The farmers, associated with the Tamizhaga Vivasayigal Pathukappu Sangam (Tamil Nadu Farmers’ Rights Protection Association), have been peacefully demonstrating for the past four months, urging the government to abandon its plans to acquire fertile farmlands for the SIPCOT project.
The farmers, hailing from Melma and neighbouring villages, have staged a sit-in protest on their patta land for over 125 days, opposing the government’s proposal to acquire 3,200 acres of agricultural wetland for leasing to private industries. The arrests, which occurred on November 4, were based on an FIR filed in August.
According to the association, the police arrested seven representatives, including Arul Arumugtam, a prominent leader in the movement against the proposed 8-way lanes, at 2 pm on November 4. Subsequently, 13 more individuals were arrested in the following days. The detained farmers are now facing charges under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), including 147, 341, 143, 294(b), 353, and 506(1), as well as the Public Property Act.
Adding to the controversy, Thiruvannamalai district magistrate B Murugesh has ordered the application of the Goondas Act against Arul and six others. The Goondas Act is a preventive detention law used against individuals deemed habitual offenders. The government’s decision was disclosed during a bail plea hearing at the Tiruvannamalai district court on November 15, where the public prosecutor cited the ongoing initiation of Goondas Act proceedings as the reason for the delay in the bail process.
The Tamil Nadu BJP president, K Annamalai, condemned the government’s decision, expressing his disapproval on social media. Annamalai stated, “While we think the DMK Govt can’t stoop any lower than its current state, they have proved us wrong by detaining farmers under the Goondas Act.” He further criticised the government for its treatment of the protesting farmers and assured full legal support from the BJP Tamil Nadu to protect the families of the detainees against what he referred to as a “Fascist DMK Regime.”
The bail plea hearing, where counsel for the farmers sought bail for 20 individuals, was adjourned to November 20, 2023. The controversial use of the Goondas Act against the key farmers central to the SIPCOT land acquisition protest has ignited a heated debate on the government’s approach to dissent and its handling of peaceful protests.
Arappor Iyakkam Alleges Political Vendetta
In a startling development, a warrant copy obtained by the watchdog organization Arappor Iyakkam reveals that a farmer named Pachayappan has been detained under the Prevention of Dangerous Activities Act (Tamil Nadu Act No. 14/1982). The warrant classifies him as a “thug” and accuses him of being involved in various activities, including drug smuggling, cybercrime, drug peddling, forest offences, gang activities, sex offences, squatting, and video theft.
According to the warrant, Pachayappan has been remanded in Madurai Central Jail from November 15, 2023, with the objective of preventing him from disrupting public order and peace under the Prevention of Dangerous Activities Act.
Arappor Iyakkam, in a post on their social media handle, expressed strong criticism of the DMK government’s actions. They claim that Pachayappan, a farmer from Tiruvannamalai, was arrested under the Goondas Act typically used for serious offences like sex offences and extortion. The post questions Chief Minister Stalin’s motivations, alleging a crackdown on peaceful protesters and suggesting a dictatorial inclination.
The organisation further questions the DMK’s commitment to social justice, asking if labelling peaceful farmers as “thugs” aligns with the party’s principles. The post concludes by urging Chief Minister Stalin to address these concerns and clarify the government’s stance on the arrest of Pachayappan. The detention has ignited a heated debate over the government’s handling of dissent and the perceived targeting of farmers involved in peaceful protests.
திருவண்ணாமலையில் தன்னுடைய நிலத்தை அரசாங்கம் கையகப்படுத்த கூடாது என்று அமைதியான வழியில் போராடிய பச்சயப்பன் என்ற விவசாயியை பாலியல் குற்றவாளி, கள்ளச்சாராய குற்றவாளி, விபச்சார தொழில் குற்றவாளி போன்றவர்களை கைது செய்யும் குண்டர் சட்டத்தில் திமுக அரசு கைது செய்துள்ளது. திருவண்ணாமலையில்… pic.twitter.com/TUGhK3SOvr
— Arappor Iyakkam (@Arappor) November 16, 2023
Renowned advocate and former DMK spokesperson KS Radhakrishnan has taken to social media to express his concerns over the DMK’s historical stance on farmers, referring to it as an inherent part of the party’s DNA. Radhakrishnan, who has actively participated in farmers’ protests since 1973, highlighted instances of police firing and suicides, stating that 48 farmers have lost their lives in police actions, while hundreds have resorted to suicide over the past 50 years.
The advocate reminisced about the July 10, 1970, protests where farmers took to the streets against the DMK government’s decision to raise power consumption charges for pumpsets. The protests turned violent, resulting in police firing at Perumanallur in Coimbatore district, claiming the lives of three farmers – Marappa Gounder, Ramaswamy, and Aayeekka Gounder.
Radhakrishnan also recalled a noteworthy farmers’ protest where they staged bull-pulling carts on roads across the state, gaining international attention. The DMK government responded with mass arrests, detaining over 30,000 farmers in prisons like Vellore, Madurai, and Coimbatore, subjecting them to alleged third-degree cruelties. The farmers were coerced into signing pledges not to participate in future protests.
Despite these historical events, in July of the current year, Chief Minister M K Stalin asserted that his government was farmer-friendly, citing welfare programmes that spurred a “massive revolution” in the agriculture sector. He accused the BJP of being anti-farmer, emphasising his commitment to the agricultural community.
Radhakrishnan juxtaposed Stalin’s recent statements with his past remarks from 2017 when he, as the opposition leader, challenged the AIADMK government on the issue of farmer suicides. Stalin criticized the lack of compensation for the families of farmers who allegedly took their lives.
The advocate also pointed out the irony of Stalin’s condemnation of the BJP during the prolonged farmers’ protest in Delhi, accusing the Prime Minister of neglecting the farmers’ concerns. Radhakrishnan highlighted the dichotomy by noting that the DMK, despite its strained history with farmers, expressed support for the ongoing protests.
The recent controversy emerged as Stalin’s government invoked the Goondas Act against farmers who peacefully resisted the state’s decision. This move has drawn criticism, with Radhakrishnan questioning the Chief Minister’s commitment to social justice and accusing the government of treating dissenting farmers as “thugs.”
As the debate intensifies, questions arise about the consistency of the DMK’s farmer-friendly claims and the apparent contradictions in its historical treatment of the agricultural community. The ongoing controversy raises concerns about the government’s approach to dissent and its commitment to addressing the grievances of farmers.