A 39-year-old resident of Muthupettai near Tiruvarur has been arrested by the police for questioning the recent spate of searches by the National Investigative Agency in Tamil Nadu and alleging the involvement of right-wing forces. M Thaj had sent a WhatsApp message to multiple people last week, asking members of his community to be cautious, leading to his arrest on Saturday.
The alleged message, which TNM has a screenshot of, alleges that the NIA is ‘hunting down Muslims in Muthupettai’ at the behest of the right-wing. The message allegedly sent by Thaj goes on to question the Jamat and other Muslims in Muthupettai for not challenging this and it concludes with the allegation that ‘Karuppu’ is behind the raids.
The alleged message is then signed off as MPT Puratchi Iyakkam. It was sent following the arrest of 14 men from Tamil Nadu, who were deported from UAE for allegedly collecting funds for terror group Ansarullah. Their residences across the state, including Tiruvarur were searched. Meanwhile in May, the NIA carried out searches in the residences of three people in Muthupettai in connection with alleged links to terrorists.
According to the police, 'Karuppu' mentioned in this message is allegedly a BJP leader in the area.
"Thaj is already on the police watchlist and we have been observing his behaviour. This message of his attempts to add a communal agenda to the NIA's actions and could lead to disharmony in the area," says M Durai, SP of Tiruvarur. "Criticism itself is not the issue, but the insinuation that one community is targeting another is," he adds.
The SP says that to avoid communal flare ups, the Village Administrative Officer filed the complaint based on which an FIR was filed. Taj was booked under sections 153 (purposely giving provocation with an intent to cause a riot) and 153 (A) (promoting enmity between different groups on ground of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc) of the Indian Penal Code. He has been remanded to judicial custody.
People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) national general secretary V Suresh however points that the arrest is yet another instance of systemic suppression of dissent by the police.
"In Tamil Nadu, the police have become increasingly sensitive to any form of dissent against investigating agencies," says Suresh. "In a case where a citizen raises such doubts, it the duty of a government agency to douse his or her fears. Instead by arresting him, they are ensuring that no questions are raised," he adds.
Suresh points out that in the recent past, multiple cases have been filed against residents of the state merely for questioning the actions of the police. This includes a case against Arappor Iyakkam, an anti-corruption NGO which exposed the Semmenchery police's plan to build a station on a lake bed and even media persons who covered the protests against the Salem eight-way road.
"The lack of accountability and transparency from the NIA causes marginalised communities to doubt their intentions," says Suresh. "And instead of arresting them, these agencies should work on spreading awareness."