By Ila Ananya
What happens when a politician buys a car? Nothing. But what happens when an Adivasi leader buys a car? Everyone goes crazy.
CK Janu, an Adivasi leader found herself in the middle of a controversy when a Malayalam weekly published a photograph of her driving a car. People on Facebook seemed to have a field day, claiming that her buying a Toyota Etios wasn’t befitting of a leader of a marginalised community — The News Minute reported that she was called a “betrayer” of the adivasi cause and the people of her community, a woman who used her “fame for her own growth”, while another claimed that “Janu has changed a lot.”
Everyone remembers Janu as being a huge part of what came to be known as the Muthanga incident in February 2003. She was leading the protest by Adivasis at Muthanga, Wayanad, for the government’s delay in allocating them land. What followed was 18 round of police firing, resulting in the death of protestors and a police man, while Janu herself had 75 cases filed against her. But when she became an ally of the National Democratic Front (NDA) led by the BJP in 2016 after she started her own political party, she did face a lot of criticism — the same criticism that has come up in this case of her buying a car, with claims of her getting such luxuries because of her current political affiliation.
But Mathrubhumi reported that Janu herself has hit back at these accusations, saying explicitly that she had bought the car after she saved money that she got as a farmer, and took the remaining money as a loan. It’s only her statement about farmer suicides, where she says she isn’t aware of the reasons for farmer suicides because she hasn’t faced such a situation as a farmer that’s come across as highly problematic.
But the nature of some criticisms that Janu has faced do show some kind of resentment at the fact that it is an adivasi leader who has a car of her own — she is from a marginalised community, and there is an unsettling expectation that people belonging to these communities need to remain there. This scrutiny never comes to politicians who aren’t from these groups, nobody wonders whether they bought the car on their own or whether it’s a luxury gifted to them from their political affiliations. So as The News Minute reported Janu as saying, “I remind those who criticise me that I own a jeep as well.” We wonder what people are going to say to that.