Days before police registered a sexual harassment case against Civic Chandran, the first of two such, the social activist, had spoken about the “hypocrisy of people in Kerala towards sex” and blamed the Communists and the Church for promoting Victorian ideas of morality.
A Kerala court’s recent orders, on August 2 and August 16, granting anticipatory bail to Chandran in the two sexual assault cases, have been at the centre of a row over alleged victim-shaming.
Two sexual harassment cases were filed against Chandran this year. In the first case, on July 17, a Dalit writer complained that Chandran had tried to kiss her on her neck and outraged her modesty on April 17. In the second case, another woman writer had accused Chandran of making sexual advances during a book exhibition in February 2020.
While granting Chandran bail in the first case, the Kozhikode district sessions court observed that offences under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act would not prima facie stand against the accused as it “is highly unbelievable that he will touch the body of the victim fully knowing that she is member of the Scheduled Caste”. In the second case, the court had observed that the offence of sexual harassment would not stand when the woman is wearing ‘sexually provocative clothes’.
Playwright, poet, editor and champion of Dalit issues, Chandran,73, is a prominent voice in the state, at the centre of several socio-political issues.
Even as a staunch Left thinker and ideologue, Chandran has been a strong critic of the CPI(M)-led government in Kerala, often making him a target of the party and its workers.
Three years ago, Chandran had been trolled by online supporters of the CPI(M) over his alleged remarks against the late CPI(M) leader A K Gopalan.
Chandran had supported former Congress MLA V T Balram, who had cited AKG’s autobiography to highlight how the revered Communist leader, then middle-aged and in hiding, had an affair with a minor girl before marrying her in 1952, when she was 22. As CPM supporters tore into Balram’s comments, Chandran, while saying “age difference, in love or marriage, cannot be considered child sexual abuse”, had also said that the “underground life of our comrades is not a holy book” and that there were several cases of Communists then allegedly indulging in “sexual anarchy, extra-marital affairs and unnatural sex”.
Hailing from a lower-middle class family in Thrissur, Chandran alias C V Kuttan – the initials are said to have lent themselves to the sobriquet ‘Civic’ – grew up in Murikkungal, a village with a dominant Dalit presence, that played a key role in shaping his politics and perspectives.
In 1971, Chandran got the job of a government school teacher in Wayanad district that was then a hotbed of Naxal activity. His life in Wayanad got him closer to the radical far-Left movement, its leaders and literature. He later became a member of the editorial board of Yenan, a Naxal publication that was banned during the Emergency.
He also authored many plays, among them the hugely popular Akshauhini. With Chandran’s plays putting him in the spotlight, during the Emergency, he was arrested and lodged in Kannur Central Jail for a year and a half. Later, Chandran had said about his jail stint, “If I had not been arrested and sent to jail, I would have ended up as a primary school teacher.’’
After being released from jail, Chandran married and returned to Wayanad to resume his school teacher job. However, in the 1980s, he was suspended from his job on charges of links with radical movements. Years later, he rejoined service following a favourable verdict from the High Court. After his retirement from government service, he settled in Kozhikode.
Over the years, Chandran rebranded himself as a cultural activist and floated Janakeeya Samskarika Vedi, a politico-cultural movement that was instrumental in using street plays as a popular medium of mass communication.
He made it to the headlines in 1995, when he wrote a play titled ‘Ningal Are Communistakki (Who do you make a Communist)’, which was reckoned as a counter-drama to the famous ‘Ningalenne Communistakki (You made me a Communist)’, penned by the famous playwright Thoppil Bhasi.
The Vedi also popularised the film society movement in the state, and brought foreign films to Kerala’s hinterlands. Chandran now edits Padabhedam, a magazine that reports on new social movements.