It came as no surprise for 53-year-old Mathaiyan, based out of Salem in Tamil Nadu, when his daughter declared that she would join the protests against a hydrocarbon project in Neduvasal. However, what he never imagined then was that his daughter known for her fiery speeches would be detained by the Tamil Nadu police and become the first ever woman in the state to be booked under the Goondas Act.
Top police officers have been telling the media 'off record' that the young woman had links with maoists and was invloved in recruiting youngsters. Political parties across the spectrum have questioned the TN police's act of arresting a young woman who was 'distributing pamhplets'. The DMK has called it a fascist move, MDMK's Vaiko has termed it an attempt to smother democracy, while CPI has termed the arrest a blow to a citizen's freedom of expression.
Who is Valarmathi?
23-year-old Valarmathi is a journalism student at the Periyar University.
On July 12, 2017, she was detained by the Salem police under the Goondas Act for distributing pamphlets in front of the Government Women Arts college, regarding a general public meeting against the Neduvasal hydrocarbon project.
Speaking to TNM, Mathaiyan, Valarmathi’s father, said, “It is a false case against my daughter. She was fighting for the people of Tamil Nadu against the hydrocarbon project and that is the reason she was targeted by the police and has been detained under the Goondas Act.”
Mathaiyan, a former CPI (ML) activist, added that his daughter has been protesting against such issues for the last four to five years, and has been arrested two or three times before.
He said he supports his daughter and will never stop her from protesting. “Protesting for different issues is her decision and I won’t say anything against that,” said Mathaiyan.
On the police alleging that she was a part of Naxal groups, he said, “She has not been part of any Naxal or Maoist groups. Police has been making false accusations against her.”
This profile done by M Sabari for TNIE describes Valarmathi as a student with good oratory skills that won her many accolades over the years. “She has won many prizes in her school for debates and oratory competitions,” Mathaiyan recalled.
'Stop targeting activists'
All the people who have been protesting for Neduvasal issue or Kathiramangalam are being targeted, said Mathaiyan. “They are arresting everyone who is protesting against these issues. I want the government to release all the activists including my daughter,” he said.
Blaming the government for such a situation in the state, he said, “The people who are protesting against Kathiramangalam or Neduvasal are all educated and know the situation. They have all come together to support the farmers. But the government is supporting companies instead. Farming is important for us."
"The government must stop all the exploratory oil well works,” he added.
Refuting Mathaiyan’s claim of it being a false case, Salem district commissioner, Sanjay Kumar told TNM, “She has many other cases against her. Earlier, she protested for a person who threw a slipper at a central Minister. We also suspect she has gone for Naxal training. We could not allow her to go on like this.”
It is a lesson for others also that they cannot take the state for granted, he added. “Everyone fights for issues, but there is a way of fighting. In a democratic world, we are not against criticism. It is about what you choose. Like during jallikattu protests, people came together and then they were not able to handle it,” said Sanjay Kumar.
He said that people like Valarmathi are a potential danger for others. “They do everything for cheap publicity. We are only bothered about whether legally she can be detained under Goondas Act or not,” he said.
However, refuting the Commissioner's claims, many activists in Tamil Nadu have questioned as to what evidence the police have to make claims that she was associated with any banned organisation.
The Detention Order
According to a detention order issued by the Commissioner, “On July 12, 2017, Sub-Inspector of Kannankurichi police station made a written complaint to the inspector of the police station that he got information that at 8am, in front of the Government Women Arts college, two ladies were distributing notices to the students and instigating protest against the central and state governments, trying to brainwash women to be part of the general public meeting which was to happen on July 15, 2017.”
The detention order also stated six incidents from 2014 and 2017, which showed that Valarmathi had been protesting for various issues and had instigated violence in certain instances.
The order states that in 2014, Valarmathi and a few other people with her, tried to forcibly enter the botanical garden of Annamalai college, shouted at the officers who stopped her, damaged chairs in the college and brought students out from the college to protest against the management. In another instance in 2014, she trespassed into the college hostel and forced the students to protest against the Annamalai University.
In March 2017, she and a few others “illegally” gathered and shouted slogans against the police for arresting a man who threw a slipper at Union Minister Pon Radhakrishnan and also asked for compensation for the death of a Dalit JNU student Muthukrishnan, while seeking a CBI investigation into his case, the order says.
Valarmathi, along with others, was arrested in April too, when she was part of a seven-member student group that was heading to Neduvasal in Pudukottai district from Coimbatore, as part of their campaign in support of farmers. They were not only arrested, but also allegedly stripped several times by the police under the pretext of a search. All of them belonged to Students Uprising Movement for Social Awareness (SUMS) and were campaigning against the Neduvasal hydrocarbon project and in support of farmers protesting in Delhi. They were arrested near Karur while they were travelling to Neduvasal.