Activist and law professor Bindu Ammini made history on January 2, 2019 when she, along with another woman Kanaka Durga, visited the Sabarimala shrine in Kerala. While previously women between the ages of 10 to 50 were barred from entering the temple, a Supreme Court judgment in September 2018 allowed them entry. However, displeased with the verdict, some right wing groups had attempted to stop Bindu and other women from reaching the temple. After her temple entry, there have been a series of attacks on Bindu both physically and online. Being a Dalit woman, the abuse against her has been explicitly casteist in nature.
In an interview with TNM, Bindu talks about the recent attack on her in Kozhikode, the failure of the police in protecting her, and how she plans to move ahead amidst recurring attacks on her.
Recently there was a murder attempt on you in Kozhikodeâ€™s Vellayil by a man who is allegedly an RSS member. Following this you said youâ€™re going to leave Kerala. What made you say that?
Attacks against Adivasis and Dalits are increasing in Kerala. Iâ€™m not saying that the Union government is better in any sense. We are attacked repeatedly, both virtually and physically. In all these cases the accused are being protected. Such police actions show the stateâ€™s true face. The state is the accused in these cases against me. If Iâ€™m attacked even as the Supreme Court provided me police protection, the prime accused is the police and the state. The â€˜absolutely unprotectedâ€™ is not just me, it is the women, Dalits and Adivasis.
I made the statement about seeking asylum in protest against the state.
When did you approach the court for police protection?
After the temple entry I faced several attacks and murder attempts. My mother was threatened. I applied for police protection through advocate Indira Jaising in January 2019. The Supreme Court issued an order stating that the state of Kerala must provide security. When Kerala was hit by floods, thinking that police personnel will be needed for rescue services, I requested to end the protection temporarily. It was during this period that I was attacked with pepper spray in front of the Commissioner's office in Ernakulam. In the context of this attack, the court issued another judgment saying the protection shall continue.
After I filed a complaint in January 2021 against police officials who misbehaved with me, the protection itself was withdrawn. The police personnel spoke to me in an insulting manner. They handled me like I was an accused. Some of them would hold me like an accused, while some others walked far from me as if they were ashamed to walk with me. It was when they started verbally abusing me late in the night, I sent an email to the Kozhikode rural SP describing the abuses.
Rajeswari, the mother of law student Jisha who was raped and murdered in Ernakulamâ€™s Perumbavoor, sought police protection as she feared a threat to her life. She told me during an interview that the female police constables sent for protection would use her room while she slept outside the room. Youâ€™ve said that even after knowing about the attack the police did not reach the spot. How do you look at police protection in effect?
The police made a big mistake violating a Supreme Court order. They refused to ensure protection when there was a murder attempt on me. This was not an accidental attack, it was a planned murder attempt. I called the CI with the presumption that I may collapse or die in a few minutes. I responded to all their calls and asked them to send an ambulance. They say that the ambulance reached in eight minutes. Maybe it did, but I didnâ€™t see the ambulance arrive. If the ambulance driver didn't see me, they are obliged to contact me.
Following the protests after the attack on January 6, the police are handling the case a bit more seriously. But I still feel that they behaved very negligently.
If the flying squad had reached the spot immediately, they could have arrested the attacker. Every citizen deserves such a quick response, but I didnâ€™t receive what I deserve even when I held an SC order for police protection.
You and Kanaka Durga are the two women who entered the Sabarimala temple following the Supreme Court judgment that removed the biological exemptions to enter the temple. Many other women too attempted and reached close. How far were you supported by the feminist groups in Kerala? In the past 10 years of Keralaâ€™s history we see an almost complete absence of feminist-led movements. What do you think about this?
Feminist movements were inactive in the past few years. Yet, in the last three years it has been slightly better. There have been independent initiatives like Sulfath teacherâ€™s activities, and organizations like Sthreevedi, Anweshi, Wings, etc. All of these streams are scattered in the liberal space. Common platforms are very few. Perspectives are different, there will be conflicting views. Resistance movements collaborate mostly on the basis of issues, and only these responses and solidarities are visible. In issue-based responses, each individual will still represent political organisations or lean towards one. The political organisationâ€™s stand towards the issue will reflect on the individualâ€™s stand towards the issue too. Some people go silent. The silences of these feminist movements are a debatable thing. We are forced to say this silence is offensive. Not acknowledging mutually â€“ be it leaders, individuals or individuals who represent political organisations, ego and personal issues too affect this. We see individualistic attempts becoming successful. There is an absence of unified movements.
Having more factors in common enhances movements when protests are organised under an organisationâ€™s mantle.
Donâ€™t you think caste-based social locations play a big role in homogenising feminist movements?
Both caste and religion are factors.
Bishop Franco Mulakkal was acquitted in the nun rape case. How do you respond to this?
Those who get convicted are mostly Adivasis and Dalits. Iâ€™m not saying that they must be acquitted. The conviction rate is very less outside these communities. I donâ€™t believe this is because they do not commit crimes.
Regarding Franco Mulakkal, this is the first case to reach the court in which a bishop is accused of such a charge. This was the result of a rigorous fight against those who enjoy all the privileges in society. The victims have to struggle a lot to even speak out and raise a complaint. Most of them arenâ€™t able to do this as there is pressure from the family, from the diocese, from so-called trusted friendsâ€™ circles. Filing a complaint means surviving all that.
Under Indian law, in cases like these the â€˜burden of proofâ€™ is not on the victim, not on the prosecution. It is on the accused. The victim does not have the burden to prove that the accused has committed the crime. But in a lot of cases, the opposite happens. The victim doesnâ€™t even get the benefit of the law.
I completely reject this judgment because nowhere is the victimâ€™s side considered. The judgment disproves all the witnesses and calls their statements lies. This is impossible. I donâ€™t blame the prosecution in this case. The prejudice of the judge is very evident. I hope the higher courts penalize him. The positive thing is how the victim took on this fight until this point.
You and Kanaka Durga, who entered Sabarimala temple, are facing different treatment from society, why is this happening?
Kanaka Durga and I are not the only women who entered Sabarimala, there are a few others. Manju is one but the Sangh Parivar is not ready to acknowledge the fact that she entered Sabarimala. Other women, including Rehana Fathima, Kavita, Bindu Thankam Kalyani, Libi, etc. tried to enter the temple, but they couldnâ€™t.
If you ask why Iâ€™m being targeted among all these women, caste is a factor. I wasnâ€™t politically active in the years around the Sabarimala entry. I was very active nine years ago. After the entry, I organised the Shaheen Bagh anti-CAA protest site at Mananchira. I actively opposed the Farm laws. My political stand against the Sangh Parivar is very clear. They know well enough about my role in the temple entry. All these are factors to target me. Kanaka Durga stood by me.
There was a silence even among anti-fascist groups â€“ you were seen as just a woman who entered Sabarimala. Have you ever felt yourself being limited to this single act and fact?
Yes. News channels report these issues actively whenever attacks on me occur, but that is solely limited to â€˜Sabarimalaâ€™. They ask for my responses only related to Sabarimala. I was actively part of protests before and after entering Sabarimala, but the media sees me as inseparable from Sabarimala. Media covers what it is interested in, I continue doing what I can.
Did the response from mainstream political parties indicate they have a similar stance?
No political party has expressed an affinity towards me. I donâ€™t expect it. I have no interest in joining any political party. But I know that Iâ€™m pushed far away even when there is a chance that I may share a political space with them.
People who are outright anti-fascist are ultimately labelled as advocates of radical left, Maoist politics. Such a campaign was set against you as well, what do you think about that?
Yes, there was a murmur campaign. Iâ€™m not bothered by that. Some people say Iâ€™m CPI(M)â€™s spy. CPI(M) followers say I represent the Sangh Parivar. The Congress fold says Iâ€™m from the CPI(M). The liberal space too has its version.
You said youâ€™re in a situation that forces you to keep a gun. How far can self-defence be actualised in India?
I think self-defence needs to be part of the school curriculum, from primary classes onwards. We must reflect on how much attention we pay to it. The right to bear arms is a fundamental right in the US, not in India. Iâ€™m not promoting the right to bear arms, we see how the complications of this right is forcing them to exempt it.
The duty of the police is to protect citizensâ€™ life and property. But the state sees the police as a force for oppression. Whatever front is in power, the police force behaves the same, in the interest of the ruling dispensation. There are humane provisions in the Kerala Police Act on how to treat an accused, how to treat a victim, but these things are not considered. Which is why, like you mentioned, Jishaâ€™s mother was forced to sleep outside her room to accommodate the police personnel on protection duty. The police who are ready to protect the privileged are not ready to protect underprivileged women like me.
It is the stateâ€™s responsibility to protect a citizenâ€™s life. When that is not happening, what else is there to look forward to?
Did you try to communicate with the Chief Minister after the recent attack?
I havenâ€™t communicated with the CM. A case has been registered at the Vellayil police station following my complaint. The SC/ST Commission registered a case suo motu. The Womenâ€™s Commission chairperson contacted me over phone.
Iâ€™m not satisfied with the investigation. Iâ€™ve filed a petition with the Police Commissioner in this regard.
How are you planning to move ahead amidst these recurring attacks? How are you looking forward to keeping the state accountable for these crimes?
After the attack I faced in Vellayil, my police protection was reinstated. I havenâ€™t received any written communication. Because if they send a written communication, then they would have to admit that the protection was withdrawn in between.
Cyber harassment towards me has been going on endlessly. A porn video with my face morphed in was circulated. Iâ€™m not expecting the arrest of those who made it, but there shouldâ€™ve been some action to prove that the act is a crime. It has been three years and the police havenâ€™t done anything about the case. They say the forensic report is yet to come, which is hard for me to believe.
During the attack in Vellayil, there were others with the attacker. The man asked my name and confirmed my identity. I called the Police Special Branch immediately and informed them that there is a chance that I might be attacked. But the police took no action to prevent it.
Mrudula Bhavani is a freelance journalist based in Kerala. She reports on state policies with a focus on gender spectrum, law, public health, caste, and environment.