On 11 May, Bindu Ammini left her beloved Kerala — with a heavy heart, and, according to her, forever.
She could not live in constant fear of being attacked by Hindutva forces — and targeted by the state police — Ammini told South First as she was packing her bags to leave for a location somewhere outside the state that she would not disclose.
Her travails began when she, along with another activist, Kanakadurga, scripted history as the first women to visit the Sree Dharma Sastha Temple in Sabarimala following a Supreme Court order.
The order allowed women of menstruating age — defined as those between 10 and 50 — to enter the temple dedicated to the celibate god, Lord Ayyappa.
Traditionally, women of childbearing age were not allowed in the temple.
On New Year’s Day in 2019, Kerala woke up to the news that the two women had entered the temple, despite the Sangh Parivar’s violent resistance.
The incident changed the lives of the two women. Kanakadurga’s husband divorced her even as Ammini, a Dalit activist and a guest lecturer at the Government Law College in Kozhikode, faced physical attacks and threats.
Meanwhile, the temple is once again closed to women of menstruating age.
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Series of attacks
Ammini endured several attacks, one using chilli powder, an attempt to run her over, a physical assault in Kozhikode, vile messages on social media, an obscene, morphed video, and even the threat of an acid attack.
Now 45, Ammini was living with her husband and daughter in Koyilandy near Kozhikode.
She said the state police has failed in delivering justice despite her lodging multiple complaints.
Ammini, who also runs a garment store, no longer feels safe in the state. She said the CPI(M)-led LDF government has failed to protect her against sustained attacks by Hindu right-wing extremists.
“For the time being, I am not disclosing my location. But I am moving permanently to a safe urban location to escape the repeated attacks and harassment in my home state,” she told South First over the phone a couple of days before leaving.
“How can I say Kerala is safe despite being subjected to brutal attacks? And this, when I was provided round-the-clock police protection as ordered by the Supreme Court. My gender and Dalit background are the two reasons why I am being attacked,” she said.
“I have already left Kerala and am in the process of rebuilding my life in a new place,” she said when contacted after her departure.
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Ammini had even petitioned Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. But she did not get the protection she sought.
“Why are the regressive elements attacking me constantly? They have not even spared my aged mother, husband, and daughter,” Ammini said.
“The Kerala police is limiting its actions to registering FIRs. There are breaches in the security accorded to me by the Supreme Court. I have no option other than taking asylum elsewhere and leaving the state forever,” she further stated.
“In Left-ruled Kerala, the police carry out the agenda of the Hindu right,” she said. “Women are not seen as equal. There is no respect or justice. Besides Sabarimala, my involvement in social issues as a Dalit woman also irritates vested interests,” she added.
Attack on the beach
On 5 January, 2022, a stranger attacked Ammini on the beach in Kozhikode. He was later identified as Mohandas. A video of the attack had then gone viral, sparking widespread outrage in the state.
Mohandas, it was later said, was a fisherman from Beypore, and drunk. The Kozhikode city police said he was an RSS sympathiser, but could not ascertain if the assault was based on his ideology. The man is now out on bail.
Ammini, however, asserted that it was ideology-based. She was on her way to meet a lawyer in connection with a 19 December, 2021, incident in which a man tried to run her over with his autorickshaw.
She was closing the garment shop at Poyilkavu when the incident occurred, The police registered a case under Section 307 (attempt to murder) but could not even find the vehicle’s registration number. No one was arrested.
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On 26 November, 2019, Ammini was attacked with chilli powder by a group of men in front of the City Police Commissioner’s office in Kochi. She was trying to accompany Pune-based activist Trupti Desai to Sabarimala when she was attacked.
The police registered a case of attempted murder against a man. No one was convicted in the case. The police said the investigation is still on.
Meanwhile, Ammini was receiving several abusive and threatening phone calls. Even as recently as earlier this month, she filed a case with Kozhikode city cyber police against a few for repeatedly harassing her over the phone and emails.
Ammini said the disquiet occurred immediately after her historic visit to Sabarimala. For two weeks after the visit, Kanakadurga and Ammini were in hiding with police protection at Kottayam.
Kanakadurga returned home to a furious family and a mother-in-law who attacked her with a stick, causing a head injury that put her in a hospital.
After her mother-in-law kicked her out of their house at Angadipuram in Malappuram, Kanakadurga moved the Gram Nyayalaya in Perinthalmanna and the Kerala High Court. Following favourable orders, she returned to an empty home.
Her husband had left with their two sons. They divorced in 2020, and she now meets her sons twice a month.
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Tiff with cop
As the threats from right-wing groups persisted, the Supreme Court ordered the Kerala government to provide security to the two women.
Four civil police officers — two men and two women — each were assigned to them. By end-2019, it was just one woman constable.
In November 2020, just before leaving Kerala to join the farmers’ protest in New Delhi, Ammini had a tiff with the woman constable assigned to her. She accused the policewoman of restricting her movements.
The police did not deploy anyone for her security after the incident.
A Dalit woman who battled odds to get educated, Ammini said that her temple entry was part of a lifelong struggle for gender equality.
She was active in people’s movements around the country and raised her voice against anti-women, casteist, and communal forces.
Even family is not spared
Born to parents who were not educated and a father who used to abuse her mother, Ammini had a difficult childhood. Her mother fled her husband and their village with her five children, taking up menial jobs in restaurants and on a farm to survive.
Ammini said she was the first in her family to attend the Government Law College in Kochi. While in college, she became a leader of the Kerala Vidyarthi Sanghatana, the student wing of the CPI(Marxist-Leninist).
A grocery store that she had run with her husband funded her education. They named their daughter Olga after the communist revolutionary, Olga Benario Prestes, who was gassed by the Nazis during the Holocaust in 1942.
Ammini said even her husband and daughter were being targeted in hateful social media posts, and fanatics have barged into her mother’s home in the Pathanamthitta district.
Asked whether she regretted her decision to go on the pilgrimage to Sabarimala, Ammini replied in the negative. “Sabarimala was a chance to remind people of the power of social transformation.”