By Ila Ananya
Kerala Electricity Minister MM Mani seems to have decided that it’s his turn to make ridiculous statements about women. This time it’s against Pembilai Orumai: Mani alleged on Sunday that the women’s group was involved in activities “where they involved themselves in drinking and many other things.” Then he talked about “indecent activity” happening in the forests during their strike for better wages, and reportedly said, “I know everything, I am just not revealing it all.”
Pembilai Orumai was started back in September 2015, when women tea plantation workers in Munnar went on strike day after day, demanding a higher minimum wage for plantation workers. What started with 50 women gathering in front of the Kanan Devan Hills Plantations Company (KDHP) to protest, soon became thousands.
Either way Pembilai Orumai has retaliated strongly. According to The News Minute, they took to the streets in protest, and Gomathi Augustine, Pembilai Orumai’s leader, lay down on the road and refused to move unless the minister met them and apologised publically.
“Mani must come to Munnar, fall on our feet and apologise for his words. He has not only insulted us, but women across the state. What does he know about plantation workers? Does he think we are all whores? How dare he speak like this about an agitation that was launched for better pay and hours?” Augustine reportedly said to the media in Munnar. Manorama reports that the police attempted to arrest and make Augustine leave the site of the protest, which led to an altercation between protestors and the police. Pembilai Orumai is also demanding his resignation.
We remember how back in September 2015, trade unionists had thrown stones at the protesting women, and how CPM trade unionists even attacked Augustine and her family, which resulted in her being hospitalised. Even then, the police had registered a case against her rather than anybody else. Mani’s comments are simply more of an indication of this: That nobody has ever been able to stand a large group of women fighting and demanding their rights. As writer J Devika had even said that Pembilai Orumai, in the context of Kerala’s otherwise all-male trade unionism, fell like a “thunderous slap on the cheek on Kerala’s highly patriarchal history of trade unionism.” And they will continue to be, never mind what male trade unionists and men like Mani have to say about them.