What actually happens when you become the first women to enter a hill temple that has banned women’s entry for decades, at a time when society is violently grappling both socially and politically with the issue? On Friday, in an exclusive interview with TNM, 42-year-old advocate Bindu Ammini and 39-year-old civil supplies corporation employee Kanakadurga told us about the events and thoughts that have transpired ever since they entered Sabarimala temple on January 2.
Bindu and Kanakadurga have been staying in various unnamed locations after completing their darshan at Sabarimala, remaining, as many media houses have called it, “in hiding”. They made it clear, however, that they had been staying in the homes of various trusted friends, and did not avail police protection or assistance in this. “We stayed in the houses of friends,” they said, “And we shifted our location many times to locations that had been prepared. But the police did not play any major role in this.”
Bindu pointed out that she could not provide details of the locations they had stayed at. She said that they had taken shelter in these places on the assumption that they would not expose their friends to danger by revealing their identities.
Despite being in hiding, it’s clear that Bindu and Kanakadurga are aware of the media attention they’ve garnered, and the nature of it. Making a reference to the Constitutional guarantee of a right to privacy granted to citizens, Bindu points out how many media houses violated their privacy in attempting to track them post their Sabarimala visit.
“Some channels, like Mathrubumi and Janam TV, showing no media ethics, put out our visuals. The Constitution gives us the right to privacy, it is an important right that comes under the right to life. As was seen in Justice KS Puttuswamy case on Right to Privacy, the Court has said very clearly we all have a right to privacy. Now the media has put out visuals—where we went, how went. This clearly violates my right to privacy, and is a violation of international media ethics.”
The right to privacy judgement, which was given in response to retired Karnataka High Court judge Justice KS Puttaswamy filing a petition in the Supreme Court against the mandatory nature of Aadhaar, had pointed out that the new right “allows each human being to be left alone in a core which is inviolable”. Given the fact that Bindu and Kanakadurga expressly did not want to be found, much less have their location and other details broadcast on television, it seems likely that the treatment they faced at the hands of some media houses was indeed a violation of their privacy.
Since the right to privacy is still so so new and has seen very few legal cases where its meaning and limitations have been expressly laid out, it is yet to be seen how it will actually impact the functioning of the media, and whether actions like forcibly tailing and broadcasting the location of an unwilling citizen is a practice the media will soon be forced to disown.
In the interview, Bindu and Kanakadurga also told us more about their choice to keep their location post their darshan at Sabarimala a secret from the media and the public, and stressed that it was a choice they made deliberately, and not out of compulsion. Their response and attitude towards their own seclusion shows a calm long—sightedness and a sensitivity towards the social situation around their controversial decision to enter the temple.
Bindu makes it clear, however, that she is not afraid of the protesters who attacked her home, and Kanakadurga lays out that she did not heed the demands of the RSS supporters who surrounded her house. Bindu, who appears to be the more fiery of the two, says, “I’m not afraid of protesters, of that kind of death. I am a person willing to die for progressive society, progressive Kerala.”
Kanakadurga says, “[The RSS protesters] told me that if I appear at the RSS office near Sabarimala, those at my house will leave. I said I will not do that as the RSS people had not gathered at my house on my invitation.”
When asked if they were now ready to go home, Kanakadurga immediately smiles and says, “Yes, we are okay to go home now”. She elaborates, “After finishing our Sabarimala darshan, the next day we saw the battles, explosives, and even a hartal in all parts of Kerala. Our friends, or those who think well about society, told us there is a situation where attacks can happen again, and we should not give a chance for it. They told us to come out only when the situation has calmed. That’s why we’re staying separately from our families. But in some media houses, they are saying we are hiding, that’s not true.”
Bindu adds, “Online media is saying that we “cannot” go home. But we decided if the situation is accepting of it, and we finish what we have to do, we will return home, is our position.”
Despite their plans to return home by Sunday or Monday, neither are immune to the obstacles they continue to face, or the uphill journey ahead. Bindu details the social boycott she has already begun to face, “One problem I face is that my shop is facing a boycott. I started this (general stores) shop on my own and worked hard to travel and purchase stuff from Tiruppur, Bengaluru and other places on Saturdays after my work. The shop was re-opened two days ago, but no one is coming to the shop. Friends and I had taken a chit run in the complex where my shop runs, but they have given my money back saying people like me cannot be part of the chit. This boycott will make me face a major financial crisis.”
In addition to the abuse she was bombarded with on social media, Bindu also mentioned that her child had only been able to return to school on the previous day, which immediately brings to mind how another Bindu, the embattled activist and teacher Bindu Thankam Kalyani, had spoken out merely five days previously, claiming that her child had been denied admission into a school due to her attempt to go to Sabarimala.
Kanakadurga, however, puts matters in perspective when she reminds us about the long game they’re playing here, “We have seen in the past too that people who successfully worked for renaissance movements or progressive work were boycotted by societies. People have been forced to leave their homes because of such boycott. All those who believe in democracy and progressive values should oppose the boycott.”