More sedition cases against anti-nuke protestors than Maoists, militants by Pallavi Polanki
The speed and determination with which the Tamil Nadu government has been slapping its citizens right, left and centre with colonial-era laws, it would seem as if a full-fledged war of independence is raging in the fishing villages of Idinthakarai and Kudankulam along the coast of Tamil Nadu.
According to findings by a team led senior journalist Sam Rajappa, in just four months between September (when the protest movement against the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant began to gather momentum) and December 2011, over 6,000 people have been charged under Section 121 (waging war against the government) and Section 124A (sedition) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) at the Kudankulam police station.
Commenting on the report Nityanand Jayaraman, a member of the Solidarity Group for Koodankulam Struggle said, “The Kudankulam police station has the dubious distinction, perhaps, of being a station where the largest number of sedition and waging war cases have been filed in the shortest time in the history of colonial and Independent India.”
In comparison, in militancy-hit Jammu & Kashmir, in 2011, between 600-800 people were booked for sedition, according to human rights lawyers.
In Jharkhand, a state facing the Maoist-led insurgency, Anurag Gupta, Inspector General (Organised Crime) said, “We have no record of these cases in 2011. But our records are not perfect, there might have been a few cases. However, for terrorism-related activities, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) is invoked.”
To book fisherfolk – most of them women and children on a relay hunger strike – on terror charges especially after both the foreign-hand theory and the Maoist theory failed to stick, surely would have attracted a lot of media attention.
The sedition charge, on the other hand, is a far more convenient weapon that has been repeatedly used by the state every time it has wanted to silence dissenters.
Explaining how data on the cases was compiled, Jayaraman said, “We weren’t given this information from the police station. We made requests to get the details. It took us seven days to compile it. Between September and December, 107 separate FIRS were registered under various section of IPC, including Section 121 and 124A.”
“If you add the number of accused in the FIRs it comes to 55,795. The FIRs don’t tell you who the 55,000-odd people are. The FIRs are registered like this: Udayakumar and 2000 others. Now, who the 2000 are is left to the discretion of the police,” he said.
The main accused in many of the FIRs, not unexpectedly, is SP Udayakumar, who is leading the anti-nuclear protests from Idinthakarai village.
Vijayendra Bidari, Superintendent of Police (SP) of Tirunelveli district, where Kudankulam and Idinthakarai are located, rejected the figures quoted by the fact-finding team.
“It is totally wrong. It will be around 40-50 people. They don’t have the FIRs. In multiple cases, the accused are the same. So if you keep adding the same names, the number will be more. It is totally false,” said Bidari.
Contesting the SP’s claim, Jayaraman quotes an example of a single FIR where more than 3,000 people have been charged with sedition and waging war against the government.
“FIR, crime no. 372/11, was filed on November 21, 2011. The complainant is recorded as Nathan Elango. And a case has been registered against ‘Udayakumar and 3,000 others’ on whom various sections of the IPC have been put, including Section 121 and Section 124A.”
Bidari, however, played down the Kudankulam police station’s record-breaking performance in registering FIRs.
“The FIRs have been registered and the cases are under investigation. We haven’t filed any charge sheet yet. Only after investigations, it will be clearer what the sections are, how valid the sections and whether we file the charge sheet or not. The FIRs are given by the local people and based on the content the sections are attracted. Whether a case is made out or not is up to the investigating officer. Let them investigate the case. Only when it put up before the court, can we say that these are the charges,” he said.
The senior police official also rejected the “false allegation” that the mad rush for registering such cases was designed to intimidate and harass the protestors. “It is not true at all. From the beginning the protestors have been putting this false allegation on the police. There is no harassment,” Bidari said.
Describing the absurdity of the police action as “a parody of law”, senior journalist Sam Rajappa who led the fact-finding team, in a press statement said: “The Tamil Nadu CM belongs right up there with Mamata Banerjee for her vengeful use of the Indian Penal Code to suppress any contrary voices.”