Salem environmental activist Piyush Manush has had a harrowing ordeal in the Salem prison, where he was lodged after his arrest on July 8. The founder of Salem Citizen's Forum, he and others opposed the Mulvadi flyover in the city, alleged that due procedure had not been followed. He had chained himself to a road-roller to stop the construction. After this, he and two others were arrested by the police. They obtained bail on July 12, but Piyush was not granted bail as he had several other cases against him. Now out on bail, he speaks to The News Minute about his ordeal:
Why did you object to the construction of Mulvadi gate flyover?
Our objection came from previous experience with a bridge called Ananda Palam in 2012. The construction of the bridge was stalled for four years because one building had not been acquired. In all, people suffered for six years.
Before constructing Mulvadi gate flyover, we had two demands: acquire all the necessary land then start the construction and before beginning construction, set up an alternative road for the public. But one day, out of the blue, people were given a day’s notice about the construction through the newspapers. But they hadn’t put in place an alternative road, that’s why we objected.
We did not have not much time, (to halt the construction). We called the District Revenue Officer, Collector, Deputy Commissioners of Traffic and Law and Order. I even showed them an alternate road. (But they refused to listen). As this was happening, we heard that they had begun to dig a pit and when we reached the site, it was dug up and the road was closed. I chained myself to the road roller and got down into the pit (along with two others, to stop the construction), and police followed me and lifted me out.
What happened when you were inside the prison?
In jail, warden asked me what my caste was. I replied, “open caste” because I’m a Jain. He dragged me inside the jailer’s office. He told the Jail Superintendent Senthil Kumar that I was not telling him my caste. I again said, “open caste”. The warden slapped me. I asked him, why he was slapping me. The superintendent began assaulting me. Then about 20-25 people came inside the room and began beating me up. The more I spoke, more I was beaten up. Then, they threw me out.
The superintendent had us sent to solitary confinement. We (three) were locked up in solitary confinement for three days. Then put us in the high security ward. Last Tuesday, the Superintendent again came to my cell and asked, “What are you all doing outside?” and then he slapped me again.
Why do you think bail denied to you alone? Do you think the police arrested and assaulted you only for objecting to the construction work?
This (Mulvadi gate incident) is a very trivial issue. The commissioner, police and many corporates have had grudge against me for the mining projects we stopped. There are lot of people who have vested interests. There were rumours that we had burnt the national flag but the truth came out four or five days later in the newspapers.
Have you faced anything like this in the past?
In the past 7-8 years, the police has filed about 10 to 12 false cases against me. They once arrested me for sedition in January, 2010.
Do you see your arrest as a threat to other activists who dare to question the government?
That is the sign that government is trying to send out. I used to go to schools and colleges and tell students that one should be scared of nothing. I have also told them that I have been to jail before. But my belief system is shattered now. Obviously, there is a threat. The state devises new kinds of threats. One thing that has come out of this is collective voice, and the wide range of sympathy for our cause.
How has this whole incident affected you? Will you be more careful now?
My wife said in a public meeting while I was in prison that I was going to come out stronger and that she would be part of the activism. I have added responsibility. From now on we will yield better results.
Whom do you blame for the assault in the prison?
The judicial inquiry will find out. The state human rights commission has taken up a suo moto case and asked the ADGP to give a reply in three weeks.