PUCL TN & Puduvai enquiry into the harassment of Makkal Mandram
activists and supporters by Kancheepuram district
Interim fact finding report, April 2007
In February, 2007, PUCL was informed by Makkal Mandram activists about the repeated harrassment faced by them and Irular tribe they worked with by the Kancheepuram police and district administration leading to a situation where they feared for their lives and safety. In April 2007, PUCL constituted a fact-finding team motivated by reports that the District Administration and Police had intensified their harassment after Makkal Mandram activists reported an eve-teasing incident involving one of their women members on 21/2/07. Reportedly, rather than apprehend the eve-teaser, the Police had foisted charges under various sections including attempted murder on Makkal Mandram activists and irular villagers. Even the victim of eve-teasing was reportedly charged under the same section.
In April 2007, PUCL constituted a Fact-Finding Team (FFT) consisting of the following members:
Madhumita Dutta - The Other Media; V Srinivasan - Activist, People's Union for Civil Liberties; Arul George, Advocate; Yazhan Aathi-Social Action Movement; Gethsy-Subiksha Unorganised Labour Union; Aravindan, Law Student; Jainulabdeen, Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam; C Srinivasan-Secretary, Chennai Metro Construction and Unorganised Workers's Union; Prof.Saraswathi-Tamil Nadu Mothers Front; T.S.S.Mani- Activist, People's Union for Civil Liberties.
The aim of the FFT was to enquire into the following allegations made by Makkal Mandram and their Irular membership relating to harassment by top officials of District Administration and Police. These allegations include filing of false charges, physical intimidation, including violent raids and searches of homes of Makkal Mandram activists and sympathizers, refusal to enquire into complaints made by Makkal Mandram activists and members, using abusive and foul language against women, discriminatory and racist remarks about Irular tribe people, colluding with goondas and hitmen to intimidate Makkal Mandram activists and sympathizers.
The team was divided into two groups. On 8/4/07, the first team comprising Madhumita Dutta, Arul George, Yazhan Aathi, Gethsy, Aravindan, Jainulabdeen, Prof. Saraswathi and T.S.S. Mani visited the villages and the office of Makkal Mandram. A second team comprising Madhumita Dutta, V. Srinivasan and C. Sininvasan went on 16/4/2007 to meet the District Administration (Revenue and Police).
Exhaustive interviews with Irular villagers, including members of Makkal Mandram, and Makkal Mandram activists were held. The team was also able to have detailed on-the-record interviews with the District Collector Mr. Pradeep Yadav, IAS, and Superintendent of Police Mr. Amalraj, IPS.
Villagers and Makkal Mandram activists spoke at length about forced entries by police, intimidating night visits, including into homes of villagers, sexual harassment and derogatory behaviour towards women by the police, and the arrogant attitude of the district administration towards irular and Makkal Mandram sympathisers. The District Collector and the Superintendent of Police were clearly unhappy, even angry with the work of Makkal Mandram. They confirmed that numerous cases on various charges have been filed against Makkal Mandram activists for activities undertaken by them at different times.
The Superintendent of Police also confirmed in his own words that his anger and irritation with the Makkal Mandram for constantly confronting the district administration is reason behind the intensive police action on Makkal Mandram activists. “If I get provoked, I try to find an opportunity to get at them. If these people provoke me further, I have threatened to book them under Goondas Act,” he said to the FFT members. The SP confirmed that charges of “Attempted murder” have been filed against 61 Makkal Mandram activists and members. He also confirmed night visits to villages by policemen.
Both the District Collector and the SP, however, made several allegations regarding the integrity of Makkal Mandram, and suggested that they were exploiting irular villagers. The SP specifically alleged that Makkal Mandram was involved in a racket where Irular villagers were kept as bonded labourers, and then liberated in order to avail of Government funds, and subsequently moved to a different location where a repeat of the above would be enacted.
However, Irular villagers deny any exploitation by Makkal Mandram activists. They noted that they now have the courage to meet the District Officials as equals. Indeed, it is this new-found confidence among Irulars that is the cause for irritation among the District Officials and Police. Irular villagers after villagers recounted harrowing experiences where police have used derogatory and racist abuses. Referring derogatorily to the practice of indigent and homeless irulars of living beneath avenue tamarind trees, police have called them vagabonds, “irular dogs.” Amal, a 10-year old Irular girl, broke down and began sobbing uncontrollably when approached by the fact finding team. “I am studying in 3rd class. My mothers name is Anjalai. Police came in the night searching for my father and mother. They beat my mother. I asked them 'Why do you beat my mother?' They pushed me to the ground. I am scared. I have stopped going to school. I won't go to school.”
Based on our interviews with a number of Irular villagers, Makkal Mandram activists and the SP and the District Collector, it appears that the actions of the District Administration and the Superintendent of Police arise out of a sense of personalized anger against Makkal Mandram activists and the new-found assertion by erstwhile docile Irular villagers, rather than any crime on the part of the activists currently charged with criminal offences.
Curiously, the eve-teasers booked under Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Women Harassment Act, a non-bailable offence, were let of the day after their arrests, while Makkal Mandram activists, charged with “attempted murder” for attacking the eve-teasers, were kept in prison for more than 17 days. The SP also said that one of the three eve-teasers was the son of a sweeper in his department. It is difficult to believe that the police has acted without bias and vendetta, when it has slapped charges of “attempted murder” even against the victim of the eve-teasing.
Finally, our impression that the District Administration has exaggerated and over-reacted to the normal course of democracy arises from two facts borne out by our interviews with the Collector and the SP.
The police has charged activists with “Sedition” for having conducted a demonstration using a donkey with a placard that read: “District Administration” Both the SP and the Collector were unaware that such charges were filed. The SP casually said that that charge may have been filed to facilitate arrest. The SP was unaware of what Section 124A was.
Kancheepuram District People’s Forum or Makkal Mandram is a mass organization working on human rights issues of people of the District. Their work focuses especially on marginalized sections of people, the tribals (Irulars), dalits, women, and rural and urban poor in more than 50 villages of Kancheepuram district. Makkal Mandram is an autonomous organization which is not affiliated to any political party or group. Many Irulars from villages where Makkal Mandram is active are members of the organization.
Over the last two years, their work has included, among other things, liberating bonded Irular labourers from a nearby rice mill, and rehabilitating them with the help of previous district administrations, and enabling them to assert their rights, access basic services and Government schemes for Scheduled Tribes. Sometime mid-last year, Makkal Mandram activists allege that the new District Collector and police turned vindictive after Makkal Mandram criticized them through poster campaigns and public demonstrations.
Irular tribespeople, an erstwhile itinerant tribe, are known for their skills as rat-catchers and snake-catchers, and traditional wisdom relating to herbs and natural remedies. They are concentrated in Thiruvallur and Kancheepuram districts.
On 8th April 2007, the fact finding team left Chennai for Kancheepuram at 10 am. The team first visited Nathapettai village where a violent confrontation followed an eve-teasing incident of 21/2/07 took place. Statements and supporting evidence, where available, was collected by talking with victims of police harassment.
Nathappetai is located 10 kms east of Kancheepuram town, between Wallajabad and Kancheepuram. On 21/2/2007, 22-year old woman Sarasu aka Sengodi, a Makkal Mandram activist, was traveling with two other colleagues, namely Asha aka Hemavathi and Ramesh in a bus from Kancheepuram to Nathapettai to attend the inauguration of Makkal Mandram board in the village. Three youth, whose names were later ascertained to be Kannadasan, Thanigaivel and Chittaranjan boarded the bus at Kancheepuram bus station. Kannadasan sat next to Sarasu in the last row of the bus. He made obscene gestures, and pinched her waist even before the bus left Kancheepuram bus stop. Bystanders, the driver and conductor, and even a policeman standing nearby just looked on. Asha and Ramesh saw Sarasu weeping, and objected to the sexual harassment. Kannadasan and his friends caught hold of Ramesh and beat him up. Even this elicited no response from the policeman or the bus conductor.
The trio went on using foul language throughout the 45-minute bus journey. As the bus neared Nathapettai, Kannadasan alighted from the bus and ran off. Thanigaivel and Chittaranjan followed the Makkal Mandram activists to Nathapettai. Since the programme was being held in an enclosed ground close to the bus stop, several activists of Makkal Mandram had gathered there. When Ramesh narrated the incident to them, they questioned the duo about their behaviour, to which the duo responded by challenging the Makkal Mandram people to a fight. Makkal Mandram activists caught hold of them and said that they will be taken to the police station. By this time, senior activists of Makkal Mandram arrived there. They tried to intervene and sort out the matter amicably.
But one of the eve-teasers rang up his friends and asked them to come with knives and lathis (Urulakattai). Hearing this, one of the Makkal Mandram activists rang up all the police stations. But no police help came. Within the next ten minutes, some 30 people rushed into the ground (it was closed on three sides with a small gate, one side was a paddy field with a narrow passage) and attacked Makkal Mandram activists, mainly women, with lathis. Makkal Mandram activists were forced to defend themselves. In the ensuing clash, three male activists from Makkal Mandram and three from the attackers’ side were injured.
At the entrance of the village a board of Makkal Mandram is located. Irular residents of Nethappetai and neighbouring Kannikapuram village are members of Makkal Mandram. The houses of the Irulars are located on the left side of the street leading into the village. After introductions, the PUCL team started interviewing the villagers:
Thirumalais/o Rajendran: We were preparing food for the function in our village for the opening of a name board of Makkal Mandram, in which 18 Irular families of our are members. In addition, there are families of two muslims, one Yadhav, one Mudhaliar in our village. Since Kannikapuram village members of Makkal Manram are in small numbers, we included them in our branch and were jointly arranging for the Makkal Mandram name board opening ceremony. When we were preparing the food we heard noises coming from the Kannikapuram bus stop infront of our village. We ran to see what has happened. We saw our Makkal Mandram office bearers[leaders]been attacked by a crowd of more than 30 people who came in 19 motorbikes and in one autorikshaw and beat our leaders with wooden sticks. It was around 6 pm in the evening. The police came around by 6.15 pm. Then those 30 people ran away. When we asked what had happened, we were told that the young girls of Makkal Mandram were teased by the youths in the bus. And later they came with their people from east Ottivakkam to attack the leaders when they were questioned by the leaders about why they eve-teased the girls.
Shanthi w/oRajendran: First time the police came to our village around second week of March. Except one policeman, all came in muftis. It was midnight, around 1.30 am. We were sleeping inside our homes. Our homes do not have any doors. You can also see now. They entered our homes, flashing torch lights on us while we were sleeping. In some the houses they also threw stones inside so that men folk would come out if there are any.
Nallammaal: I was guarding the goats. The police came at night and read from a list of names. There were no names from our street. They went to Kannikapuram and arrested Murugan and Sankar.
Kannikapuram is on the other side of the road. The FFT went to Kannikapuram also to asses the situation.
Jayanthi w/o Sankar: Totally Kannikapuram has 15 houses. Among them only five families joined Makkal Mandram. Police came that night and flashed torch lights. Sankar came out of the house and was arrested. Then they asked whether Saravanan is male or female? They took Krishnan into their custody and left.
Raju: They asked us which was Gowri's house. They ask us to show our Ration cards. Then they asked for Ramesh-Chitra’s house.
Murugan-Shanti: They asked me my name. We called our leaders and told them. By 7 am next morning Mahesh came. Those living in Kannikapuram who are not members of Makkal Mandram scolded us in fear. Police came on 6th April mid night at 12 am. They flashed torch lights inside our home. On 7th april in the evening at 4-30 pm, a policeman in mufti came. He asked whether any Makkal Mandram members were there. There are cases against 61 persons and they should all surrender before Monday. [09th April]. When police came, men folks had gone for wood cutting and other wage labour.
Vasanthaw/o Krishnan, Kannikapuram: They took Krishnan into custody but released him the next day. Myself- Vasantha, Shanthi, Chenthamarai, Jayamala were the four women who were at the time of the clash in Nathampetai on 21st February. All the Kannikapuram Makkal Mandram members are in the list of the police. Gowri is a member of Makkal Mandram, but her husband Raj who is not a member is also in the police list. We are here for the last three generations. Atleast for 150 years we are living here. The police came at midnight and flashed torch light on us and woke us up. Its only now that we got our land pattas after Makkal Mandram fought for it.
There were no male members in the village during our visit. Anjaalam: There are 15 houses of Irulars. All male members ran away due to police raids. Police came here two weeks back and took 8 persons into custody. We used to go to Makkal Mandram meetings. We had gone to the Collector for giving memorandum. Wallajabad police came in a car by midnight around12 am. My husband’s name is Sankar. His father is Nagappan. He was also arrested. Other arrested persons are S.Sankar-s/o Subramanian, Iyappan, Chitharai s/o Chinnathambi, Manian s/o Kutti, Raju, Suresh s/o Jayapal.
Next the FFT went to 'Keezhakathirpur – Amman Nagar', which is 10 km west of Kancheepuram Town. The Irulars of this village were released from bondage from a brick kiln near Minjur, Ponneri Taluk, in Tiruvallur Dist. in the year 2002. After their release, with their compensation amount received from the Government and with the help of Makkal Mandram they formed a brick kiln labour society and built their own brick kiln. Besides the freed irulars from Ponneri Taluk, there are Irulars from 'Panappakkam' rice mills who were released from bondage in 2005 also residing in this village.
The Irulars in this village were not aware of the February 21st incident at Nathappetai village which is 20 kms away from their village. Since these people are also members of Makkal Mandram their names have been included in the list of suspects by the police for Nathappetai incidence of February 21st. On that premise, the police came to their village in search of men. Out of 40 Makkal Mandram members of this village, 30 were included in the list by the police.
Vasantha (45) W/o. Ganesan: I am a member of Makkal Mandram. On Thursday April 5th, at around midnight 1.30 am, a police van came. They called for 'Deva'. They kicked the door. Seeing us they said, "You Irulas, you used to fear us and hide from us in the past. Because of the encouragement given by those two girls you have become bold?” Then 10 policemen came into my house and they caught hold of my saree covering my chest and dragged me out of the house.
Rajeswari (28): The policemen said "Your caste used to cook and eat under the tamarind tree. You Irular dogs, Irular whore and scolded us.
Kasiammal: I asked the policemen 'Why don't you come in the day? They replied 'Mahesh and Jessi gave you this courage to speak royally to me? We will burn Amman Nagar.” Then they broke my house door.
Amal (10): I am studying 3rd class. My mothers name is Anjalai. Police came in the night searching for my father and mother. They beat my mother. I asked them 'Why do you beat my mother?' They pushed me to the ground. I am scared. I have stopped going to school. I won't go to school.”
Kumar (25): We became human beings and got courage to speak after Makkal Mandram came. We are no longer backward. We have our own brick kiln. Some people from the neighbouring colony are giving trouble. Police told us, "You are going to the collector asking for 3 cents of land for housing. None of you will be here for cooking and eating under tamarind tree." (In earlier times, the Irulars used to reside under the tamarind tree when they did not have land or houses. The police now abuses them by making references to their past.)
In this village Anbu, Ganesan, Mani and Deva were arrested on the night of 5th April 2007. Deva is Anbu's father. Ganesan is Deva's Father-in-law. Bagyammal (60) is Anbu's mother. Renuga (4) is Anbu's daughter. "Our village comes under Baluchettichatram police limit. But the police who came at midnight were from Kancheepuram police station. Police asked us whether we confront the collector by giving memorandum?”
The villagers said “The night raids by the police has psychologically affected the children".
Varalakshmi (21) W/o. Deva: "Children are affected and depressed".
The FFT then visited the neighbouring village of Keezhakathirpur. There is a hall built for meetings by the 'Keezhakathirpur Makkal Mandram Brick Kiln Labour Union'. The fact finding team sat in the hall. All the residents assembled in the hall. There are 22 houses in that village.
Jeyanthi (35) W/o. Ravi: Police came at midnight of Feb' 21st. They entered the house, removed our blanket and saw the women. At midnight at around 1 am, they stoned our house. 14 policemen came in uniform. They searched for men. They are not able to enter our houses, in which the entry doors are lower in height, so they stoned the houses, so that men folk would come out.
Suseela: Police came on Thursday midnight around 2 am.
Ponnan (38): Guests were in our house when the police entered. Police came in a Sumo van. They asked, "Where is Ravi? Where is Shankar?" They enquired our guests. They didn't allow us to speak. We were working on the brick kiln. Because of the continuous raid by the police in our village we have not been able to continue our work on the burning of the brick kiln. The brick kiln has been left half burnt. All men folk ran away in fear. So the half burnt brick kiln is a heavy loss for us. Others who had come to work in the brick kiln also ran away fearing the police.
One of the fact finding members, Yazhan Aathi seeing the quality of water which was turbid in colour said "The water here is not fit for drinking.”
"DSP Muniappan came on Feb' 21st". He says this village name is not Mangalappadi. 'Where are the men?' he asked. 'They have gone for wood cutting', we say.
The villagers said: "Without Makkal Mandram, we can't survive. We were bonded in rice mill, now bonded under police". Now we are doing brick kiln work. DSP Muniappan asked us "Without men folk how you can do brick kiln work? We have been called as 'Villis'. Villis are good at cutting bricks in brick kiln and boiling rice in rice mills. If there are no police harassment, we may have done 4 brick kilns in this period".
Villagers: "There is a Brick kiln owner called Balaji in the neighbourhood, who bought over one of our vanguards Venkatesan and turned him against us. Together they burnt down the crèche cum hall in 2004.”
"We have been released from bondage from Nemmeli Rice mill 4 years back".
Dhanasekaran (34): We don't know even the place of Nathappetai, where the clash took place after the eve-teasing. But 20 of our villagers were included in that case.”
Then the FFT went to Kancheepuram District Peoples’ forum office (Makkal Mandram) at Jemnagar in Kancheepuram Town. There we met the affected girls.
Maha (22) and Asha (alias) Hemavathi (22): Both narrated their experience on the Grievance Day: "We took the villagers to the collector’s office on Monday February 19th, 2007 for Grievance Day petitioning. Kurukkupetai and Muthialpetai villagers need drinking water supply, housing pattas and community certificates. We gave the memorandum to the district collector for housing pattas. He asked, "Which land?” Villagers replied 'Natham Poromboke'. "If it is so, then they may have given everything", the collector said. The villagers then replied "Many times we have given memorandums, no action was taken". Collector looked at the Makkal Mandram activists and said, "Why have you come with these people? One year has passed after I came here. Still I didn't take any action on you" he said looking at the activist. "You are pasting posters". Immediately he stood up and scolded, "you bastard, bastard. Bloody fools, bastard, bastard". We got scared and went out of the room.
Jessy: Immediately in Kachi Town we pasted posters in the walls after this incidence.
The posters said "Tamilnadu Govt.! Remove the District collector Pradeep Yadav from his post for abusing the women of Makkal Mandram as 'Bastard'. This was pasted in 60 to 70 places around the town. We went to the Taluk Police station the next day and gave a complaint against the collector. Sub-inspector Samuthrakani told us that he can not book a case against his senior officer. We asked him which section of law says this? He said he did not know, but he knows that he can not book case against his senior. We then sent our complaint through registered post. We have sent the events of Feb' 19th to the chief secretary through e-mail and post. Farmers Grievance day meetings are held by the Collectorate, which the present collector has never attended. When CPI (M) farmer’s leader Nehru asked the Collector why he has not attended the meetings, at last the collector came for the meeting and abused Nehru saying, "Useless fellow, get out". Nehru asked him, "What are you talking?" This was published the next day in the local Tamil newspaper Dinakaran with photos. "
Sarasu a.k.a Sengodi: (Sarasu's mother Poongodi' was burnt and killed by her father Parasuraman. Who is now convicted and is in prison. She is being brought up by the Makkal Mandram) "We got into the bus from Kancheepuram to Wallajabad to go to Nathappetai on Feb' 21st for the opening of the name board in that branch of Makkal Mandram. The boy sitting next to me pinched my waist. I complained to Asha. She told Ramesh. Ramesh then asked the boy what he was doing. The boy slapped Ramesh in the face".
Asha: While we were waiting at the bus stop, a policeman was watching us. I felt nervous about it and told Ramesh and Sarasu. When Ramesh was being beaten by the boys, no one in the bus intervened, even the conductor was watching. The beatings took place while the bus was at the bus station. The boys continued to tease us and say abusive words all the way to the Nathappettai. We called the leaders of Makkal Mandram. They were in the court to attend the cases of dalits of Kootharambakkam. They told us that they will come to Nathappetai.
Jessy: In Nethappettai we asked the eve-teasers why did you tease the girls? One of the boys Chitharanjan then said "We are also dalits. So please forgive us". Then another boy Thanigaivel through mobile started calling somebody to come with knives and weapons. Then 10 motorbikes and one auto rickshaw came with 30 persons to the spot. Many of them looked like policemen. All of them were from East Otivakkam. They started attacking us. They targeted Mahesh. Kumar defended Mahesh. Clash took place between both the groups. They were much more in number. I called all the police officials through mobile phone. Nobody responded. Then finally the police came. All those attackers went away. Ramesh was kicked in the chest. Kumar was heavily beaten. We admitted the two in Kancheepuram Govt. hospital.
Kumar (27): D.S.P. Muniappan came to the hospital. One of the attackers came with the D.S.P. I asked Muniappan that I want to file a complaint. He said, 'No', give a statement'. The sub inspector then took my statement.
Sarasu, Asha: Police asked us "How many persons are there in the house? How many male? How many female? How you are spending for food? We know everything. Give us statement. They asked us to give separate statements.”
Jessy: They took us to 'All women police station on February 21st night. I told the SP ‘We had to defend our lives from the attackers". Sub- Inspector Udhyakumari, Wallajabad Police Station Inspector and writer were there. They booked us under the case of inflicting small injuries by lethal weapons under sections 147, 148, 341, 342, 324 & 307 I.P.C. They snatched our two mobile phones.
Mahalakshmi: On February 21st night nobody returned to the house. We were left alone in the house. At about midnight around 1.30 am, police team came in 3 Jeeps, 2 Motorbikes. All came in uniform. Taluk P. S. Inspector Samuthrakani, D.S.P. Muniappan and 10 policemen. They entered our house. They opened all doors and searched the house. They searched for male members. We were 3 girls and 2 villagers. No women police accompanied them. On February 22nd, our phone land line was cut off. By 12 noon on Feb' 22, D.S.P. Tashildar came in 4 vehicles with one Wallajabad Police Station vehicle. Led by the Thasildar, a raid was conducted. They took away 3 notebooks in which we record our expenditures. They said, "These girls are not only having books on communism, but also on Dalitism and feminism".
Kumar (27): "On February 21st night, when I was in the Govt. hospital, S.I and H.C. didn't allow me to move. Then at midnight around 1 am, Sub Inspector and head constable Thambusamy and Wallajabad Police Station Inspector Mani asked me to go with a person standing outside saying that some relative has come to see me. When I asked him who has come, he did not reply clearly. I realised something was wrong. He showed me a vehicle parked outside the hospital gate. It was a police van at a distance. I feared for my life and refused to got out of the hospital. I came inside the hospital and woke up the staff nurse and told her everything. She scolded the police officials for taking me out of the hospital. This event raised doubts about their plan to do something on my life. Our Sumo car was taken by police from the hospital. But it was written in the F.I.R. that it was taken from back of the house and there were lethal weapons hidden in it".
Mahesh: On April 5th, 2.30 p.m. from Vishnukanchi Police Station, S.I. Bharathi called Makkal Mandram office and told that a 6 year old girl was stranded in the Police Station 'Please come and help'. We had doubts and asked another NGO to go. When they went to the station, the girl seemed fine and was playing. We came to know later that the girl was taken away by her sister.
Jessy: On the same day at about 3 p.m. Wallajabad Police station S.I. Vasanthi called us and asked for the 'Che Guevara book' and hand it over to the station. Why these things are happening?
Mahesh: “When we were in prison in February, our activist colleagues gave written complaints to the Home Secretary, Chief Minister’s Secretary, and ADGP (Intelligence). After we came out of the prison, alongwith other women leaders we gave complaints to the State Human Rights Commission and State Women's Commission".
The day after the FFT visit to Kancheepuram, we heard from the Makkal Mandram activists about the following events:
Jessy: On April 9th Monday in the afternoon, a Brahmin came in an auto and surveyed our house. The same person was seen in the past as an employee working in Sankara Mutt by our members. By evening a person wearing helmet on a motorbike came and went around our house. By 10 p.m. at night, one Sumo van came and 8 persons got down, stared at our house and went away. By mid night at around 12 am, a Maruthi Omni car with license plate no. T.N. S 21 8089 came near our house. 10 persons got down and started stoning our house. One man tried to enter the house through the back door and we pushed the door and closed it. Then we called everybody and told them to call the police. Friends from Chennai called the S.P. Then by 1.30 am, one Inspector Kanniappan and constables came, by then the attackers ran away. Then two constables guarded our house till morning and left. We have lodged a complaint with the local Police Station, J2 Magistrate and also to D.I.G. the next day morning. No action has been taken as yet.
Interview with the senior officials of the district administration
Mr Pradeep Yadav, IAS, District Collector, Kancheepuram District Mr Amalraj, IPS, Superintendent of Police, Kancheepuram (West) District Meeting with collector: Mr Pradeep Yadav, IAS, Kancheepuram
Date: 16th April 2007, Time: 3.00 pm
Collector: “Makkal Mandram activists started pasting posters, campaign material against me and the district administration in very week I joined the department in May 2006. They organized a “Donkey Protest” targeting me and the administration. This is not correct way of doing things.”
PUCL team asked why was section 124 A put on Makkal Mandram activists for the protest.
Collector: “I had nothing to do with the arrests or charges. PUCL should ask the Superintendent of Police Mr Amalraj about the charges.”
The Collector then mentioned about the eve-teasing incident about which he had heard from the SP.
Collector: “Two ladies from Makkal Mandram, who are not native of this place, go to the tribals and mobilize them. They create a force of volunteers. I do not know what these people do or whether they are genuinely working for the welfare of the tribals. These two ladies do not work transparently”.
Collector: “You know police has recovered 50 bank passbooks of Irular tribals from their house. What are they doing with these passbooks? Why do they have passbooks of irulars? Government gives funds to the Self Help Groups and these pass books are of irular self help groups. We are making enquiry into why these two ladies have the pass books of the tribals with them”.
The collector then made a call to some person infront of PUCL team and asked whether the pass books have been seized from Makkal Mandram or not.
Collector: “they have not been seized. They would have been good evidence”
PUCL team asked him about the status of giving land pattas to the irulars.
Collector: “It takes time to give land pattas. Infact the first land pattas have been given to the irualars in February-march this year in village Nathappetai. There are issues of land pattas on water body poromboke land, we can not give pattas in water bodies”.
The PUCL team asked the collector whether he had met the “two ladies” from Makkal Mandram in June 2006 (17/6/2006) and told them that “land was precious” and “it was meant for companies” and “will not be given to the irulars”.
Collector: “I never said such things”.
(The then District Revenue Officer was also present at the meeting. The PUCL team could not speak with the DRO since he has been transferred.)
With reference to Grievance day incident (19/2/07), where the collector had shouted and verbally abused two women activists of Makkal Mandram (Hemawati-22yrs and Mahalaxmi-22yrs) when they had accompanied 9 irular men from village Karukkupettai and Muthialpettai to give representations for land pattas and basic amenities.
Collector: “All villagers come on their own to give representations, why should these irulars come with Makkal Mandram people. These people (makkal mandram) will every day bring up some issue. I had asked them to leave the room. Yes, I got angry.”
On allegation that he had shouted at the woman calling them “Bastards, bloody fools” (not once, but four times)
Collector: “No way. Why should I use such language against women? No way. Yes, I asked them to leave the room angrily only after provocation, but never used such words”.
The collector denied any knowledge of Makkal Mandram working with the government departments on any irular welfare/development issues. PUCL told him about the Makkal Mandram having a good rapport with the earlier collectors Mr Rajaraman and Mr Venkatesan. Mr Rajaram had allocated 2 acres of land for the released bonded labourers to set up the brick kiln and also attended the inauguration of the brick kiln at Keezhakathirpur.
Collector: “I am not aware of these people ever working with the government departments. Atleast in these last 1.5 yrs that I am here, I have not seen them doing any work with the government departments. These people are not interested in the welfare activities of irulars. They only mobilize and bring people here. Their approach is counter productive. They are not transparent in their activities. They are only doing propaganda. Infact I was instrumental in starting the Directorate of Tribal Welfare when I was in the CM’s Secretariat. We are not against giving pattas to the tribals. I am very keen on welfare of tribals. Makkal Mandram’s approach is negative.”
Collector: “These people are now alleging that the Collector and SP are making money from sand mining. This all a propaganda. Day before yesterday in a public meeting they said this”
Finally the Collector told PUCL: “I do not have anything personally against Makkal Mandram. If they do good job, we are with them.”
Meeting with Amalraj, Superintendent of Police, Kancheepuram
Date: 16th April 2007, Time: 6.45 pm
Superintendent of Police (SP): “Do you know Makkal Mandram activists personally? Are any of you related to them?”
PUCL team explained its independence and the purpose of the fact finding. PUCL asked the SP about the list of 61 people booked under various sections of IPC including Section 307 and night visits by police to the villages.
SP: “I do not deny the police visits to the villages and there is a list of 61 people booked under 307.”
SP: “I will tell you about Makkal Mandram.” The SP then proceeded to read from a file.
SP: “-Even before I joined in 2005, there have been cases against the Makkal Mandram women starting 2001.
-These people work with some 60-70 families of Irulars. These irular families are taken to one place and kept as bonded labourers, which these Makkal Mandram people then get liberated and get money from the Government. Then these same irulars are taken to some other place and freed and again money is taken as per the provision of the government. So these people keep the Irulars moving from one place to another and get them liberated and get money. I have also sent a representation to Kancheepuram Collector for enquiry.
-during our raid in their (Makkal Mandram) house, we found an expense book, we have taken a Xerox of it. The expense book showed that these people spend Rs 5000 a day. Where do they get all that money from?
-We also found 200-250 pass books of Irular Self Help Groups with the Makkal Mandram. Why do these people have the pass books of Irulars?
-These people are misusing funds. Where are they getting money from?
-On 15/9/2003: Makkal Mandram people tried to stop screening of the film ‘Boys’ by locking the theatre, blocking traffic, blocking police from discharging its duties. A case was filed against Makkal Mandram women. Some sections 506/2….
-On 17/10/2003: Makkal Mandram was distributing bit notices, they were booked under 506, arrested and then released. Case has been dropped.
-On 30/1/2004: Makkal Mandram alongwith Periyar Dravida Kazhagam activists blocked the traffic to demand for allowing all castes people to enter the holy sanctum. They were all booked under various sections.
-On 12/2/2004: there was a complaint made by a Irular boy - Venkatesan, a former bonded labourer that Makkal Mandram had taken his money to purchase a lorry.
-On 8/6/2004: Venkatesan’s house was burnt down by a man named Sarvanan instigated by these two Makkal Mandram ladies.
- On 19/6/2004: These Makkal Mandram people created nuisance even after 11 pm at night by doing some function. So they were booked under TN Town Nuisance Act.
- On 1/4/2006: A Doctor was attacked by the Makkal Mandram people for not treating a patient and maybe the patient died. So a compliant was filed.
-On 26/6/2006: Makkal Mandram organized a Donkey protest targeting the collector. They hung a placard around the Donkey’s neck saying District Collector. They were booked under Prevention of Cruelty Against Animals, Section 124 A.”
PUCL : “why were the Makkal Mandram activist booked under Section 124 A?”
SP: “What is 124 A?”
PUCL: “It is sedition charge, conspiracy against state.”
SP: “I do not know why 124 A was put on them. I can verify after looking at the complaint. Maybe it was done to arrest them.”
SP then resumed to read from the file:
“-7/2/2007: The Makkal Mandram people opposed and protested against charging of parking fees. They blocked the traffic. They were arrested and released after booking under minor cases.
-21/2/2007: Some Makkal Mandram women were traveling in a bus to go for some opening of name board function in a village. When some boys may have eve teased them. Out of the 3 boys, 1 boy eve teased the girls. Before their bus stop came, one of the boys over heard the Makkal Mandram people calling up someone and telling them to be prepared with rods and sticks to beat these boys up. Hearing this, one of the boys got off the bus and other two remained. When the bus stop came, Makkal Mandram people got into the bus, dragged the two boys out and heavily beat them up. The boys got serious cut injuries and had to be admitted to the hospital. Therefore we booked the Makkal Mandram people and others (list of 61 people) under section 307.”
PUCL: “why did the police not record the complaint of the Makkal Mandram?”
SP: “They never filed any complaints. The complaint was made by the boys who were beaten up and based on which arrests were made.”
On enquiring about the eve teasers bringing 30 people to Kannikapuram bus stop where the incident took place
SP: “It is all false. How can these boys from poor household mobilize people. Infact one of the boy’s father is a sweeper in my department.”
SP: “Now these people have started alleging that the SP and Collector are taking money from real estate, sand mining. They allege that we take Rs 100 per lorry of sand, there are about 4000 lorries plying in a day. They say SP is close to the Sankaracharya. I will put defamation case on them if they say this again without any evidence. A person from Nakkeeran called up the other day and asked me about these allegations. I asked him to get evidence from Makkal Mandram about their claims.”
SP: “These people provoke me. They stick posters, distribute pamphlets all around the place, especially on mine and the collector’s gate. Morning when I come to office, I see these fluorescent posters critising me or the administration. I get provoked, first thing in the morning when I see this. I have too many things to attend to-murder, dacoity etc.”
SP: “These people distribute material which says the system is there to exploit poor”
SP: “If I get provoked, I try to find an opportunity to get at them. If these people provoke me further, I have threatened to book them under Goondas Act.”
Pointing to the file, the SP said: “look at their (Makkal Mandram) history of cases, we could have booked them under Goondas Act by now if they were men, but since they are women we have not done anything as yet.”
On enquiry why such serious charges are getting slapped against Makkal Mandram like 124 A, 307 etc.
SP: “Usually these are put to arrest people.”
The SP kept on asking the PUCL team, “what would you have done if you were in my place? These people are fighting the system for justice. That is not correct. The system will take care of …”
On enquiring about the incident at night of 9/4/2007, when 8 men (including one of the eve teasers) tried to break into Makkal Mandram house in the middle of the night.
SP: “It’s a false case. My inspector told me there is no visible sign of forced entry.”
SP: “You see I can beat up people and even fire bullets. But why should I do such things with Makkal Mandram women. We work with so many NGOs in the district, why does only Makkal Mandram have problems with the administration?”
On enquiry into harassment of women in the villages at night, specially the night raid of 5/4/2007
SP: “why should they do that? No policeman would do it. We know its consequences”
SP: “What do you want?”
PUCL: “We want the harassment to be stopped.”
The SP then called up the Wallajahbad police station and asked them to stop all arrests and visits to the villages.
Key Findings of the PUCL FFT
Makkal Mandram activists with their committed work over last seven years have been able to liberate bonded labourers from the brick kilns and rice mills and successively rehabilitated with the support of local district administration.
The launching of the Irular Brick Kiln Labour Society seem to have upset the brick kiln and rice mill owners, who have been constantly hatching a conspiracy with the local police to harass and intimidate the tribals.
Through this intimidation the owners feel that they could get these irular tribals back into bondage. The strongly focused campaign of Makkal Mandram at the grassroots has evolved into a popular peoples' movement raising the level of awareness of these marginalised people towards the realisation of their rights over land and resources.
The realization of these rights have primarily been through protests, demonstration, poster campaigns and regular representations to the district administration through peaceful and non-violent and democratic methods.
But the District Administration of late, especially the Collector and Superintendent of Police seem to have taken offence even to peaceful forms of democratic protests. Resulting in framing charges under various sections of the IPC at regular intervals.
The motive for such assault on the Makkal Mandram activists by the District Administration could be to stop the realization of the rights of the marginalised communities in the backdrop of the current SEZ and land use policy being adopted by the central and state governments. Where most of these lands that these marginalised sections occupy needs to be handed to the real estate interest and intentions of the state. The series of cases filed over the last two years against the Makkal Mandram activist have been to intimidate and harass them so that they would stop taking forward the people's grievances over land and resources.
The peaceful and non-violent struggle by the marginalised sections (irular, dalits, women) towards voicing their democratic rights for livelihood, dignity is being seen by the district administration as a law and order problem. Resulting in a continued assault on the people's freedom to life and dignity by foisting false and serious charges under various sections of the IPC.
Booking Makkal Mandram activists under serious sections of IPC like section 124 A (sedition charge) is clear case of gross abuse of power by the district machinery to subjugate the poor and Human Rights Defenders.
Makkal Mandram members in the villages being threatened by the police to quit their membership and remove the name boards impinges on their constitutional right to organise and form association.
The incidents following February 19th, 21st and consequent arrests of Human Rights Defenders and their imprisonment for 17 days, but the arrests of the perpetrators of the eve-teasing incident after three weeks on a Friday and releasing them on bail the very next day, exposes the connivance between the state and non-state violators of human rights.
The mid night harassment of the police on the vulnerable villagers, attempt to kidnap injured activist from the hospital, continuous threat to the activist after their release and finally leading to an attempt to break into the Makkal Mandram commune shows the diabolical plan of the state in suppressing the Human Rights Defenders.
While the main activists of Makkal Mandram were in prison, two young women activists Usha and Rachel of Makkal Mandram has given memorandum to the highest official of the state on 27/2/2007--Mr Ramaswamy, IAS, Secretary to Chief Minister, Home Secretary, Malathi, IAS and to ADGP Intelligence Nanjil Kumaran, IPS. But the harassment continued even after these representations were made.
Irualrs as scheduled tribes have in the past resided in the hills and only in the last few generations have come down to the plains, where they have become a minority, got scattered and joined the unorganized labour force often exploited by the employers. This has made them especially vulnerable and marginalsed in the so called “civilized” society, where the social, cultural, economic and political dynamics are vastly different from their own.
Defeating the popular pessimistic belief that the Irulars can not successfully run a brick kiln, the freed Irular labourers with the support of Makkal Mandram activists have for the past few years been running their own brick kiln.
When NHRC member Mr Bhaskar Rao visited the Irular run brick kiln a year back, the present Collector had showed the same brick kiln as a role model for the other schedule tribes.
Serious charges and harassment foisted on the Makkal Mandram activists and their members by the Kancheepuram District Collector and Superintendent of Police towards intimidating them into silence should be seriously investigated by a high level team of retired judges, autonomous bodies like National Human Rights Commission, National Commission of Women.
In the light of the terror and gender insensitivity of District Collector and the Superintendent of Police and the DSP, action should be initiated against them by launching an enquiry by the state.
All charges leveled against Makkal Mandram activists and their members should be immediately withdrawn. The Victims are Irulars belonging to the Scheduled Tribes. Therefore under SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act 1989, cases should be registered against the violators and based on those charges, compensation under 1995 Rules under this Act should be paid to the affected Irulars.
District Administration should protect the Human Right Defenders who are doing the duty of protecting the rights of the marginalized people.
The State government should give protection and encouragement to the women the activists who are coming to social activism encountering all odds in a patriarchal society.
Freedom of expression and right to demonstrate for legitimate and just causes should not be suppressed by the state apparatus.
Given the vulnerability of the Irular people, government should make special efforts to build their confidence, protect their life, livelihood and culture. So that they do not get further marginalized.
Government should encourage and protect the Keezhakathirpur Makkal Mandram Brick Kiln from vested interests and make it into a model brick kiln.
Fact finding team members
1. Madhumita Dutta — 2. V Srinivasan — 3. Arul George — 4. Yazhan Aathi — 5. Gethsy — 6. Aravindan — 7. Jainulabdeen — 8. C Srinivasan — 9. Prof.Saraswathi — 10. T.S.S.Mani —
Annexure I: Documentation collected from Makkal Mandram
The activists had acknowledged that several sensitive and honest collectors, District Revenue Officers and others had participated in their programmes and functions. But over the last 2 years, especially under the present District Collector and Superintendent of Police, their relationship with the district administration has deteriorated to one of mistrust and lack of confidence in each other. Resulting in various forms of actions being taken aganist Makkal Mandram. Some of the incidents narrated by the activists as the reason for the police repression were:
Problems with district administration and police
In taking up these activities, Makkal Mandram often has had to confront the district administration, revenue and police departments. Land remains a basic issue of confrontation as the district administration refuses to give land to the poor people but gives away thousands of acres of government ‘poromboke’ land to foreign companies. Hence the administration has been trying to suppress Makkal Mandram for the past several months now in various ways due to several of the campaigns and issues taken up.
The Donkey protest
Many people of the Irular community are living in riverbeds and roadsides with no land or houses of their own. Since they have been living in the same place for years together, Makkal Mandram represented to the District Administration to give atleast 3 cents of land to each family. This issue has been taken up vigorously for the past more than a year. With a change in government in May 2006, Makkal Mandram hoped to get a better response as the DMK party has promised 2 acres of land to each poor family during the elections. The District Collector too was appointed by this govt.
Hence Makkal Mandram met him several times with delegations of Irular people concerning this demand. However, he resolutely refused to accept it. In one meeting on 17.06.2006, he very arrogantly told Makkal Mandram activists that lands in this district are very precious and meant only for companies and I will not give it to these Irulars. So Makkal Mandram took up a weeklong poster campaign highlighting the plight of these people and the administrations indifference to their demands. When that too had no impact, Makkal Mandram decided on a novel method of protest. On 26.06.2006, Makkal Mandram put up a pandal in a prominent place (with police permission) where around 30 persons lay down on mats with files for pillows and chatting on phones etc to signify the working of a typical govt. office. They also had a donkey with a placard around it saying district administration.
The people came in a queue to give their representations and memos concerning their requests / demands to the ‘District Administration’ and the donkey kept on eating these promptly! It was a symbolic protest, which was peaceful and democratic. On the collector’s orders, 8 leading activists of Makkal Mandram (4 men and 4 women) were booked under Section 124A (sedition / conspiracy against the state). They came out on getting bail from the Chennai High Court after about 13 days. The sessions court had refused bail as the prosecution strongly objected to granting of bail to them.After this incident too, Makkal Mandram carried on its regular work and its activists kept meeting the Collector alongwith the rural people from time to time, especially on grievance days.
Parking fee protest
In the month of Feb. 2007, the district administration introduced a new system. All vehicles including two-wheelers and cycles entering the Kancheepuram Collectorate Office premises had to pay parking fees at fixed rates. All government departments are mostly located in this campus. The District Collector was the Chairperson of the Society which was formed to collect this parking fee. The collection of parking fee from the public who have to visit the office complex frequently and repeatedly to get their grievances redressed, in view of lengthy procedural delays put a lot of hardships to the poor people especially those coming from the rural areas.
Hence Makkal Mandram opposed the introduction of parking fee. The police denied permission to organize a protest demonstration. Still Makkal Mandram went ahead with the demonstration on 07.02.2007. Several hundreds of people were arrested at around 8.30 am even before they started the demonstration. The police tried to book a case on some 8-10 activists. But when the assembled people all threatened to get arrested, the police finally had to release all of them. This campaign received wide publicity and the public too supported it. Hence the District Administration was forced to withdraw it. Grievance Day incident
Every Monday is a Grievance Day in Tamil Nadu when people can meet the District Collector with their grievances. Some activists of Makkal Mandram had accompanied the Irular tribal people from Karukkupettai and Muthialpettai villages to the Kancheepuram Collectorate Office to give representations regarding the problems of basic amenities faced by them at the ‘Grievance Day’ meeting on 19.02.2007. They met the collector and gave the representations. When the District Collector, Pradeep Yadav, saw the activists of Makkal Mandram, he got very angry and shouted at them, “Should I do it because you ask me to?” and then abused these women activists using the foulest possible sexist language like “Bastards, Bloody fools” and shrieked “get out”. At this point he jumped up from his seat, gestured violently and threatened them saying “this is the last warning.
If you come with these village people again, I will not do anything for them”. He shouted at all the villagers who had come there to get out at once. They got so shocked they left the place at once. The next day, on 20.02.2007, Makkal Mandram did a lot of wall postering in Kancheepuram condemning the Collector’s behaviour.
Sexual Harassment of Makkal Mandram activists and IPC 307 case against women
On the next day 21.02.2007, there was a Makkal Mandram branch being opened in Nathapettai village. Three Makkal Mandram activists, Asha @ Hemavathy, Sarasu @ Sengodi and Ramesh went to the Bus stand and took a bus. Immediately, three guys got into the bus. One of them came and sat next to Sarasu and pinched her waist. She started crying. Asha and Ramesh noticed this and objected. Immediately, the three eve-teasers caught hold of Ramesh and beat him up.
They went on using foul language throughout the 45 minute journey. As the bus neared Nathapettai, one guy jumped down and ran off. The other two followed the Makkal Mandram activists and got off at Nathapettai. Since the programme was being held in an enclosed ground close to the bus stop, several activists of Makkal Mandram had gathered there. When Ramesh narrated the incident to them, they questioned the guys about their behaviour. Those two guys arrogantly challenged Makkal Mandram people. Hence the people caught hold of them and said we will take you to the police station. Just then senior activists of Makkal Mandram arrived there. They tried to intervene and sort out the matter amicably. But one of the eve-teasers rang up his friends and asked them to come with knives and lathis. Hearing this, one of the MM activists rang up all the police stations.
But no police help came. Within the next ten minutes, some 30 guys rushed into the ground (it was closed on three sides with a small gate, one side was a paddy field with a narrow passage) and attacked Makkal Mandram activists, mainly women, with thick lathis. Hence, Makkal Mandram activists were forced to defend themselves. In the clash three male activists from Makkal Mandram and three from the attacker’s side got injured.
The police arrived at the Kancheepuram General Hospital and instead of recording a complaint of eve-teasing arrested Makkal Mandram activists (5 women and 2 men) under several sections including 307 (attempt to murder). The two girls who were sexually harassed on the bus, Asha and Sarasu were also arrested. Asha is a Dalit and Sarasu is a tribal. The FIR also says 50 other unnamed persons were involved in the attack. The three eve-teasers were booked under Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Women Harassment Act. But only one of them was arrested. Two others are still absconding, according to the police. But they have been roaming about the town following women activists of Makkal Mandram.After this, the police have let loose a rein of terror and harassment against Makkal Mandram and its members and did all kinds of unlawful things.
Contentious issues as perceived by Makkal Mandram
Release and rehabilitation of bonded labourers
Makkal Mandram has been instrumental in release and rehabilitation of about 176 bonded labourers, mostly Irular tribals. As per Makkal Mandram, the owners of brick kilns and rice mills form a mafia like situation with their hired henchmen and support of local police, where they keep the workers in prison like situation with very little basic amenities, food, shelter and no mobility. The bonded workers get regularly beaten up with rods and machine belts. In 2002, with the help of the government authorities Makkal Mandram freed 36 bonded labourers who were being forced to work under inhuman conditions in a brick kiln in Ponneri village in Thiruvallur District.
After a few months, 9 more bonded laborers were released from another brick kiln followed by a batch of 27 labourers from a rice mill in Nemmeli, Kancheepuram in 2003. Taking advantage of their illiteracy and ignorance, the brick kiln and rice mill owners had made the workers sign on blank papers, which were later falsely filled up by the owners to show that the workers had taken loans of 35,000-40,000 and are working in return. In reality the loan amounts had rarely exceeded Rs 2500.
After release of the labourers, Makkal Mandram lobbied the district administration for land and monetary compensation of the freed workers. Government allotted over 2 acres land and gave monetary compensation of Rs 20,000 to each freed worker. With this, the irulars set up a cooperative brick kiln-Kizhkkadirpur Makkal Mandram Chengal Thozhilalar Nala Sangham in Mangalapadi village. The district administration, specially former collector Mr Rajaraman played a pivotal role in the rehabilitation of these bonded workers.
With their own brick kiln, now the irulars refuse to work for other owners (brick kilns and rice mills). Their economic independence, social progress (they wear pants, chappals, ride bicycles / motor bikes, talk confidently and ask questions) and growing political awareness is a big challenge to the former owners. They have been using various means to suppress and intimidate them, including setting fire to the crèche constructed by the cooperative with help of Makkal Mandram next to the brick kiln in 2004. Documents, chairs and everything inside the crèche was gutted.
Police are also hand-in-glove in intimidation of the former bonded workers. On 23.2.2007, a big police posse went to Mangalpadi village where rehabilitated bonded labourers have their co-operative brick kiln. On finding only women in the village, DSP Muniappan threatened the women and also made enquires about their previous employment.The women gave names of the mills where they were held as bonded labourers. The very next day, some of the former owners were seen roaming around these villages. This seems to be deliberate intimidation of ex-bonded labourers by the police along with the owners.
Support to Koothirampakkam dalits against caste oppression
Makkal Mandram has been involved in Koothirampakkam, a village where dalits have faced caste oppression from the dominant vaniyar caste for many years. A temple was built on the village commons 25 years ago. Dalits contributed in terms of money and labour. But as soon as the temple was built, the vanniyars refused to allow the dalits to enter it. At the time of annual Thiruvizha (festival), when the goddess is taken out in a hand pulled chariot, the dalits were not allowed to pull the chariot. Nor was the goddess allowed to enter the dalit colony. Though the dalits were only 150 families and the vaniyars were 500 families, the dalits were conscious of their rights and asserted their rights for entry into the temple.
Every year during the festival there would be clashes and the police would impose section 144 in the area. But the dalits succeeded in stopping the festival from taking place for the last 5-6 years. This had other consequences. Around three years back, the dalits successfully bided for fishing in the village tank, which the government leases out annually. Till then only the vanniyars had bid and won the fishing rights in it. The vanniyars refused to let the dalits fish in it saying that the water would get polluted. The dalits defied the vanniyar ban and went fishing into the tank. A big vanniyar mob led by the woman sarpanch attacked these dalits with knives, swords and other deadly weapons. They entered into dalit houses and destroyed everything including TVs, bikes, and cycles; sewing machines, gas stoves, furniture etc. They even attacked old men, women and children who had stayed at home. 19 people were grievously injured in the attack. The government ordered an enquiry and compensation was given to the dalits.
But they continued their protest and threatened to convert to Islam. Immediately former Chief Minister brought in the Bill banning Religious Conversions. The Shankaracharya was one of the chief advisors to the Chief Minister on this issue. This case is now coming up for hearing in Chengalpattu sessions court. It has been booked under SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act where punishment is stringent. Makkal Mandram has been consistently supporting the dalits in this struggle. Even now when dalit witnesses from the village face threats and intimidation to prevent them from going to the court and testifying, Makkal Mandram activist organize protection, go with them to the court and support them. The vanniyars are afraid that they would be convicted and see Makkal Mandram’s support to the dalits as a big threat.
Demand of land for the tribals / SEZ and land sharks
Makkal Mandram has been demanding 2 cents of land for all landless Irular families. The collector in an interaction with Makkal Mandram activists in June 2006 had said "the lands in this district are very precious and meant only for big companies". Given the skyrocketing land prices in the past one year in Kancheepuram, the statement of the collectors seems to be true. Big multinationals like Hyundai, Saint Gobain Glass, Nokia (SEZ) and others have set up factories here. Thousands of acres of land have been given to them by the Tamil Nadu govt. Many hundreds of acres are to be given to Mahindra to start their SEZ. This is likely to displace several villages, including dalit villages inhabited by around 1200 families. Makkal Mandram, through media has been challenging the district administration for giving off land to the big companies, whereas not giving the promised pattas to the irulars and dalits.
There are alleged instances of benami buying and selling of land to the companies by influential people in Kancheepuram who are involved in real estate business. But there are no evidences to prove these case as yet.
Makkal Mandram has been consistently opposing sand mining in Palar River due to the environmental consequences. Sand mining is closely related to the construction industry. Around 4000 truckloads of sand are mined in Kancheepuram daily. Whereas, each truck should carry 2 units but actually much more units are being loaded. As per regulation, sand should be mined only within 3 feet, but sand is being mined up to 30 feet deep in many mines. Several of these mines are illegal. Makkal Mandram has been questioning the nexus between the district administration and the illegal sand mining activity in the Palar river bed.
Campiagn against Shankara Mutt
Makkal Mandram has strongly opposed and protested against Jayendra Saraswati, Vijayendra Saraswati and the entire Shankara Mutt and tried to expose their misdeeds against women and dalits for a long time. During their arrests in 2004, Makkal Mandram was the only organization in Kancheepuram to openly condemn him and demand punishment on charges of murder of Shankarraman and abuse of many women and children. Even after his release and subsequent court order allowing him entry into Kancheepuram, Makkal Mandram had organized protests whenever he announced his entry into the town.
Makkal Mandram has learnt from reliable sources that the Shankaracharyas of Shankara Mutt have vowed to wipe out Makkal Mandram.
Annexure II: List of cases filed against Makkal Mandram members
-On 15/9/2003: Makkal Mandram activists protested the screening of the film ‘Boys’ by staging a demonstration infront of the theatre in Kancheepuram. The activists were arrested and let off after four days. Till date no chargesheet has been filed in th case.
-On 17/10/2003: Makkal Mandram was distributing pamphlets criticizing the government . Since the pamphlet did not have the printer's name, a case was filed against Makkal Mandram women at Sivakanchi police station, crime no. 950/03, under IPC sections 153A, 505 (b),( c), 292 A (a), 7 (1) (a).
-On 30/1/2004: Makkal Mandram alongwith Periyar Dravida Kazhagam activist blocked the traffic to demand for allowing all castes people to enter the holy sanctum. They were all booked under various sections.
- On 19/6/2004: Makkal Mandram had organised a public meeting that exceeded minutes beyond 11 pm. Therefore three activists were booked under Tamil Nadu Town Nuisance Act. The case was filed at the Siva Kanchi police station under crime number 1004/04, under IPC sections 147, 188, 341, 3 (a), (b).
-On 26/6/2006: Makkal Mandram organized a Donkey protest criticizing the district administration for failure to redress the grievances of the poor. They were booked under crime number 487/06, under IPC rw 3.4 (a), rw 4 B TN Prohibition of Animal Cruelty Act, 147, 188, 124A (conspiracy against state).
-7/2/2007: The Makkal Mandram people opposed and protested against charging of parking fees in collectorate. They were arrested and released after booking under minor cases.
-21/2/2007: Eve-teasing episode. Two women activists of Makkal Mandram who were traveling in a bus were harassed by three boys using obscene gestures and remarks which led to an altercation between the activists and the eve-teasers. Though the eve-teasers were let off with some petty charges, the Makkal Mandram activists and villagers (total 61) were booked at Wallajabad police station under crime number 52/07 under IPC sections 147, 148, 341, 342, 324, 323, 307.
Annexure III: Photographs from the FFT’s visits
Makkal Mandram name board at the entrance of Nethappettai village which was to be inaugurated on 21/2/2007. Makkal Mandram members were on their way to the village when the eve-teasing incident occurred in the bus.
The Site of the 21/2/2007 altercation between Makkal Mandram members and eve-teasers in Nethappettai village.
Members of FFT meeting with the villagers at Nethappettai.
Kasiammal of Keezhakathirpur village shows her door which was broken by the police on the night of 5/4/2007.
A terrified 10 years old Amal of Keezhakathirpur village broke down while narrating the raid by the police on the night of 5/4/2007.
Women of Keezhakathirpur village narrating the harrowing police raid on the night of 5/4/2007.
FFT members talking to Mangalappadi villagers inside the hall built by the Keezhakathirpur Makkal Mandram Brick Kiln Labour Union. This was burnt down in 2004 by former brick kiln owner.
Brick kiln set up by Irular tribals who were freed from bondage and formed a society – “Keezhakathirpur Makkal Mandram Brick Kiln Labour Union” in village Keezhakathirpur.