Posted by Mrudula Bhavani
Pomblai Orumai’s independent candidate G Gomathi had to end her campaign for Lok Sabha election 2019 prior to the date it was supposed to. She would be the only candidate in this election who sought votes all alone in a jeep, with a mic on her hand, she asked the people of Idukki, “Do you want the voice of tea plantation workers heard in the Parliament? Vote for cap symbol. Do you want the voice of landless people heard in the parliament? Vote for cap symbol. Do you want the voice of Adivasis heard in the parliament? Vote for cap symbol. Do you want the voice of graduated unemployed ones voice heard in the parliament? Don’t trust the white-clad ones. Don’t send them to the parliament. Vote for Cap symbol.”
Gomathi’s election manifesto includes the demand of rehabilitation of tea plantation workers from company-provided houses called ‘layam’ where generations of the plantation workers are compelled to strict their lives’, end colonising rehabilitation flat projects, amend the Plantation Workers’ Act, draft a law for requisition of acres of land occupied by Tata and Harrison tea plantation companies, increase daily wage for a tea plantation worker to Rs. 600, increase bonuses, distribute land to those who were provided with patta, build multi speciality hospital in Munnar, build schools and colleges for the education of Dalit, Adivasi, and other communities, enact special farmers project for the flood-hit Idukki, and save farmers from suicides.
Since the day she spearheaded plantation workers’ agitation in 2015 in Munnar, a massive uprising of women from the most underprivileged and marginalised sections of society, Gomathi had been facing strict serious pressure in many forms. At the base of it all was casteism as the Kerala intellectual community and government observes untouchability with regard to the mostly Tamil origin tea plantation workers. In 2017 she quit CPIM finding the party politically insensitive towards the demands and labour rights of the workers of Munnar. After that, for continuously speaking aloud for the community she hails from, Gomathi faced several fake cases charged against her. She also faced the CPIM sponsored social boycott. Gomathi claims there are twenty-five framed charges against her due to which she had to quit her rented house in Munnar. Gomathi has also been constantly vocal about cultural alienation that the Tamils workers face.
Gomathi’s election manifesto includes the demand of rehabilitation of tea plantation workers from company.
According to her,“Plantation work is really tough work. We pay our blood to the leeches. Why should we live like slaves of politicians and company for the meagre income? I know how terrific the work is. My father had aspired that my daughter should study well and earn a job somewhere outside the plantation. My father couldn’t fight like I did, my children should get out of tea plantation. No hospital, no school. So we who do slave work for tea plantation companies aspire our children must see the outer world. We say our children won’t work for you.”
In an interview given in July 2018, Gomathi says, “Everyone talks of the beauty of Munnar. The outer world knows what is going on here but they will never respond to us. Congress, CPIM or CITU won’t talk about any of these issues. But Gomathi is courageous to talk about that. There is no land for the poor. But these politicians can encroach and own the land. Do anyone talk about Joyce George (past left front MP from Idukki and the current opponent of Gomathi). All these politicians are owners of cottages and acres of land, they all grew upon our blood and we don’t even have a house of our own. I am ready to face anything for this cause even if they kill me I am ready for it. I am not the only courageous woman here, there are a lot of women who are courageous. Pomplai Orumai movement was against the company, and now our land struggle will be against the government. Our land struggle is not just for the tea plantation workers, it is for the landless Dalits and Adivasis.”
Even the position of Block panchayat member didn’t help Gomathi much to work the way she always wanted to. She says that even after becoming an elected representative, she faces hindrances in executing development projects. After she declared that she will begin protests for land rights for Dalits, Adivasis and plantation workers in Munnar, she was chased and harassed by the intelligence officers. Due to the constant aggression caused by the intelligence officers and by the local police, Gomathi’s house owner asked her to move out. In spite of fighting a suppressive government and the odd being against her, Gomathi finally made it to contesting the parliament election of 2019.
Not many gathered at Munnar to join Gomathi in her election campaign. Confronting two mainstream political opponents in Idukki, Joice George for LDF and Dean Kuriakose for UDF, Gomathi’s candidature is unique when it comes to where she hails from. Gomathi who had been elected as the block panchayat member of Nallathanni, has long term plans which range from demanding freedom from caste-bound labour in tea plantations to demanding land for Dalits and Adivasis of Kerala.
When asked about why her election campaign ended up abruptly, she says, “People in large numbers used to gather at the places I talk. These political parties never got such audience. There are no plantation workers, but they told me that they will vote for me, a lot of them told me. But the CPIM threatened my campaign jeep driver, they didn’t come after that. The crowd funding was not successful. A lot of money is needed to pay the vehicle. A lot of people had extended their support. They had told me they will come for campaigning, they will seek votes. But no one turned up. We could only do campaigns for just four days, 12, 13, 14, 15. I campaigned in Silent Valley for two days, campaigned in Devikulam, Nadayar etc.
Gomathi faced several fake cases charged against her for continuously speaking aloud for the community she hails from.
I got no support from people who had invited me for programs and protests. Everybody betrayed me, that is all I have got to say. They told we are with you, but had gone with the Congress. In three years, I have participated in lots of protests in Kerala. Even no women came. We need representation in Kerala ruling class to get our problems sorted. We must be either rich or to have people’s support to get that worked, we don’t have money, we don’t have people to support.
I feel that even among our people there are people who feel that ‘Gomathi is Tamil’. I feel that people have this feeling in their mind even if they say they support me. There are chances to win if we have done proper field work. If everyone was there, people should have voted for me. No tv channels covered something about my candidature. They covered my speech at Munnar town. Even the media persons are scared. I am feeling that I still had the guts to oppose these parties at least. Let the political parties and company decide on my people. If my people ask me to come back, I will come. Or else I will work in the cardamom plantation and get my life done. I had put aside my family for my people. I need to get everything back now. I have three children. I need to take care of them.
I had several plans for Munnar. But I need at least ten people to support and fight for these plans. A woman alone can’t do much here. If you have money you can bring supporters. Let me see how many votes I get in few days’ campaigning. I wanted to go to Peerumed, but the jeep driver cheated me. They intentionally did it. I had told him in the beginning, you shouldn’t leave me in the middle, you shouldn’t leave me because of some threats from the politicians. They assured me support and they told me they are fearless. Now they are not picking up my calls, one of them has CPIM’s song as caller tune.
I will get votes from the estate I grew up. I will stand for my people if they demand my presence. I had travelled a lot for three years, in the heat, all over Kerala. I stood all alone. There were CPIM bus drivers who forced me to get down at strange places finding out who I am. After the protest against MM Mani, this had happened. But I resisted it all. Everyone betrayed me. I was told not to go for Welfare party’s programs, they assured me support but nobody turned up. They supported Congress.
I feel there is something about me being a Tamil, in everyone’s mind. Those who extended support didn’t turn up. I have personally called people and asked to come to Munnar. But very few turned up. Everyone went with CPIM and Congress. I stood all alone with people. I need the support of plantation workers. I will not trust the people of Kerala again. I am not naming anyone. I have learned a lot from this. This is a chance for learning how people behave. The opposition’s campaign goes like “we will find out whoever has voted for Gomathi.” Let’s see how many votes I get with just three days campaigning.”
In the recent years when people from the margins are finding a voice, with this Tamil origin Dalit Christian woman who lives in Munnar, Kerala, who has led women from her community to awareness of their rights, some of their fights are already won.
Mrudula Bhavani is an independent journalist based in Kerala. She works for various news websites including Keyboard Journal, First Post, and The Companion.
Featured Image Source: New Indian Express