Protest put down with brute force

Print edition : February 03, 2017

The police in action. Photo: By Special Arrangement

CPI(M) leader G. Selva was hit on the head and the wound required several stitches. Photo: By Special Arrangement

A DYFI member injured in the assault. Photo: By Special Arrangement

The Chennai police go berserk against protesting CPI(M) youth wing members.

AN anti-demonetisation protest by cadres of the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI), the youth wing of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), in Chennai on December 31 was brutally put down by the Tamil Nadu police.

The attack took place in front of an ATM of a bank at Medavakkam and left 15 cadres injured, some of them seriously. It was alleged that the policemen under the guise of dispersing protesters abused the women among the protesters verbally and physically. Senior functionaries of the CPI(M) said the Pallikaranai police arrested 14 of their cadre for “organising a peaceful protest against the demonetisation”. The police action, DYFI cadre claimed, should also be viewed from the disturbing fact that hundreds of posters in the name of the BJP, denouncing and calling the DYFI “anti-national”, appeared in and around Pallikaranai the next day.

It all started when the Medavakkam unit of the DYFI announced a protest in front of an ATM at Pallikaranai on December 31 to condemn the Narendra Modi government for the distress caused to the poor and the working class people by the November 8 demonetisation. It approached the Pallikaranai police for permission, which was denied. However, following repeated pleas, the police granted permission but with a long list of dos and don’ts.

Early on December 31, scores of cadres assembled in front of the ATM and raised slogans against Modi and the BJP government. They also distributed handbills to people on demonetisation and its failure to achieve its objectives. When cadres attempted to burn an effigy of Modi, the police prevented it. “It was not new. Since the day demonetisation was announced, the Left has been fighting it on the roads and streets,” said a DYFI member.

While the agitation was going on peacefully, a posse of policemen, led by the Pallikaranai inspector K. Natarajan, descended on the scene. Then all hell broke loose. Without any warning, the police started beating the protesting cadres with canes and sticks. “Even long rubber tubes were used,” said Deepa, one of those who sustained injuries. The protesters were pushed to the ground, kicked and beaten badly. The police hit them in the head, neck and shoulders, leaving many writhing in pain with bleeding injuries. Women cadres were abused, said Deepa. The entire area looked like a war zone.

The police also dragged some of those who organised the protest into their van, took them to the police station and herded them into a tiny lock-up. Cadres claimed that there too the police used force, with a sub inspector taking the lead.

Following the intervention of senior CPI(M) leaders, who took up the issue with higher police officials and brought it to the attention of the media, the cadres were spared further incarceration and enlarged on bail. However, cases were filed against 14 of them, including senior party functionary G. Selva, under various sections of the Indian Penal Code.

Selva, who is the CPI(M)’s Chennai Virugambakkam area secretary and member, South Chennai district secretariat, said that as a senior party member he had gone to Medavakkam on hearing of the police brutality and had not taken part in the protest. “There were also charges that the police during the protest used derogatory remarks against the women cadres. Some of them were said to have been abused and molested while they were taken in a police van to a nearby wedding hall where they were detained until late in the night. Hence, we sought an explanation from the Assistant Commissioner of Police P. Govindaraju, who was present there, and also the list of those who were arrested and the charges that were framed against them. But the officer replied using foul language,” he said. A heated argument ensued and amid that a strong posse of policemen from the Special Task Force arrived in three vans. “Before we could realise what was happening, the policemen, led by Inspector Natarajan, started beating us. Many of us suffered bleeding injuries,” he said. Selva sustained a serious head injury, besides bruises all over his body from the lathi blows. He lost consciousness and was rushed to the sub health centre nearby. A gaping wound on his head required several stitches. He was later taken to the Government Hospital where he underwent a minor surgical procedure.

The issue caught public attention, especially through social media. CPI(M) State secretary G. Ramakrishnan demanded that the policemen responsible for the attack be punished. The CPI(M), the DYFI, the Students’ Federation of India (SFI), the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) and many other likeminded and secular organisations staged agitations across the State condemning the police high-handedness. Senior party functionaries claimed that it was a planned move to muffle the voice of dissent against the Modi government. “Fascist forces have infiltrated the law-enforcing agency. It is a political compulsion for the party that is in power in the State today to show its loyalty and commitment to the Centre. What else would you derive from such an inhuman attack?” one leader said.

But there was more to the police action than just putting down a protest. The cadres claimed that they were targeted since they had taken up various social issues in Pallikaranai, which is a sprawling marsh that is in the grip of the real estate mafia and encroachers. “We are fighting against all anti-social activities here, which put the local police, who are in liaison with these mafia groups, in discomfiture. They have been waiting for this moment,” said a volunteer who has been in the forefront of struggles in the area.

The State Human Rights Commission has taken up the Medavakkam issue suo motu, while petitions have been dispatched to various other fora, including the National Commission for Women. Senior leaders of the CPI(M) met Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam and demanded action against the policemen concerned.

Strangely enough, those who staged a protest in Madurai on January 3 against this incident were also subjected to police brutality.

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