Freedom of Expression

Drop the Charges Against Divya Bharathi

Divya Bharathi is an Indian activist and documentary filmmaker who was charged on August 3, 2017 with wrongly portraying the Pallar caste in her February documentary Kakkoos.

Bharathi, whose film has had multiple screenings censored since its release, was first arrested on July 25, 2017, apparently on a 2009 warrant she had received for attending a student protest. However, this arrest came just one week after she released a different short video on YouTube featuring the dean of Anna University Engineering College, Dindigul employing manual scavengers of the Pallar caste, and those scavengers speaking candidly about their poor treatment on the campus.

Several days later, on August 3, a case was registered against Bharathi in a Madurai court accusing her of promoting enmity between different groups, intent to cause fear or public alarm, and cyberterrorism, all related to her feature length film, Kakkoos.

Kakkoos highlights the exploitation that thousands of people in Tamil Nadu experience as manual scavengers. The film mentions ten castes who are involved in the practice and have historically been considered “Untouchables” in Indian society; Pallars are just one of these ten. The official number of manual scavengers—who are members of untouchable castes—reported by the Tamil Nadu State is 377, though Bharathi alleges that the number is close to 200,000 and a prominent Tamil Nadu activist group has worked with at least 3,000 who have yet to receive promised “rehabilitation packages”.

The caste issue in India is one that has been traditionally swept under the rug, downplayed by senior government officials who argue that caste has little to do with the treatment of workers in unskilled jobs. However, manual scavengers are subjected to dangerous and humiliating hiring practices that are “inseparably linked to the belief in the caste system” because they force people to stay “untouchable” as they work in filthy conditions, removing human waste with bare hands and feet. Those who attempt to expose or highlight the issue are frequently intimidated, as Bharathi has been in recent weeks.

Following Bharathi’s return to the news, a wealthy political leader issued a series of complaints which led to the charges against her. The filmmaker herself refutes all the accusations, stating that her accuser thinks the film is “damaging for [his] reputation.”

Detractors have been attacking Bharathi over the phone relentlessly since news of her arrest broke. Since her phone number was published online, she has received thousands of calls from people asking about her identity and admonishing her for making the film, even though most admit to her that they have not seen it. She says many tell her they’ve been paid to kill her, and she has also received rape and acid attack threats. As of August 12, Bharathi has left Tamil Nadu for her own safety, and her whereabouts are known to a close circle of only about ten people.

Join us today in calling on Tamil Nadu State authorities to drop the charges against Bharathi, who has simply made a film bringing to light a historically silenced issue in Indian society, and had every right to do so.

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Message Recipients: Narendra Modi - Prime Minister of India, Shri Ravi Shankar Prasad - Minister of Law and Justice

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