Divya Bharathi laughs often. On the phone, it doesn’t sound like nervous laughter. There is a wide-eyed, innocent quality to it. It is likely the shy giggle of a woman who grew up in a village. But, on Saturday, there is every likelihood that this film-maker would face police action. Media headlines may describe her as the urban-rural Naxalite from Tamil Nadu, if they choose to cite the police version of events.

Police harassment is not new for Divya Bharathi. The screening of her landmark expose on manual scavenging, ‘Kakkoos’, was disrupted across the state by the police. For them, the screening of the movie meant law and order problems.

Kakkoos dealt with the practice of manual scavenging and the caste basis of the practice, while critiquing the poor implementation of the law on manual scavenging. Swacch Bharat was critiqued too. Trenchant and well-researched, the film should have shamed authorities into action but it invited police action.

On Saturday, her film on the Ockhi disaster and the state’s response to it, “Orutharum Varale” will be on YouTube. The trailer is already out. Given her past experience when Kakkoos was disrupted if the screening was publicly announced, Divya Bharathi has released Orutharum in Chinnathurai, a fishermen village affected by the disaster in Kanyakumari, without a public announcement. “Thousands of villagers saw it though,” she says.

Even as Kakkoos was set for release early March, police started disrupting its screening in various places. In August, Pudhiya Tamilagam leader K Krishnaswamy said members of his caste group were portrayed negatively and criticized the film. Divya Bharathi soon started receiving phone calls with obscenities and abuses – some threatening her with violence and worse. Based on a complaint lodged at that time, she was charged under various sections of criminal law including Section 66F of the IT Act relating to cyber terrorism. After the Orutharum trailer was released, a case was lodged in Gudalur, Ooty. She had to stay there to obtain bail.

Divya Bharathi is a former activist of the CPI (ML) Liberation. Having its moorings in the Naxalite movement, the party emerged in the open more than two decades ago, denouncing Naxalism and deciding to contest elections. For the police, Divya Bharathi, who joined the party well after it came overground, is a Naxalite. 

This daughter of a cotton mill worker in a village in Virudhunagar district is unfazed, however. Even when the trailer was released – on June 28 – police in civvies descended on her house. They accosted her on the Madurai High Court campus where she practices law.

Divya Bharathi has beaten down a string of cases – filed during her years as CPI (ML) Liberation activist. A law graduate, she was able to enroll in the bar after a long fight in court since there were cases pending against her. 

Divya Bharathi keeps using the word struggle while speaking. Will the next few days add to her struggles? Only the police know the answer to it.
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