After kiss of love, is Kerala becoming an epicenter of political activity and protest?

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It all began when Naseera, a journalist with TV Now, was asked to step down from a KSRTC bus that was scheduled for Pampa on 17th December 2014.  Since the bus carried Ayyapanmar/ Sabarimala pilgrims, the staff and the driver of the KSRTC bus had insisted on Naseera stepping down from the bus.  “They told me that I would be interfering with the purity of the pilgrims and that they had no way to know if I was menstruating. So, I took it to the police station and there, the bus conductor agreed to let me travel if I made no claims for a seat. ” said Naseera when she spoke to TEHELKA.

Though KSRTC themselves put a statement later declaring that there was no ‘special’ bus solely for Sabarimala pilgrims, the lack of response from Kerala State Human Rights Commission and Kerala Women’s commission to Naseera’s complaint has put a question on their stand on gender  discrimination. While on one hand Naseera is moving forward with a Writ petition to register her grievance, the situation at Asma Rubber Products Pvt Ltd based in Kakkanad, Kochi has been tense since 19th December, 2014.

Ever since 15 of its employees had registered a police complaint of being strip searched over an apparent suspicion of leaving a sanitary napkin in the bathroom, the company has been shut owing to immense outrage.  Subsequently, close on the heels of the popular ‘Pink Chaddi campaign’,  a large group of students, activists, journalists and kiss of love organizers have been mailing sanitary napkins to the Managing Director of Asma.

“Yes, there was an incident of a sanitary napkin being discovered inside the bathroom but the supervisor did not strip search any of its employees.We believe that it was a case of professional jealousy that prompted the complaint and we have video footage to substantiate our side”, said Binu  Mathew, Production manager at Asma when he spoke to TEHELKA.  Though the management of ASMA had initiated an enquiry over the issue, complainants have alleged that the company had constituted an enquiry without the involvement of the complainants.

The incident happened on the 11th between 4 PM – 5PM. The supervisor, Beena with her helper stopped us from work and told us to come forward for the search. She said we wouldn’t be forthcoming about the napkin otherwise. As a result, each one of us were called for the search with the threat of losing our job if we said no. The irony of the issue is how she asked women who were past menopause to not come forward for the search.

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Secondly, the only reason we stayed away from complaining that day was because of our pay. The company has had a history of treating their employees in an unfair fashion. So we were worried that the company would delay our salary (scheduled for the 10th) owing to the complaint. Nonetheless, we filed a complaint with Binu Mathew, the production manager on the 12th after which there was no response or action at all. We do not have evidence other than ourselves to present before any enquiry. After all, what do we stand to gain from all this?”says one of the complainants who spoke to TEHELKA.

With the alleged occurrence of the recent episode at Asma, the idea of posting sanitary napkins carrying messages or caricatures to the manager at Asma had led to a flurry of activity across the state.  “Bringing attention to such inhuman and unhealthy work atmosphere is the purpose that such cases serve. While mailing the MD of ASMA a napkin (sometimes used), we intend to question larger notions of purity-impurity practices discriminating female bodies that is prevalent in our society”, says Aswathy  Senan, one of the organizers behind Red Alert: You have got a napkin.

At present, the Irippu samaram (sitting protest) staged by the women sales employees before Kalyan Silks, Thrissur have been taken up by  the same circle of activists and organizers to social media and outside. The ongoing protest that began a few days back began after a select few women employees were transferred from the Thrissur branch to other branches across the state without any valid reason. Protesters allege that they were transferred after they complained against fines being levied for taking ‘long’ bathroom or tea breaks.

Therefore, activists in support of Irippu Samaram have called for the  boycott of Kalyan Group for their alleged unjust treatment of women employees.    With Kiss of Love protest continuing its work across the state and marking differences in its political language, the new flurry of political activity and solidarity amongst a clique of people outside of political organizations is throwing a different light upon the state of Kerala.  Though the new wave of political fervor is commendable, keeping it from being another ‘middle-class wave of feminism’ and ensuring its inclusive nature through gender, caste and class intersections is a necessity.

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