It has been close to a month since 7-year-old Aakash, a school student from Padur in Chennai, catapulted to fame. The young boy, was featured prominently by various media outlets, after he protested the opening of a liquor outlet in his village, which is in the outskirts of Chennai. Police were stumped by this unexpected agitator who wouldn't listen to commands of 'go home'.
His efforts were soon rewarded and the village administrative officer ordered for the TASMAC outlet to be shut temporarily. This 'young hero' from a non-descript village has now become the face of the anti-TASMAC protests across Tamil Nadu.
But on May 17, a fuming middle-aged man named Radhakrishnan stormed into the TASMAC office in Egmore, Chennai, to reveal 'the truth' behind Aakash's agitation.
Radhakrishnan had constructed a bar near the TASMAC outlet that was supposed to open in Padur.
The premises of the outlet and the bar had been ransacked by residents of the village who were against opening a liquor shop there. After a complaint to the district officials and peaceful protests failed to yield any results, women from the area broke bottles to express their frustration against the outlet.
Following this, based on the complaint of the owner of the liquor outlet, over 140 people were named in an FIR by the police. It was after this episode of violence, that Aakash took to the road, in silent protest.
Radhakrishnan who had arrived with complaint in hand, was representing the owner of the yet-to-opened liquor outlet and demanded to meet the excise commissioner. At the receptionist's desk, he loudly announced that 'a father is using his own child to exhort money from a liquor shop'. It was when he sat down and continued to animatedly discuss the issue in the lobby of the office, that this reporter approached him.
When asked to offer his side of the story, Radhakrishnan readily agreed and even provided TNM with a copy of the complaint letter. "Aakash's father Chengai Anand approached us even before we had completed construction of the outlet. He belongs to some kind of a group and demanded that we pay him Rs 5 lakh, if we wanted to set up a shop there. We refused because we had permission from the government run TASMAC, from the sub collector and Revenue officer," he claims.
"Following our refusal, he first led a group of people to attack the shop. Even I was assaulted during this brazen act of vandalism. When we went to the police over this, he sent his son to protest. This is all blackmail to make us pay," he alleges.
When TNM contacted Chengai Anand over these allegations, he refuted them. "I don't know who Radhakrishnam even is. I have never heard of him or spoken to him," he claims.
"I was never leading these protests in the first place. A group of young men from the Gandhi Iyakkam requested me to but I refused due to personal reasons. I however promised moral support. I even went with the women here to the Kancheepuram district collector to meet authorities regarding this matter. I wasn't even part of this vandalism," he adds.
Anand, however, by his own admission, has been named in the FIR. Residents of Padur, according to multiple media reports, were allegedly harassed, arrested and abused following the ransacking of the TASMAC shop.
"It was after seeing his own father being accused of a crime he did not commit, that Aakash took to the roads. My son has been giving voice to social causes since he was five years old. He has even led campaigns on helmet safety. Did I do that because I got money from a helmet manufacturer? These are disgusting lies being propagated to undermine this fight against alcoholism. All my son wants is for residents of this village to study and secure a good future and not fall prey to alcohol that may become easily available, if this shop opens," says Anand.
The complainant however questions the very premise of the young boy's protest. 'The alcohol outlet is 5km from Aakash's home and 10km from the boy's school. Why should he protest to close this shop?' it states.
"First of all our house is only 1 km from the shop. Second, my son's endeavour is for everyone in the village, not just for himself. These charges are disgusting and done to undermine my son's fight," alleges Anand. "The TASMAC owners are in cahoots with the police and revenue officials. They are using their clout to harass residents here. A young boy even attempted suicide because he feared arrest following the protests," he explains.
Radhakrishnan, however, is not ready to go down without a fight . "We have requested the excise commissioner to help us open the shop again. We won't fall prey to these local men trying to get money from us," he says confidently.