The last one month has seen the Tamil Nadu police exhibit efficiency and alertness like never before. They have arrested 12 people from across the state, all over one issue. Wondering if this was a high profile crime? Was it murder? Corruption perhaps?
No. The cause for this spate of arrests is the ongoing protest against ONGC in Kathiramangalam.
This small village situated in Thanjavur district on the border with Tiruvarur and Nagapattinam districts, has brought the worst out of a government which is already battling a major image crisis. Following a leak from an oil pipeline and the alleged contamination of groundwater, an agitation broke out in the area.
Residents of Kathiramangalam demanded that the District Collector meet them before they allow the pipeline to be fixed. Following this, 10 villagers including T Jayaraman, the coordinator of the Anti-Methane Movement, were arrested, and the agitators were allegedly lathicharged. These prisoners have now been lodged at the Madurai Central Prison.
If you thought this was harsh, wait till you hear what happened next.
The Goondas Act
'An act to provide for preventive detention of bootleggers, drug offenders, goondas, immoral traffick offenders and slum-grabbers for preventing their dangerous activities prejudicial to the maintenance of public order.'
This is the definition of the Goondas Act, 1982, under which 23-year-old Valarmathi, a journalism student at the Periyar University, was detained by the Salem police on July 12.
Surely, she must have incited violence of some form to have invoked the wrath of the police? What Valarmathi did was far worse. She committed the act of distributing pamphlets in front of the Government Womenâs Arts college, regarding a public meeting against the Neduvasal hydrocarbon project.
Clearly, she had not got the memo. You don't talk against hydrocarbon projects in the state. Not even on Facebook, as exhibited by the latest victim of the paranoid Tamil Nadu police.
Not even safe on social media
A Kuberan (32), a doctoral student at the Annamalai University, has been detained for instigating students through Facebook posts in Chidambaram.
Kuberan's Facebook post read, âThe ONGC project should be stopped at Kathiramangalam. Police force should be withdrawn from there. The government should immediately release arrested persons including Professor Jayaraman. The government should not portray the studentsâ and peopleâs protests for protecting our environment and resources as the terrorist acts. Methane and Hydrocarbon projects should not be allowed into Tamil Nadu.â
He called for all the students to come out in unity and protest. The result? He has been booked under 7(1)(a) of Criminal Law Amendment Act and lodged in Cuddalore Central jail. It is meant to prevent him from leading any form of demonstration.
How much democracy is too much?
If you are looking towards the state government expecting an answer, this what the Chief Minister said when questioned about Valarmathi. "How could law and order be maintained if protests were held 6-7 times in the name of democracy?â asked Edappadi Palaniswami, when the opposition cornered him.
âIn a democracy, (people) have a right to protest. Yet, if they tried to instigate the public and destabilise law and order, Goondas Act will definitely be invoked,â he confirmed.
So, as it turns out, the state government really has only one concern - law and order. It is pretty evident that they take upholding the law very seriously. Except it doesn't extend to their own kith and kin.
Taking the goon out of the Goondas Act
On April 14, acting on a complaint by the I-T department, police filed an FIR against three Tamil Nadu Ministers and one other person on charges of threatening and obstructing I-T officers from performing duties during a raid.
When the âthreatening and obstructingâ were underway, the Tamil Nadu police were right around the corner; they just watched as these men barged into the residence where I-T officials were examining documents.
The highly concerned police department is yet to arrest these goons. Because apparently, upholding the health of our legal system only applies to peaceful protests and criticism of the government.
Corruption in our midst, but focus on squashing dissent
Speaking of health, the residence the I-T officials were examining belonged to Minister Dr C Vijayabaskar, a man accused in a multi-crore gutka scam. Incriminating documents against him have even made it to the Chief Secretary's desk. Has he been arrested?
Has he at least been removed from his post to allow a free and fair probe? No. What is the police doing now?
Oh wait, they are still smarting from the fact that even TK Rajendran, the current Director General of Police, has been accused in this scam. Was this officer questioned and shunted out to set an example? No. Instead he was given a two year extension by the state government.
This appalling contrast in how the law and order machinery functions in Tamil Nadu, has come into sharp focus over the last couple of months. Soft targets are picked off the roads and used to fill prisons while the ones actually raking in the moolah and working against the public, continue to sit on their high thrones and order men dressed in khakhi to terrorise the rest.