On a scooter, this housewife became a hero!
'Democracy means a system of the people, for the people and by the people. When that is the case, what right do they have to harass us,' Sandhya, the housewife from Kerala who has become an unlikely hero for the people of her state, tells Rediff.com's Shobha Warrier.
December 13 started out as just another day for Sandhya, a housewife from Thiruvananthapuram.
By the time the day ended, she had become an unlikely hero, and the story of her courage had captured the imagination of the protest-plagued state.
The image of Sandhya arguing angrily with protesters and policemen over the very basic right to traverse a public road -- while still perched on her scooter -- made it to every newspaper and television channel in Kerala.
She has become a symbol of the anger that has been festering within the people of Kerala, who have had to endure endless hartals, bandhs and processions.
That day, Sandhya was on her way home after picking up her children from their school when she found that protesters had blocked the road leading to her home.
It was not an offbeat incident; Opposition parties had been protesting against Chief Minister Oommen Chandy for months.
Sandhya had been forced to take a longer route to the school for some time.
After suffering silently for days, Sandhya loudly registered her protest to both the demonstrators and the policemen deployed at the site.
By the time she realised the repercussion of the incident, photographs of her shouting at the protesters had gone viral, and the unknown housewife and mother had become a celebrity.
Since the incident, Sandhya has been the recipient of much acclaim as well as several letters hailing her courage. Since her admirers don't know her postal address, the letters are simply marked to 'Sandhya, Veera Vanitha (courageous woman), Thiruvananthapuram'
Her telephonic conversation with Rediff.com's Shobha Warrier was interrupted a few times as unannounced visitors kept dropping in to meet her.
You have become a hero in Kerala. How has life changed after the incident?
I have not changed; I am still the same Sandhya. But the way people look at me and talk to me has changed a lot.
Every single person who I meet supports me and appreciates what I have done.
You know something? The postman brings all the letters addressed to 'Sandhya, Veera Vanitha', to me!
You can imagine how popular I have become (laughs).
From that day, I get tonnes of letters every day, each and every one of them appreciating what I did. Even today, I got 25 letters.
Nobody has criticised me for what I have done.
Why do you think you lost your cool that day?
I reacted as a mother.
How else will a mother react when she finds out that the road is blocked while she is on her way back from school after picking up her children?
I am not angry with them (the protesters) for fighting for their rights. Let them fight. But let them do so without causing inconvenience to the public.
Just look at the number of holidays children have had after schools reopened this year.
Are these children not losing those many days of schooling?
Why don't these people think of the general public?
Of the many states in India, how many have to go through so many bandhs, hartals and demonstrations?
I did not react like that day on the very first day of protests; the protests had been going on for four days.
Our housing complex is close to where the CM stays and we have at least 500 houses inside this complex.
These protesters had planned a road roko (blockage) in front of the CM's residence for not one or two days, but for 150 days!
While the main road is only a few yards away, we now have to take a detour of 2 km to reach it. Each time we go out, we have to take such a long route to come back home.
There are four schools in this area and many children from our housing complex attend these schools. We also have to go out for various chores.
Every single time, we are expected to take a roundabout.
For how many days could we tolerate this?
Why can't these people think of some other way to protest without inconveniencing us?
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Image: Sandhya takes on the protesters
'It is because people suffer everything silently that these people make fools of us'
How did the war of words between you and the protesters happen?
I was on my way back after picking up my children from their school. When we reached the road in front of our house, we found that it was blocked.
My children got off the scooter and managed to squeeze through the crowd of protesters, but how could I take my vehicle inside?
I told the policemen that they could not expect us to take the long route to reach our housing complex every day. I asked them to keep at least a part of the road free for us -- the common people -- to reach our houses.
While I was talking to the policemen, one of the protesters used abusive language against me.
I was already in an irritated state and when this man used such dirty language, I got extremely angry and shouted at him.
It went on for a few minutes as my tolerance level had reached its breaking point.
When did you realise that your outburst was being telecast on all the television channels?
At that time, I was not aware of the presence of media personnel there. I was angry and irritated and didn't even see who all were present at the spot.
After the fight, I came back home and then went out again to buy a few things.
By the time I came back home, my house was full of people from the media.
I didn't know I had become a hero. I had reacted so strongly because I was very angry with those people. I could not control my anger that day.
How did your husband, children and neighbours react?
The first thing my son, who studies in standard 10, said was, 'Amma, you need not have fought with them. They are politicians and can do anything.' But later, he was happy.
My husband asked me, 'From where did you get the courage to take on these people?' He has been very supportive, though he was worried initially because I had fought with people who could do anything to us.
I have received only appreciation from all quarters.
If I go to a hotel, they don't accept money from me.
If I travel in a bus, other co-passengers, who are total strangers, offer to buy me my ticket!
I know that this excitement and attention will last only for a few days. After some time, people will forget the incident and move on.
Do you feel what you did that day was, in a way, what every one stuck in a similar situation would have wanted to do?
Exactly. Now I understand that people are fed up of what is happening day in and day out in Kerala.
Like me, others are also fed up with the situation but that day, I lost my cool.
Whether it is the UDF (the ruling United Democratic Front) or the LDF (Opposition Left Democratic Front), our lives are burdened by their acts.
Even a party with only three members can disrupt our lives and this happens only in Kerala.
Everybody living in this state is tired of this, but somehow, that day, I was the one who reacted.
Some feel your outburst is the effect of the rise of the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi. Is that so?
The truth is, I hadn't even heard of that party. Many people have asked me whether my actions were a result of the emergence of the party.
There is a connection between what I did and how the party was born; both were due to the frustration of the public against the current corrupt system.
I only want to say that whichever Front gets to rule Kerala, whether it is the LDF or the UDF, it should do what the public wants it to so.
Democracy means a system of the people, for the people and by the people.
When that is the case, what right do they have to harass us?
The tragedy is that all of us discuss these issues, but even educated members of the public don't react as they fear harassment and negative attention. That's why the situation has been worsening day by day.
Have there been other such incidents which you have had to face and which made you angry?
There have been many such incidents, but till now, like the others, I had remained silent.
But on that day, I could not control myself. Because of my outburst, we are now allowed to use our road despite the protests.
If others also react to similar injustices, I am sure we will be able to stop these harassments.
It is because people suffer everything silently that these people take us for granted and make fools of us.
Has any political party approached you?
Not so far. I have no plans to join any political party, but I want to be a part of any forum that fights injustice.
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