A Dalit autodriver's 'one-woman' crusade

A Dalit autodriver's 'one-woman' crusade

Being an autorickshaw driver in a man’s world, competing with him and even questioning his authority can be challenging for a woman, especially if she is a Dalit.

Chitralekha (34) has been waging a relentless battle against gender and caste discrimination for the last five years. She has suffered humiliation, was beaten up and accused of immoral behaviour. Her troubles began with her marriage to Shreeshkant, an autodriver from the Thiyya community, a dominant group among the OBCs.

“My husband’s relatives almost ex-communicated him from his family because OBCs are much higher than us in the caste hierarchy. We had a tough time managing things,” she told Deccan Herald.

The men folk were also unhappy at her auto's popularity and the work she was getting. Soon, they damaged her vehicle forcing Chitralekha to lodge a  complaint with the police. They even tried to knock her down for lodging the complaint. A vilifiction poster campaign was unleashed accusing her of being a woman of loose character. Chitralekha’s autorickshaw was burnt down.

Even though the ‘atrocities’ against her had subsided to an extent, Chitralekha has found that her working atmosphere is still not conducive. In January this year, Chitralekha and her husband were beaten up after a petty quarrel.

However, Autorickshaw Drivers Union secretary P V Kunjappan alleged that Chitralekha had invited the ire of her co-workers through her aggressive attitude, “immoral behaviour” and recklessness.

“The character assassination launched by these people has had its results. A very legitimate struggle  for an equal and just working place has become a case of loose morals and illegitimate activities,” says social worker K M Venugopal.

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