Kerala: To escape ‘casteist’ CPM, Dalit autorickshaw driver embraces Islam

Kannur: Years after continuously fighting a lone battle against casteism and ostracism in society, Kannur’s Chitralekha, an auto-driver by profession, has now decided to take up Islam. She blames the ruling ‘casteist’ CPM government, which, she says, has been continually harassing her in the name of caste. 

“I am doing this because I am unable to continue this fight alone anymore,” she wrote in a Facebook post on Monday.

Who is Chitralekha?

Chitralekha is from Payyanur in the Kannur district of Kerala and belongs to the Pulaya castes whose members were historically slaves of feudal landlords. She managed to raise eyebrows when she married Srishkant, a higher caste Thiyya man.

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Her life has been particularly difficult since 2004 when she decided to earn her living by driving an auto-rickshaw in her town. Her decision aggravated the intolerance among the male auto drivers, many of whom hail from the upper castes. “They were not able to accept a woman auto-driver, that too a Dalit woman, doing the same job they do. Since then, they have been torturing me,” Chitralekha said on several occasions.

Chitralekha and her family suffered multiple physical attacks by the male auto-drivers in the region who are part of the CITU, the trade union outfit belonging to the CPM. She also survived a murder attack when her auto was set ablaze.

Chitralekha and her daughter.

The CPM, however, continued to dismiss her story as a local issue and never condemned the violence against her, and never even moved to keep its local cadre under control. But, similar attacks against her continued for over a decade. 

In 2014, Chitralekha went on a 122-day protest in front of the district collectorate seeking protection. The Congress government of Oommen Chandy had assured her of support and rehabilitation in another town within the district. The Chandy government also promised her land and financial assistance to build a house on it.

But after the CPM regained power in 2016, the party took out a rally against her and even denied the financial assistance promised to her by the previous government.

She has been driving the auto-rickshaw from 2004 in Kannur. (Matrubhumi)

Chitralekha’s Facebook post

In a Facebook post written in Malayalam, Chitralekha said: “Just because I was born a Pulaya woman and I dared to question the caste discrimination practiced by the CPM, I was tortured to the extent that I had to run away from my own village.”

She further wrote that she chose to convert to Islam as she lost hope to get justice against the CPM members who continue to torture her.

Meanwhile, she also warned people against troubling her further with allegations of ‘love jihad’, adding that all she wished was to live peacefully.

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