Published: 08th January 2019
The Persecution of Bindu Thankam: How a Dalit teacher's life changed after she tried to enter Sabarimala
Bindu Thankam Kalyani tried to visit Sabarimala on October 22. She gave up her attempt owing to right-wing protests. Now, her daughter is being refused admission
Some of us might remember Bindu Thankam Kalyani. A teacher and a Dalit activist, Bindu was among the few women who tried to visit the Sabarimala Temple right after the Supreme Court verdict. Owing to protests, this 43-year-old had to abandon her trek. But three months down the line, the ghosts of this event still seem to be haunting Bindu and her family.
In the latest unfolding of events, Bindu's 11-year-old daughter Bhoomi was denied admission in a private school in Anaikatti, because the protesting Ayyappa devotees (alleged) staged a protest. The protest took place in front of Vidya Vanam, a private school on the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border, while Bhumi was writing her school entrance examination. "The school's authorities had no issue about admitting Bhumi initially. But someone informed the local residents that I'm the same person who tried to go to Sabarimala and a few minutes after we entered the school, an angry mob of around 60 people gathered and started threatening the school authorities," says Bindu. "The school authorities said that they want to admit my daughter, but they were obviously worried about the repercussions," she adds. A teacher herself, Bindu understands the school's point. "There are children studying there and the school is responsible for their safety," she says. "But what can I do when they (the right wing group) are asking schools to not teach my child?" this mother asks poignantly.
Bhoomi is currently a student in the Vocational Higher Secondary School, Agali, where Bindu was transferred and has been working as a teacher, since October. An activist, she would have never thought of admitting her child in a private school ever. But what made her change her mind? She tells us. "Bhoomi studied here last year and her class teacher was her favourite. He always encouraged her and was very positive in his approach." Bindu was transferred to Kozhikode in the beginning of the academic year and was transferred back to Agaly in October, after the Sabarimala incident. Bhoomi was excited about going back to her old school. But it was short lived. "We wouldn't have imagined things would be this different. Her favourite teacher had been harassing her now. He beat her twice and she was once injured. I didn't complain because we were already in between all the ruckus," she says. Both parents did talk to the teacher, unable to see their child in pain. "He apologized to us over the phone and said he'd never do this again. But that was all pretence. He continued to discriminate and harass her so much. Bhoomi couldn't take it anymore and stopped going to school," she adds.
Unfair Decision: Bindu teaches at the same school that her daughter Bhoomi studies in
The school informed Bindu that if Bhoomi doesn't attend the school for 15 days straight, her name will be removed from the roll. "So I thought since Bhoomi doesn't want to go there, let me put her in a different school. There are a lot of good teachers in that school who are friends with me, but sadly none of them are teaching her," she says.
This was when she found out about Vidya Vanam and thought that it will be a good place for daughter to be. "It is a really good school. There are no punishments for children and they aren't put under so much pressure. The school's authorities were very welcoming as well. It is a private school, but they consider tribals and the underprivileged," she says. But after yesterday's incidents, Bindu now thinks that this could be the situation in any school in Kerala. She now plans to get Bhumi readmitted to her old school and get her to write the final examination.
Bindu also tells us how bold and brilliant Bhoomi is and how she'd handled heckling previously. "Bhoomi's friends stopped talking to her and started advising her to not be like her mother. At one point, kids would chant 'Swamiye Saranam Ayyappa' whenever they saw her. She greeted them chanting the same. When her classmates questioned her about me trying to go to Sabarimala, she would question their views politically. She would want to know what was wrong in a woman entering Sabarimala," she recalls. But she knows that all this is too much for a child to take. "The protestors couldn't do anything to me. They tried chanting Ayyappa prayers in front of the school, but no one bothered. I still continued using public transport to go to school. But that irked them and now, they got the perfect weapon," she says.
After all, this, will Bindu want to go to Sabarimala again, we wondered. "Obviously not this year. The problems aren't solved yet. I'm still facing the repercussions," she says, But if things are favourable, she said that she'd like to go there in the future. "I really wanted to go this year, even though I didn't expect to get inside the temple. Nevertheless, I'm happy that a few young women managed to enter it," she adds.
Bindu is now planning to write letters to the education department and the Chief Minister of Kerala about the situation and make things a little easier, at least for her daughter.