While the crackdown on activists across the country has triggered an outcry, a similar trend in Tamil Nadu has gone largely unnoticed.
Ever since the State and Central governments announced the ambitious eight-lane Salem-Chennai Expressway, opposition to the project has been met with crackdowns on green campaigners, political workers, student activists and defenders of human rights. Similar is the case with the anti-Sterlite movement, which witnessed police firing and deaths. Attempts to record dissent over the Expressway project at Gram Sabha meetings has also led to registration of cases against villagers, accusing them of disrupting officials from discharging duties.
A senior government official, requesting anonymity, said the Edappadi Palaniswami government had chosen to be tough with these activists as there was a general perception that the State administration was weak in the absence of a strong personality like former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa.
Apart from political activists such as Seeman of Naam Tamilar Katchi, Chezhiyan of Makkal Adhigaram, actor Mansoor Ali Khan, May 17 Movement leader Thirumurugan Gandhi and AAP leader S.A.N Vasigaran, the police have arrested or booked cases against Salem-based environmental activist Piyush Manush, student Valarmathi, advocate Hariragavan and activist Fatima Babu, who raised their voices against the Salem-Chennai corridor or Sterlite. Some of them were booked on sedition charges. According to People’s Union for Civil Liberties national general secretary V. Suresh, the arrest of activists who voiced support for the people by protesting against projects was “a serious fascist trend of the State administration”.
“Even people who tried to find out some details about the Salem-Chennai corridor project were arrested. The creation of a sense of terror is to create a quiescent society where nobody would dare to question State policy or programmes,” he said.
Advocate Hariragavan’s case would stand for the sustained crackdown against him in connection with the Sterlite agitation. He was booked in as many as 93 cases and was granted bail with common surety. After this, he was again arrested under the National Security Act, which was quashed by the Madras High Court (Madurai Bench). Cases under IPC Sections 119, 143, 147 (rioting), 148 (rioting armed with deadly weapon), 188, 270, 341 (wrongful restraint), 294(b), 297, 436, and 506(ii) (criminal intimidation), and Sections 3 and 4 of Tamil Nadu Public Property (Prevention of damage and loss) Act were booked against another advocate E. Athisaya Kumar.
Mr. Thirumurgan Gandhi, who participated in the anti-Sterlite protests at Kumarettiyapuram on April 16, was booked under Sections 143 (unlawful assembly) and 188 (disobedience to order promulgated by public servant), and was granted bail on Tuesday last.
Earlier, he was re-arrested in a fresh case after a magistrate refused to remand him. The NSA was slapped on seven protestors, while the Goondas Act was invoked against four persons. The Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court quashed these.
Tamilaga Vazhurimai Katchi founder T Velmurugan was arrested when he went to Thoothukudi to meet families of victims of police firing. Later when he was lodged in the Stanley Government Hospital’s ICU, police booked him for staging a protest many months ago.
( S. Vijay Kumar in Chennai, Syed Mutahar Saqaf in Salem, R Rajaram in Tiruchi, P.V. Srividya in Krishnagiri, B. Tilak Chander in Madurai and Hariprasad Radhakrishnan in Thoothukudi )