'Is it a crime to be inspired by the Left ideology? Why can't I read a book on Marxist philosophy? Is it banned in India?' activist Jolly Chirayath asks Shobha Warrier.
After living in the United Arab Emirates for over 20 years, Jolly Chirayath returned to Kerala four years ago and became a human rights activist and the convenor of Stree Koottayma, an organisation for women.
From an unknown activist, she has been catapulted into a woman of prominence, thanks to the Kerala Police.
She has been under police surveillance for the last few months for her alleged links with Maoists.
It all started with Stree Koottayma helping the children of Roopesh who was arrested for his alleged links with the Maoists.
Chirayath says she became a police target after her organisation held a protest after the Badaun rape in Uttar Pradesh and later supported the 'Kiss of Love' initiative in Kochi.
On January 29, her house was raided when a friend, advocate Thushar Nirmal Sarathy, was arrested in connection with a Maoist attack on the National Highway Authority office in Kochi.
You recently complained that the police have been targeting you for the last few months. Have they been harassing you?
I will not say that the police have been harassing me. I am a social activist. Whether our protests are small or big, the police had been continuously following us since June last year.
What has disturbed us was the way the police has been coming to my house quite often to question me.
When did all this start?
It started after we appeared on the road, covered in just five metres of unstitched cotton, to protest the Badaun rape incident. That was in June last year. From that incident onwards, the Special Branch has been visiting my home.
When the police start visiting a home quite often, it attracts neighbours' attention and creates a lot of problems for you in the society you live in.
Personally, I am not bothered, but it affects my teenage children. They are disturbed, as they have to face questions from their friends in school.
The police are polite, but this is what I call civil violence. It is terrorising those who question the question the supremacy of the State and its violence.
What do they question you about every time they come to your home?
They only want to know whether I have any links with the Maoists. I came back to Kerala just four years ago after living in the Middle East for over 20 years.
If they had dug into my past, they would have found that I had no political connections so far.
It is true that my political ideology is Left leaning and I am against caste and religion.
Mine is an inter-religious marriage. Have I no right to follow these simple ideologies in my life, that too in a democratic country?
How did Stree Koottayma come into being? What do you do?
It began was after a 23-year-old was raped and murdered in a passenger train in Kerala. After the incident, a few women had organised a protest, and I was also a part of it.
An outcome of our anger was Stree Koottayma, a collective forum for women which raises issues connected to women.
We have absolutely no connection with any political party, but I admit we lean towards the Left ideology. And we take up the issues of the marginalised in society.
Though we had organised many protests against moral policing, it was only after our June 2014 Badaun rape protest that the police noticed us.
We covered ourselves with just a piece of cloth with slogans written on it. It was not a nude protest; we had our undergarments on, but outwardly, we had only this unstitched cloth covering it.
We just did what some mothers did in Manipur to protest against the atrocities of the police there.
We were five of us, and we shouted slogans standing on the road. We were arrested within 10 minutes for obscenity.
How did society react to what you did that day?
There were mixed reactions from the people. But what we understood was that the same slogans which we wrote on placards got tremendous attention when we used our body as a tool. Our protest was talked about nationally too.
But this provoked the state and the state police.
Was it the first time the police noticed you?
That was the first time the police came to my house. They also visited the houses of some Koottayma members. They only wanted to know whether we had any connection with the Maoists.
We have been saying this earlier and even today that we have no connection with any political party. They only wanted to know whether we were Maoist supporters.
Was it because you were a friend of advocate Thushar Nirmal Sarathy who was arrested in connection with a Maoist attack?
I am a human rights activist and member of an activist group. Sarathy is the secretary of the group.
As he is an advocate he takes up cases involving human rights violations.
Our group does the fact finding of many cases that are not even reported or discussed in our society. Most of the fact findings reports are written by Sarathy.
How can he be found guilty if he represented old and present day Naxalites.
But he was arrested for being a Maoist sympathiser...
That is what the police say. Just because he took up their cases and they found books related to Marxist ideology in his home, can they arrest him?
Even his father was an advocate and said to be an activist when alive. Is it a crime to be inspired by the Left ideology?
But the accusation is that he supports the Maoists...
He only sympathises with the Left ideology. That does not mean he identifies himself with Maoists.
Why was Binayak Sen arrested? Even the Supreme Court said that a person could not be arrested for sympathising with Maoists.
Just because he is my friend, the police cannot question me.
Similarly, just because Roopesh was from my native place and his wife studied with me in college, how can the police question me about their Maoist links?
Is Stree Koottayma supporting Roopesh's children?
We at Stree Koottayma decided to support their children because they were continuously harassed by the police in school and at home.
Though we took it up, the initiative came from a group that was formed on Facebook.
We just wanted to assure the children that society is with them. We went to meet them with flowers and chocolates, but the police did not let us see them.
You were part of the 'Kiss of Love' protest too...
The protest was organised by the Free Thinkers group and we only offered support when they asked for it. They asked us because we had been protesting against moral policing for a long time.
There was no police questioning, but I got a lot of bad name in my neighbourhood.
Your house was raided after Maoists attacked the National Highway Authority office in Kerala on January 29 this year.
The houses of Sarathy, Jaison Cooper and mine were raided at the same time.
When I came back from a walk, I found a police van parked in front of my apartment and they were conducting a search.
The moment we got into the house, they took my cell phone from me and started going through each and every personal message in the phone.
Then they asked me to log into my Facebook account. They wanted to know why we had WiFi at home! How can I answer such stupid questions?
Then they turned their attention to my bookshelf. We have the Mahabharata, the Bible, the Gita and the Quran, but they spotted only a book on Karl Marx!
The question was, 'So, you read such books?' Why can't I read a book on Marxist philosophy? Is it banned in India?
The search went on for three hours.
Are you perceived as a Maoist sympathiser?
The police perceive me that way. When they question me, they ask only that.
Are you a sympathiser of Maoism?
No. I am against all kinds of violence. If you want to label me, I am a Socialist.
If I say my politics is Leftist, it doesn't mean I am a Marxist or a Maoist.
Are you disturbed by the way you are targeted by the police?
It only shows if it can happen to a person like me who is not even in the political frame, what about the others who work against all atrocities?
This is a warning that any movement will be oppressed. They target not groups but individuals and it includes even environmental activists.