Five people were taken into custody by Kerala police on Saturday in connection with a call for a hartal by social media groups on April 16. They were reportedly admins of WhatsApp groups that had called the hartal to protest against the rape of an eight-year-old in Kathua, Jammu and Kashmir.
The hartal turned violent in some places, with shops forcefully shut down and protesters pelting stones at buses and attacking police personnel.
According to reports, the five persons alleged called for a hartal through a WhatsApp group named 'Voice of Youth'. Those taken into custody are former workers of the RSS. But it is unclear if they still have connections to the right-wing outfit. A police officer told TNM that they were investigating the links with the RSS and other saffron groups as social media accounts of those arrested indicate that they are still active members. All five are natives of Kollam and were reportedly arrested in Thiruvananthapuram.
A police officer from Malappuram told TNM that the five persons are under the custody of the Manjeri police. “A special squad under Mallappuram Sub Inspector arrested the five persons,” he said. However, neither he nor any of the other officers TNM contacted divulged any further details. It is also unclear if their arrest has been recorded.
WhatsApp groups were under scanner after the hartal made an impact.
The April 16 hartal hit normal life in several districts including the northern districts and Palakkad, Thiruvananthapuram and Kollam. The police was flayed for its inability to prevent the hartal and related activities. Supporters of the hartal forcefully shut down shops in the districts and the hartal was partially complete. Stones were also hurled at buses and shops in certain areas. While the public was largely unaware of the hartal call, supporters of the hartal took out a march in Thiruvananthapuram and districts in north Kerala.
They took out protest march at several places and sat on the road. The public were largely unaware about it.
On April 18, the State Human Rights Commission sought stern action against those who took part in the hartal. In a press release issued, Human Rights Commission's acting Chairperson P Mohandas said that action should be taken against people who called for the hartal. If stringent action was not taken, Mohandas said that such instances could be repeated in the future. The Commission asked the District Police Chief to submit an enquiry report within a span of 30 days.