Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the police are harassing and threatening Pembilai Orumai leader Gomathi Augustine’s house owner asking them to evict her from her house. Gomathi was the leader of the famous Munnar Plantation strike of 2015. The house owner, who is in Tamil Nadu at the moment, has asked her to vacate the house in three days’ time.
The Munnar Plantation strike was a month and a half long strike led by the women of the Munnar Kannan Devan Hills Plantations Limited (KDHPL) against it. It was famous for being an all-women uprising leading to the formation of an all-women union called Pembilai Orumai (Women’s Unity) and is considered to be a historical political agitation of plantation workers. In the strike, about 5000 workers agitated in front of the KDHPL office after the management struck down the bonus to ten percent, which was 20 percent the previous year.
Gomathi started to be CPI(M)’s target after she spoke against their leader M M Mani who is currently the Electricity Minister of Kerala.Â M M Mani in April 2017 had said that women in Pembilai Orumai were involved in anti-social activities together with local bureaucrats and that immoral activities were taking place in the forests near the protest venue. When Gomathi opposed M M Mani, CPI(M) said that she was doing it for ‘fame’ and was being ‘dramatic’. Of late, like their leader Mani, CPI(M) is spreading a rumour that Gomathi does sex work and are circulating her photos saying the same.
Gomathi now lives in fear of what is going to happen after the house owner returns from Tamil Nadu. ‘I am a headache to the house owner. The police routinely visit them. This whole Munnar is illegally held land. Everyone has fake title deeds, not just my house owner,’ she told TWJ.
The police questions the house owner asking in whose name the title deed is and in whose name tax receipt is issued etc. to intimidate them. Gomathi started searching for other houses to stay in but even after visiting almost 50 houses, no owner was ready to rent their house to her. They ask her questions like ‘what if the police comes after us? ‘what if issues come up?’ Most of the brokers in the area are from CPI(M) and they have informed her that they won’t help her get a house. Gomathi said that when she goes out CPI(M) supporters hurl abuses at her and say that she should be ashamed to go out. When she stays at home they abuse her asking if she is dead.
CPI(M) seems to be provoked by the fact that Gomathi led a strike without their support. Gomathi had also said that they (CPI(M)) took houses from the tea company as a reward for keeping quiet against the exploitation of workers. ‘They are angry that I won in block panchayat, contesting in election against them,…the BJP kills people. CPI(M) has started killing too. The things they say and do are aimed at making me take my life,’ said Gomathi.
CPI(M) workers also make sure that Gomathi is ostracised within the community. When she goes to a house, they create problems for the people living there so that they will stop her from visiting. Of all the people who took part in the strike, Gomathi asks why she alone is facing these problems. Lisy, another leader of the strike who later joined CPI(M) is not facing any problem, she added. In fact, she is part of the group that circulates her photographs on WhatsApp calling her a sex worker.
Case Against Son
When these strategies failed, a case was slapped on Gomathi’s son.
A month ago, Gomathi’s son Vivek was charged with POCSO (Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences) for having relations with a 16-year-old girl. The fake case came to light when the girl herself sent a video to Gomathi stating that the allegations were not true. She was also sent a letter saying the same. Gomathi is unwilling to share the video fearing for the safety of the girl.
Based on the girl’s testimony, Gomathi’s son was granted bail. The girl has sent letters to the Superintendent of Police (SP) and other authorities about the false nature of the case. Gomathi said that the girl says she wants to get married to Vivek. ‘But she’s just 17 years old. She might change her decision and the video should not be a problem for her,’ Gomathi explained.
Apart from the local CPI(M) thugs, Gomathi also has got to deal with her husband who no longer lives with her. She is the block panchayat member from Nallathanni division. She gets no fund from block panchayat, which makes the people who voted for her to complain that she isn’t doing anything for them. Due to these reasons, Gomathi’s children, tell their mother that their only fault was that of being born as her children. Gomathi’s youngest son, who was selected for Kerala Cricket team didn’t get selection following the outbreak of the land struggle.
‘I don’t know whom to go to and how to file a complaint. I know how to read Malayalam but don’t know writing. There’s no one to write it for me in Munnar,’ she said.
There are 17 cases for which Gomathi has taken bail. In her son’s case, the police are accusing her of abetting the crime. Vigilance & Anti-Corruption Bureau and special wing for investigation visit her and ask her whether she intends to contest the 2019 elections.
‘They think that people will vote for me in the forthcoming 2019 elections,’ she said. However, Gomathi cannot even address the people of the place because she has been denied permission to use a mic by the police.Â Even her lawyers have been threatened by Circle Inspector Sam Jose who handles her cases, Gomathi told TWJ.
‘The CPI(M) does not see me as a woman. CPI and INC support me, saying ‘Gomathi hasn’t committed any mistakes.’ I am nobody to talk to these men who quarrel. I have my politics and they have theirs. They can criticise as much as they want,’ she said.
Land Struggle to be launched in Munnar Soon
Before Pembilai Orumai, nobody had dared to protest for land in Munnar. The company holds the land and partner with the politicians who make sure that whoever opposes them has a hard time living in the place. Even after trying all they can to drive her out of her land, Gomathi seems undeterred.
Gomathi approached the Revenue Divisional Office (RDO) in Devikulam regarding the eviction problem and she was asked to file a complaint with the Human Rights Commission. Gomathi had to take help from others to write the complaint as she doesn’t know Malayalam. She said that she was going to send her complaint to the District Collector.
Gomathi said that she would continue raising her voice regardless of whether she was sad or happy. She said she was going to launch a land struggle in Munnar and was going to places outside Kerala seeking support for it. ‘I will deal with it inside and be brave when I go out. I am not afraid of anybody,’ Gomathi clarified.