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Stripped Assam woman in poll bid

By Subir Bhaumik
BBC News, Calcutta

Laxmi Oraon (Pictures: Subhamoy Bhattacharjee)
Laxmi Oraon says her humiliation did not end with her stripping and beating

A tribal woman who was stripped and assaulted in India's north-eastern state of Assam is to contest the parliamentary elections.

Laxmi Oraon has been nominated by the regional Assam United Democratic Front (AUDF).

She was stripped by locals when she took part in a rally in 2007 demanding better tribal rights.

Pictures of Ms Oraon running naked across a market in Assam's capital Guwahati caused outrage in India.

Ms Oraon had joined the rally in November 2007 along with thousands of Adivasi tribespeople, who mostly work as labourers in Assam's 800 tea gardens.

The rally turned violent and the Adivasis started vandalising shops and beating up policemen and locals before they were overwhelmed by a huge number of local people.

Ms Oraon was stripped and beaten before an Assamese man took off his T-shirt, covered her and dragged her to safety.

'Taunted and teased'

Nearly 16 months later, Ms Oraon has been offered a ticket to contest the Tezpur parliamentary constituency.

"She is a symbol of Adivasi exploitation, of minority exploitation in Assam. We want her to contest the parliament polls on our ticket and she has agreed," AUDF general secretary Hafiz Rashid Choudhury said.

Laxmi Oraon (left) with her family (Pictures: Subhamoy Bhattacharjee)

Ms Oraon said while accepting the nomination: "I may not win but I want to make a point. That the Adivasis will no longer take the exploitation lying down."

The AUDF is a Muslim-dominated party but claims to represent other minorities in Assam - among them the Adivasis, whose ancestors were brought from central India to work in Assam's tea estates by the former British rulers.

Assam's ruling Congress party claims to represent minorities fairly, but the AUDF has increasingly sliced into the Congress area of influence among the minorities, especially the state's 30% Muslim population.

"Our party has been set up to represent the interest of all minorities, so we cannot ignore the exploitation of the Adivasis," Mr Choudhury says.

"And Laxmi is a living symbol of this exploitation."

After her humiliation, Ms Oraon has often appeared in the media - particularly in the state of Jharkhand, where her ancestors came from.

She was an honoured guest at the launch of a book by the leader of the Jharkhand Disom party, Salkhan Murmu, in Jharkhand's capital Ranchi last April.

Ms Oraon also finished her school leaving examinations last year.

"My humiliation did not end with the stripping and beating. It followed me to the examination centre, where I was taunted and teased," she told journalists.

Ms Oraon and her family have accused the ruling party of trying to "bribe" her to stay quiet after the stripping episode. Congress firmly denied the charge.

It says it handled the issue fairly, setting up a judicial inquiry commission to identify the culprits and punish them.



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