Film-maker speaks on her documentary, Kakkoos, on manual scavenging, and the political situation in Tamil Nadu
It was on February 26 that Divya Bharathi, a law graduate from Madurai, released her documentary Kakkoos, which shed light on the plight of manual scavengers in Tamil Nadu and showed how caste plays a major role in their lives. The 28-year-old film-maker was arrested once and 12 complaints were filed against her since July 26. Ms. Bharathi speaks to A.S. Jayanth on what led to her current situation and the political atmosphere in her State.
How come you started facing harassment five months after Kakkoos was released?
Puthiya Thamizhagam leader Krishnaswamy announced in the social media on July 27 that he was going to file a case against me and my phone numbers were put in the public domain. Members of the Pallar community were exhorted to harass me over the phone as I had “brought disgrace to them by showing their condition in Kakkoos”. I received over 1,200 calls from India and abroad in two days. I filed a complaint with the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Madurai, on July 29. Meanwhile, I was arrested by the police in connection with an incident that happened in 2009. I was released on a condition that I should sign at the police station every day. They started following me every time I go to the station.
What must have provoked Mr. Krishnaswamy?
I had persuaded a group of sanitary workers to file a case against Anna University Dean Chitra Selvi, accusing her of employing them for manual scavenging. As none of the Tamil channels were ready to air the news, I uploaded an interview with the workers on my YouTube page on July 21. My arrest was a ploy to stop me from travelling to Dindigul, where the case against Ms. Selvi was filed. It turned out that Ms. Selvi and Mr. Krishnaswamy belong to the Pallar community, and he was trying to salvage her reputation by targeting me.
What happened to your complaint?
Women’s organisations had approached senior police officials citing my plight. But on August 3, although my complaints were kept pending, an FIR was filed against me based on a complaint by a youth wing leader of the Puthiya Thamizhagam. He alleged that I had insulted the Pallar community through my documentary, which was a threat to the sovereignty of the nation, and I had contact with extremist groups. This is Bharatiya Janata Party’s language and Mr. Krishnaswamy is just a tool in its hands. Also, the BJP and the RSS want to stop my next documentary on beef politics and Hindutva.
But, hasn’t Tamil Nadu always opposed right-wing politics?
After Jayalalithaa’s death, both factions of her party are acting as if they are the BJP’s ‘B’ teams. Temples are coming up in every nook and corner, and there are religious rituals to attract people. Walls of college campuses, which used to have posters of Left-wing students’ unions, now have posters of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, and many students are joining it. ‘We need to have a Tamil Nadu without a Dravida Kazhagam’ is a poster widely seen across the State on walls once dominated by the AIADMK and the DMK.
Ironically, this is the 50th year of the first DMK government in the State?
There is no one to take forward their legacy of rationalist ideology. After Jayalalithaa’s death, the AIADMK does not have a strong leader and the DMK also is yet to get a real political policymaker such as M. Karunanidhi. The BJP has successfully roped in all the caste and community groups too.