Pre-planned and politically motivated'

Print edition : July 31, 1999

PUTHIYA THAMIZHAGAM president Dr. K. Krishnaswamy described the police action in Tirunelveli on July 23 as "pre-planned and politically motivated." In a telephone interview to S. Viswanathan from his hotel room in Tirunelveli around mid night on July 24, he said in a voice choked with emotion that it was a wicked attack on a group of people who were all along peaceful. Excerpts:

Could you explain how it all happened?

We had obtained permission from the district administration to take out a procession, stage a demonstration before the Tirunelveli Collectorate and present a petition to the District Collector on Friday (July 23) on issues relating to a dispute between t he workers and the management of the Manjolai estate over the payment of wages and our demand for the release of about 650 estate workers who were arrested during a demonstration more than a month ago. When the head of the procession reached a point abou t 100 metres before the Collectorate gate, the police stopped the processionists. We, the leaders of the participating parties, who included Leader of the Opposition in the State Assembly (Tamil Maanila Congress leader S. Balakrishnan) and four other TMC MLAs, besides me, were in an open jeep. The jeep was stopped. We told the police officer that we wanted to present a petition to the Collector. Instead of allowing us to proceed, they (the police) began arguing with us. People raised slogans demanding t hat we be permitted to go into the Collectorate. Suddenly, the policemen started attacking them. Even onlookers were attacked. The police pelted them with stones. Simultaneously they resorted to a lathi-charge and to shooting in the air. Lathi-charge is generally resorted to in order to disperse a crowd. But there was no way for the crowd to disperse except to run down a slope towards the river. In the face of this three-pronged attack by policemen, people started running to the river. Policemen chased them and beat whoever they could reach. They chased the people into the river and beat them up on their heads. If their intention was only to disperse the crowd, why did they beat up with lathis people who were dispersing? The police also threw stones at the leaders in the jeep. A stone hit the driver, and he lost his balance. After driving the jeep upto some distance, he abandoned it and disappeared in the crowd.

What, in your perspective, was the reason for the police action of such severity?

It appears that the brutal police action was taken on the instruction from people at top levels. Perhaps they wanted to create a scene that would be to their advantage politically. Is it fair to chase people into the river and beat them repeatedly so tha t they could not escape? All the victims have suffered head injuries. It appears that many persons were beaten to death and thrown into the river.

The Chief Minister has said that the crowd attempted to enter the Collectorate, defying the police barricade, and that started the trouble.

It was not so. There was no untoward incident all through the procession. No single stone was thrown. The demonstration was entirely peaceful. There was no violence from the processionists' side.

How then could it have happened?

A person who is not able to tolerate our (Puthiya Thamizhagam's) growth, particularly in the southern districts, has been instrumental in letting loose this reign of terror on innocent people. It was a premeditated and politically motivated attack.

What are your demands now?

What has happened is similar to Jallianwallabagh. It is a deliberate attack on a trapped people. The Chief Minister should constitute a commission of inquiry headed by a sitting judge of the Supreme Court, and he should step down. If our charges against the police are proved by the commission, the Chief Minister should bow out of politics and public life. He has no moral right to hold the post any more. It is learnt that the police are even putting pressure on the fire service to discontinue their searc h for bodies in the river. I am afraid the postmortem on the bodies is being done in haste, leaving room for manipulation.

The Chief Minister has said that whenever a solution was sought to be found to end the labour dispute in the Manjolai estate, "the person" who instigated the workers scuttled it. What is your comment?

It is the Government which is, instead of taking affirmative action, interfering in the dispute between the workers and management in an unhelpful way and putting all sorts of hurdles.

The Chief Minister claims that the workers arrested in June were offered to be released on personal bail but they refused to go out on bail without their leader's permission....

The workers demand that the cases against them be withdrawn and that they be released unconditionally. What offence did they commit except for demonstrating in front of the Collectorate (in the first week of June) demanding wages? The arrested workers, m any of them women, have been charged with causing damage to public property.

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