In both the plains of Gujarat and the hills of Himachal Pradesh, women have made the headlines for first upholding the law of the land, and then facing flak for being upright and honest.

Police Constable Sunita Yadav landed in trouble in Surat for pulling up state minister Kumar Kanani’s son Prakash Kanani for violating COVID-19 curfew norms.

She had stopped five youngsters in a car in Varaccha area who were moving without masks and violating the curfew. They reportedly called up their friend Prakash Kanani who allegedly arrived in a car flaunting a ‘MLA Gujarat’ board on the dashboard. She made him remove the board and made no bones in telling him that he was not above the law.

She conveyed that she was standing on the road late night only to enforce the law for which Prakash claimed that he could make her stand for 365 days.

Prakash called his father. The minister reportedly told the lady constable that Prakash needed to go out urgently and hence used the car with the specific ‘MLA Gujarat’ board, a practice declared illegal by the Gujarat High Court some years ago.

Seniors intervened and Sunita Yadav was asked to rush to Police Headquarters. But since the videos of her exchange with Kanani went viral, Prakash and his two friends were arrested only to be released on bail within a few hours.

Kanani senior went on to accuse the woman constable of misbehaviour with his son and this has led to a departmental probe into her conduct. There were initial reports of her resigning from her job. but she was eventually transferred. The National Commission for Women (NCW) took cognizance of the issue, and hence the police started a probe into the incident.

While support has poured in for Sunita Yadavfrom various civil society organizations and aware citizens, some with support from sections of the media started a vicious campaign to discredit her. Instead of embracing her for her courage and strength of purpose she is being accused by this lot for ‘misconduct’ and ‘misuse of power’. This has led to an outrage among the common people.

Cultural activist Dakxin Chhara took to the social media statomg, “What wrong has she done? Why do you guys not question the failures of the government, the healthcare facilities in Gujarat where people are dying and suffering without beds in the hospitals? Why do you guys never question about the China border clash where we lost 20 brave souls and our land? Why are we not questioning that PM cares fund account details? Why so many people are just criticizing this lady showing her pictures with champagne bottle, her car with a ‘Police’ plate? You guys are favouring a minister’s son just because his father is from your favourite party? The Police department should be must proud of her! She made your department proud.”

While this incident has grabbed the spotlight, there is another very interesting battle being fought by the women of the remote Spiti area of Himachal Pradesh for over a month, with the help of the local community and civil society organizations.

For the women here, the trouble had started when the local community refused to allow local MLA and Himachal Pradesh minister Ram Lal Markanda along with his 15 car entourage to enter Spiti unless he followed the 15 day quarantine norm decided upon by the local community. There was a massive protest that left the minister red faced and he had to leave the place.

This has cascaded into more than 200 women in this tribal area along with members of yuva and vyapar mandal and other activists facing legal action under charges of wrongful restraint, unlawful assembly and disobedience of public order.

A large number of them are government employees and have been served show cause notices.

The locals told The Citizen that the women have been getting summons from the local police along with the show cause notices. They further disclosed that too the political authorities have been trying to discredit the local community.

“Had the minister who is well versed with local customs and traditions appreciated the women for their concern, he would have become more popular. Instead what we are facing is harassment and a slander campaign,” said a local resident of Kaza in Spiti valley.

“The local community in Spiti had announced a lockdown in the wake of COVID 19 outbreak well before the centre or state government did it. Our reasons for doing so were entirely based on our concern for the community. We do not have proper healthcare infrastructure here and for every little thing we have to rush to Shimla which is 400 km away. On top of that we receive a heavy tourist flow. It was decided on March 17 to go in for a local lockdown and everyone entering Spiti was to go in for 15 day quarantine. There was no need to take offence. Our initiative is only to save ourselves from the Corona pandemic,”Sonam Targey of Committee for Preventive Measures and Sustainable Development told The Citizen.

The locals are furious over the developments and recently carried out a signature campaign demanding that cases against the local women and others be quashed, and the departmental probe against them be done away with.

They are annoyed by the campaign accusing them of carrying out the protest against the minister at the behest of the opposition political parties,and trying to project them as ‘anarchists’.

The local sentiment continues to be aired through demonstrations on COVID 19. A delegation of the locals met the chief minister Jai Ram Thakur on Monday urging him to address their concerns. They have also written to the state Governor Bandaru Dattatreya seeking his intervention.

Meanwhile, support has poured in for this woman led community agitation from a large number of civil society organizations in the state, apart from opposition political parties.

A statement by 20 women and other civil society organizations issued a few days back underlined, “Local residents have highlighted that even before the imposition of the lock down there was serious concern amongst the tribal community of Spiti about the pandemic given its remote geographical location and socio-economic vulnerabilities. Given the tribal lifestyles and dependence on each other for their livelihoods, social distancing within the community was close to impossible. The absence of public health facilities would have meant that any spread of COVID would have unleashed a threat to the very existence of this tribal community.

In this scenario for the last four months the local people especially the Mahila Mandals have worked relentlessly to facilitate quarantine of local residents returning from outside, making masks and also guarding against people from outside the region visiting the region. The local committees had resolved that each and every person entering from outside would have to observe 15 days quarantine. It needs to be noted that the women were already agitated by the continued pressure of some members of the Tribal Advisory Council to bring labourers from outside to the area.”