Chennai: The woes of Padur are not over with the closure of the tasmac shop, for which almost this entire Dalit village barely 20 km from Chennai had fought. Though the Kancheepuram district collector ordered the closure of the government liquor shop, yielding to public pressure and media glare, the local police are still out with lathis drawn.
The shocking truth here is that in the FIR registered at the Kelambakkam police station, 140 people of Padur have been listed as accused-the charge is that they indulged in rioting and damaged government property (liquor) worth Rs 1.60 lakh in that agitation on April 15. On Friday, Inspector A. Govindaraj issued a warning that mass arrests would be resorted to, unless they all obtained anticipatory bail.
“I got a call from the Inspector today afternoon telling me that he would arrest 114 persons in the FIR, who have not yet obtained anticipatory bail, unless they obtain that by Sunday. How do we arrange for anticipatory bail during the weekend? We are all poor Dalits”, said K.A.S. Sudhakar, who was among the protest-leaders. He and 17 others have obtained anticipatory bail, while eight others got released on bail after arrest-which leaves 114 Dalits ‘out in the open’.
“I am merely doing my duty”, insisted Inspector Govindaraj. “The Chengalpet magistrate has instructed us to arrest these 114 protesters", he told Deccan Chronicle, when asked why the villagers were being harassed even after the Collector ordered the closure of the tasmac shop.
Or, perhaps it is this ‘forced’ closure of the booze shop that is causing problems for the Dalit villagers from influential quarters annoyed by the protest and its ‘positive’ outcome. Seven-year-old Aakash Anandan had hogged media attention on April 19 by squatting before the tasmac shop in his school uniform and holding a placard in Tamil that read, ‘quit drinking, allow us to study’. Now his father Anandan has come under fresh attack from the ‘booze lobby’.
One Radhakrishnan, owner of the bar built adjacent to the tasmac shop has lodged a complaint with the excise commissioner alleging that Anandan had demanded five lakh rupees as ransom for allowing him to run his business and triggered the anti-tasmac protest when he refused to pay. “Anandan approached us with his demand even before we constructed the tasmac shop. We had the required permissions from the revenue officials, the tasmac and the sub-collector. Why should we encourage him? When we did not pay, he triggered that agitation and now he is using his son to make money”, Radhakrishnan was quoted saying in online media.
Shocked at the 'ransom' charge, Anandan told DC, “I have no idea who Radhakrishnan is. How can he frame false charges against me? My son had campaigned for helmets; does that mean we took money from helmet manufacturers? We fight for good causes and the anti-tasmac agitation is just that”.
A child crusader
“I would be happy to go to jail if that is for a good cause”. That was the spontaneous response from Aakaash Anandan, when DC asked him if he was not scared of police action for taking a leading role in the anti-tasmac stir in his Padur village.
The seven-year-old is already a media celebrity with several newspapers, magazines and TV channels featuring his novel protest on April 19 squatting before the tasmac shop in his school uniform and holding a placard in Tamil that said, ‘Kudiyai Vidu, Padikka Vidu’ (give up liquor, allow us to study). Following that, he met Kancheepuram district collector P. Ponniah along with the villagers to present a petition pleading for closure of the tasmac shop, which was done finally on May 15. The class three student could not have imagined that his social activism would land his family in big trouble, as his father has now been accused of demanding ransom of five lakh rupees from the bar owner for allowing him to run business. “My father is an honest man and has taught me moral values. They are making false charges against him because they have lost their liquor shop due to our agitation. This is sad”, said the brave kid.