Pembilai Orumai – Is Kerala’s Tea Party Coming To An End?

Image courtesy: Tehelka

Is Kerala’s ‘Jasmine Revolution’ –  Pembilai Oruma (Women’s Collective) – on the verge of being plucked and crushed by its own infighting? The protest, which became a modern-day symbol of women power, of underdogs versus corporate giants, seems to be heading for an early end.

In September last, Pembilai Oruma, a tea workers’ collective of over 10,000 women, had brought Kerala’s tea valley Munnar to a complete standstill by staging a ‘historic’ stir against tea company Kannan Devan Hills Plantations Limited demanding a hike in wages. It had sparked copycat agitations across the nation, with Kerala Labour Minister Shibu Baby John also comparing it to ‘Jasmine Revolution’.

However, Pembilai Oruma seems to be coming apart at the seams following an ‘infighting’ within.

The ongoing blame game between Pembilai Oruma leader Gomathi Augustine and current president Lissy Sunny could be the undoing of the collective .

Earlier, the duo was applauded for working in tandem to overcome roadblocks that Pembilai Oruma faced during the course of agitation. However, the current state of affairs has paved Gomathi’s way to the CITU, affiliated to the CPM.

Image courtesy: Google
Image courtesy: Google

As an extension to Munnar tea workers’ agitation, Gomathi contested under the banner of Pembilai Oruma in the elections to local body councils in Kerala last November. She emerged victorious from Nallathanni ward in Devikulam and was sworn in as a member of Devikulam block panchayat. However, this hasn’t gone down well with Lissy. Successive events worsened the rift between the two leaders.

Gomathi and her supporters were assaulted, allegedly by trade union members, during a victory procession by Pembilai Oruma.

In a fresh twist of events later that month, Gomathi attempted suicide by popping painkiller pills when reports of her joining hands with Tamil party AIADMK (All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) emerged against her from within the collective.

According to reports, Gomathi’s move to contest local body elections without consulting Lissy, and Lissy’s earlier intentions to form a new trade union had widened the rift between the two leaders.

Last week during a public function in Devikulam, Gomathi was seen with CPM MLA S Rajendran, who had previously admitted that CITU workers attacked her during the victory procession.

“I have decided to join the CITU and will be formally joining soon. Along with me, hundreds of workers, including the other leaders Manoj, Kumar and Manikantan, will also join the CITU,” she told ‘Times of India’.

She further accused Lissy of creating split in Pembilai Oruma.

“Lissy is going around telling everyone that I created a division among Tamils and Malayalis. She is telling everyone that I had gone to Tamil Nadu to join the AIADMK. The police and Lathika Subhash (KPCC general secretary) are supporting her. Nobody is ready to listen to me,” she added.