TN police book 7 farmers under Goondas Act for protesting SIPCOT land acquisition

Families of the farmers who have been arrested alleged that the police have been surveilling their villages with drones and that their houses are being inspected without clearly stating intentions.
Representative image showing a person in handcuffs
Representative image showing a person in handcuffsIANS
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Seven of the 20 farmers who were arrested by the Tamil Nadu Police from Melma and surrounding villages in Tiruvannamalai district on November 4 have been booked under the Goondas Act. The farmers, who had protested land acquisition for the State Industries Promotion Corporation of Tamil Nadu (SIPCOT) in Cheyyar Tiruvannamalai, were arrested on November 4, based on a First Information Report (FIR) filed in August. 

Chitra, a resident of Kurumbur, whose husband, father, and uncle B Bhagyaraj, K Pachaiyappan, and M Devan respectively, have been booked under the Goondas Act, told TNM that the move has surprised and frightened her. “We were only protesting for our land, for our rights. We are not unnecessarily creating problems for anyone. I believed that they would be granted bail because the court understood our plight and our need to hold onto our lands for our livelihoods but when they booked our people under the Goondas Act, I was surprised. It is frightening that we are being silenced while we fight for what is rightfully ours,” Chitra explained.

Farmers from Cheyyar, Melma, and neighbouring villages have been holding peaceful sit-in protests on their patta land, opposing the acquisition of 3,000 acres for over 125 days. A case was registered in August 2023 against 33 people including farmers, who protested the detention of the farmers who were walking to the Sub-Collector’s office in Cheyyar to give a complaint against the land acquisition. Among the 33, 20 were arrested on November 4.

At a bail hearing on November 15, the police department informed the court of their move to book the arrested farmers under the Goondas Act. Although the court had granted five days time to the police to secure signatures for this, the arrest order under the Act was passed on the same day, and the police delivered notices to seven farmers on November 16. 

Residents of the villages surrounding Cheyyar and Melma also alleged that since the arrest of the farmers, the police department has stepped up surveillance. Villagers said they spotted drone cameras and added that there is frequent patrolling in the area. 

Nandikesan, farmer and father of N Chozhan who has been booked under the Goondas Act, told TNM that the police on November 7, came to his house looking for something. “We don’t know what they were searching for but they came to our house when the rest of us were working in the field. Only my school-going granddaughter was home,” Nandikesan said. He added that the police are trying to instill fear in the minds of the villagers. “Their attitude towards us has changed. They get angry even if we ask for an explanation of something because we don’t understand the law,” he alleged. 

When TNM reached out to Tiruvannamalai Superintendent of Police (SP) Karthikeyan for a comment on these allegations, no response was received.

It is to be noted that an FIR was filed against the 33 farmers under bailable sections with a maximum punishment of five years. According to the Supreme Court’s directions, individuals who are not trying to escape trial, threaten witnesses, or destroy witnesses, need not be remanded immediately if the punishment is under seven years. 

Citing these conditions, Vinayagam, a farmer from Uzhavan Urimai Iyakkam in Chengam village, told TNM, “None of them tried to escape after the FIR was registered. They were continuing peaceful protests. Why are the police labelling them as Goondas? Our demand is to the government. We want the Goondas Act to be lifted.”

14 activists including Nityanand Jayaraman from Chennai Solidarity Group, Jayaram Venkatesan from Arapoor Iyakkam, G Sundarrajan from Poovulagin Nanbargal, and Aruna Roy from Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan had condemned the arrest of the farmers. They have noted that the project will take over 3,000 acres of agricultural wetland from several villages around Cheyyar. The activists, in a combined statement, cited that five of the 20 farmers have been transferred to various jails across Tamil Nadu including jails in Madurai, Trichy, Cuddalore, and Coimbatore, and have called it a form of harassment. They also added that since another FIR was filed against these farmers in July, the combined charges may prolong their imprisonment.

Activists criticised the move as one that tries to stifle the free speech of farmers and crush critical questioning of state action. They had also demanded that Chief Minister MK Stalin intervene and order the release of the farmers.

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