As Gauri boarded the train on Saturday for her return journey home, she was torn between eagerness to get back to Wayanad to her four-year-old son, and resentment surging through her veins.
29-year old Gauri -a tribal activist who belongs to the Kattu Naicker community- was arrested by the Kerala police on 06 May this year, for putting up posters asking the tribals to boycott the recently held state assembly elections.
Member of a leftist group called ‘Porattam’, Gauri along with her colleague Chaathu were charged under Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). She ended up spending nearly six months at the Kannur Central Jail. Human rights activists in Kerala had been actively campaigning for the duo’s unconditional release.
In a telephonic conversation with The News Minute from her house at Thirunelli in Wayanad, Gauri recounts her life in the jail.
Gauri -who attended school till Class 7- used to work in coffee plantations. She began to take an active part in protests since 2010.
As an Adivasi woman and an activist, Gauri feels she was deliberately targeted for fighting for the rights of her community, as evident by the treatment meted out to her at prison, with the aim of crushing her own identity.
“For the first few weeks, other inmates would not talk to me. They would not even look at me, and would walk away if I attempted to strike a conversation with them. I was taken aback by such behavior, and kept asking them why they were being rude. It was only later, they told me that the jail warden had given them strict orders not to speak to me,” recalls Gauri.
This was apparently because she was a Maoist who possessed guns and bombs. It took Gauri quite some time to convince others to speak to her without fear, but never when the warden was around.
“There were murderers, smugglers and drug peddlers in there. But the social boycott was meant only for someone who dared to question the system…someone who stood up for the rights of the tribal community,” she smiles.
Gauri was forced to share a cell with 20-odd women. The arrival of a new warden -three months later- did not bode well for the inmates, especially Adivasis like Gauri.
“This new warden was forever abusing us tribals. Once she asked me why was I so dark…do I not take a daily bath? The main weapon of abuse used to be our caste and the way we look. Despite being physically unwell, the warden would not spare us from mandatory garden-work. She always accused us of lazing around, threatening to cancel our turn to call up our families,” she shudders.
Gauri remembers the time when the warden refused to take another Adivasi -sentenced to ten years imprisonment in a sexual abuse case- to hospital, when diagnosed with jaundice. She had her three-year old daughter with her.
“Luckily, her daughter was taken to hospital on time, but they refused to take the mother, accusing her of faking illness to get out of prison time. They made fun of her, saying she was ill because she had not met her husband for long,” says Gauri, with horror evident in her voice.
It was only when Gauri reached home on Saturday evening after getting bail from a Thrissur court in another case, that she came to know of Ravunni’s -senior rights activist and president of Porattam- remand to the Kannur Central Jail.
Ravunni was taken into custody along with 27 others on Saturday, for protesting in front of the Kozhikode Medical College against the Nilambur Maoist encounter in which two Maoists were killed.
All the protestors were released from custody on the same day, except for Ravunni who was slapped with UAPA for putting up anti-election slogans.
"We will go on advocating boycott of elections, until we get justice. What good is it voting for those who hardly do anything for the tribals? We are not criminals. Why are we branded as terrorists, Maoists and anti-nationals, when all we ask for is our basic rights? A lot of us have been individually targets for the past many years. The local police often come to our colony to enquire about the ‘Maoist’ who lives here," fumes Gauri.