T Jayaraman, the chief coordinator of the Anti-Methane Project Movement, was typing away furiously at a computer centre in Mayiladuthurai when he got the first phone call. An alarmed resident of Kathiramangalam village informed him about a leak in an ONGC pipeline.
The 63-year-old, abandoned his half-written article and left to the village in Thanjavur district, hoping to hold a dialogue with district officials. What he however, did not expect was to be arrested and lodged in Tiruchy Central jail indefinitely.
The activist who has now become one of the faces of the Kathiramangalam protests, is currently out on bail to complete the last rites of his father who passed away recently.
Talking to TNM minutes after he completed the rituals, Jayaraman alleges that the police, district authorities and the ONGC were in cahoots against the people of Kathiramangalam together.
The activist and 10 others were arrested from Kathiramangalam on June 30 and had multiple sections slapped against them. This included attacking public servants and brandishing of dangerous weapons.
"When I reached the village, I realised that a full-fledged protest was underway," says Jayaraman. "The DRO and Tahsildar were present there but the residents were insistent that they meet the Collector because they had no trust in these officials," he adds.
But what led to this lack of trust?
"In May the villagers went to the sub collector to demand that cement plugging be done for Kuthalam-35, a well that was not in use for 2 years. It was near the fields and schools. They did not want any kind of damage to the land or water," explains the activist. "But when ONGC
officials came it was to invigorate the well and get it to function again," he claims.
When the residents and activists including Jayaraman protested, a large number of police were allegedly brought in. The repair work was done and several protesters, including the retired professor were arrested and lodged in the Mayiladuthurai sub-jail.
"So this time around, the residents wanted firm assurances. They were protesting from eight in the morning to six in the evening peacefully. Why would they suddenly start a fire?" he asks, denying allegations of a violent outburst on the part of the villagers.
"Do you know who was violent? The police. They mercilessly lathi-charged women and the elderly," he adds.
Jayaraman claims that he doesn't even know the other arrested in this case personally. In fact, the only criteria for being picked up by the police was apparently their physical proximity to the district
"One of the villagers came up to greet me and even he got arrested. This was because I was standing near the Tahsildar," says Jayaraman, incredulously.
It was this very district official, that the activist has now been accused of attacking during the protests. Based on the district official's version to the police, the 63-year-old activist has been
booked under section 506 (criminal intimidation) and section 307(attempt to murder) of the IPC.
"This is in addition to the usual disruption charges," says Jayaraman. "Do they think a man my age will actually try to attack a government official? I was a professor for 33 years. I am highly educated- have a double MA, an MPhil and PhD. Will I resort to such behaviour?" he
But is he confident that he will make it out of jail with such serious charges against him?
"I have followed the path of dharma and so I am confident I will come out," says the retired professor, who must return to jail by 5pm on
"I do not brandish weapons, I use the pen to fight. Talking of which, the article I was writing on river interlinking was interrupted halfway. I intend to finish it as soon as I am released because it is
a very relevant issue right now," he informs us.