar Mathuram, the youth wing leader of Puthiya Tamilagam. It also says that I'm a naxalite. I got to know that police from Dindigul visited my house, so it appears that an FIR has been filed against me there, too," she says.
A few days before the arrest on July 25, Divya had uploaded a video in which a Dalit couple belonging to the Arunthathiyar caste made serious accusations against dean Chitra Selvi of Anna University, Dindigul.
In the video, the husband and wife who are employed as sanitation workers at the University on a contract basis, allege that Chitra Selvi has harassed them for two years, forcing them to perform manual scavenging and also provide sexual favours to her husband.
Chitra Selvi belongs to the Devendrakula Vellar caste, also known as Pallars. Divya believes that the Puthiya Tamilagam party, which is headed by Dr Krishnasamy who belongs to the same caste as Chitra Selvi, has raised objections to Kakkoos because of the second video.
While the police has been acting on the complaints filed against Divya, the activist says that there has been no action regarding the harassment that she's been facing.
"There were around 1200 phone numbers which I had given to the Deputy Commissioner in Madurai on July 29. I had also given screenshots of the extremely abusive messages that I got from these numbers. But the police told me that if it was a question of blocking one or two numbers, they could do it, but what to do about so many numbers?" recounts Divya.
Divya says that she then identified ten numbers which were the worst of the lot and gave the list to the cops. However, although the list was forwarded to cyber crime and she was called for an enquiry, Divya alleges that no action has been taken as yet against those who called her.
The police, Divya says, showed some interest only after she'd called for a press meet. Further, women's organisations including AIDWA, visited the Chennai DGP and complained regarding the harassment that she has been facing.
"It was the next day that I found out that Bhaskar Mathuram's complaint had been registered as an FIR," remarks Divya wryly.
"The first para of the complaint says that I've depicted the Pallar community in a wrong way. But the real problem is that he has said I'm against the sovereignty of India. It also says that I have connections with Naxals and terrorists. If the portrayal of caste was his problem, why bring in all these allegations?" she asks.
Divya is convinced that there is a BJP hand in the harassment, considering the framing of the allegations and the fact that several phone calls that she has been receiving show up on TrueCaller as 'BJP MLA' and so on.
Asked about the victims who spoke against Chitra Selvi in the video she'd shot, Divya says that they have now filed a case in the High Court. They have demanded that action be taken against the dean and have asked that they be allowed to go back to their jobs. The couple have said that their lives are also under threat and have asked for police protection.
"On Wednesday, Chitra Selvi appeared in court and denied all the allegations. The court has asked both parties to file an affidavit," says Divya.
Responding to Dr Krishnasamy's claims that the Puthiya Tamilagam party had objected to Kakkoos and the depiction of manual scavengers even earlier, Divya says that this was not the case.
"They didn't raise any objections when the film came out. Many of their leaders also watched the film. Madurai is the base for their party for activism. Many people from the community have spoken to me in the past...they've not brought this up as an issue but had in fact told me that the film was good," claims Divya.
Even though Divya left Tamil Nadu because of the sustained harassment, she plans to remain active from where she is currently located. She has also been posting updates on her Facebook page.
Interestingly, iconic political activist Irom Sharmila who plans to get married in Kodaikanal on August 15, defying social pressures, has invited Divya to be her bridesmaid.
"I was humbled by her gesture," says Divya. "It was on the day of my arrest that she watched Kakkoos. She watched it all night and it affected her a lot. She kept crying, recalling scenes from the film when she was talking to me. I was surprised...she has seen so much in life and yet she was so moved by the film.We started chatting online. She spoke to me very personally."
Divya says that Irom Sharmila confessed to her that she felt lonely and was disturbed with the media's interest in her life.
"She told me that this is why they moved from Kerala to Kodaikanal and she invited me to go and stay with her. I didn't know how to react! She told me about the wedding on the 15th...she spoke to me so sweetly," says Divya.