Brutal Repression on Democratic Protests Against Demonetisation

Venkatesh Athreya

THE people of Tamil Nadu have been facing a very severe agrarian crisis over the last several months. The entire state is in the grip of a drought, with the failure of both the south-west and the north-east monsoons. The refusal of the BJP government to implement the Supreme Court directive of September 30 to constitute the Cauvery Management Board has further complicated matters and the situation in the Kaveri delta districts of Thanjavur, Tiruvarur and Nagapattinam has turned grim. There has been a spate of farmers’ suicides in the state on an unprecedented scale. In just the two months of November and December 2016, over 70 farmers have committed suicide or died of shock on seeing their crops wilt and die. According to media reports, there were 10 such deaths on a single day at the end of December 2016 and again 11 deaths on a single day on January 1 this year. These tragic incidents have been daily events over the past fortnight.

Matters have been considerably worsened by the demonetisation fall-out. All sectors of the economy – industry, agriculture and services – have been badly affected. The severe cash crunch has brought life to near stand-still in the normally busy hosiery and knitwear town of Tiruppur. The same is the case across the state in all industrial clusters, with small and medium units suffering the most. The informal sector in general and working people dependent on daily earnings have been very severely hurt. No respite is in sight. The Vardah cyclone on December 12 which had a severe impact on the northern districts of the state and the city of Chennai has also added to the woes of the people.

While the people of the state have been facing a daunting situation, with massive loss of livelihoods and the crisis of the economy in both urban and rural areas, the administration in the state remains paralysed. The non-functioning of the state administration in relation to matters of welfare of the people began much earlier with the then chief minister J Jayalalithaa being admitted to the Apollo hospital on September 22, 2016. Since that time and in the weeks after the passing away of Jayalalithaa on December 5, 2016, the state administration and the ruling party in the state, the AIADMK, have taken no major steps to address the crisis facing the people.




It is in this situation that the Party and class and mass organisations led by it have been stepping up their activities in defense of the people and highlighting their problems, though the media coverage of these activities remains as minimal as before.  The state plenum of the Party held at Tirunelveli from November 12 to 14, 2016 had given a call for widest mobilisation of people to protest the demonetisation measure, highlighting its massive impact, on November 16. Since then, struggles have been conducted by various mass organisations under our leadership on this issue across the state. The plenum had also highlighted the crisis on the farm front and the state units of AIKS and AIAWU had called for mass action on December 10. This was postponed to December 28, following the death of Jayalalithaa.  A massive sit-in action was conducted on December 28 in all districts by the AIKS and AIAWU activists demanding the declaration of the entire state of Tamil Nadu as drought-hit. The agitation was deferred late in the night following the invitation from the state minister for agriculture for talks. In the talks held between AIKS and AIAWU leaders and four ministers (from the departments of revenue, food, agriculture and handlooms), all the major demands were placed, and the ministers agreed to look into all of them and take concrete steps. However, there has been little action from the state government. Condemning this inaction, the AIKS-TN president K Balakrishnan made it clear at a press conference on January 2 that struggles will be intensified, together with other kisan and agricultural workers’ organisations if concrete steps are not taken quickly.




The Party state committee met on December 26 and 27 of 2016, with Prakash Karat, CPI(M) Polit Bureau member in attendance. The political situation in the state was reviewed. The state committee resolved to intensify mass struggles, and to conduct a massive picketing programme on February 7.  The picketing programme on February 7 (which had been planned for December 20 but had to be postponed following the death of Jayalalithaa on December 5)  will be preceded by a week-long campaign on the issues of declaring the state drought-hit and providing relief, protecting the livelihoods of the people, the anti-people policies of both the BJP central government and the AIADMK government in Tamil Nadu, price rise, unemployment, the demands of the peasantry and agricultural labourers and the constituting of the Kaveri Management Board by the central government. It was also decided to strengthen efforts to pursue our independent activities and joint action with other Left forces. The meeting discussed draft notes on implementing the plenum decision to prioritise the youth and student fronts in 2017 as well as the renewal of Party membership in line with the Kolkata and Tirunelveli plenum guidelines, and took decisions in their regard.

The state committee took note of the raids conducted by the income tax authorities at both the residence of the then chief secretary to the government of Tamil Nadu, Rama Mohana Rao, and in his office in the government secretariat building. It demanded in a resolution that Rama Mohana Rao and all his accomplices in corrupt acts should be arrested, a proper investigation conducted and the illegally acquired properties confiscated and seized by the government. Recalling that Jayalalithaa had appointed Rao first as her principal secretary and later as chief secretary overlooking more senior officers, the resolution noted that the raids proved again the corrupt nature of the AIADMK regime and the ruling party-bureaucrats-big contractors nexus that has emerged in the corruption-ridden rule of the AIADMK in the last five years. At the same time, the resolution condemned the failure to inform the chief minister of the state before raiding the office of the chief secretary as it went against the cannons of federalism. The state committee demanded the passing of the Lok Ayukta in the state, rendered more urgent in the context of the massive scale of corruption that has come to light. It also urged vigilance against the attempts of the BJP to use the situation in the state following the death of Jayalalithaa to advance its political interests in a clandestine fashion. It appealed to all to come forward to preserve the traditions of secularism and social justice in Tamil Nadu and counter communal mobilisation being pushed by BJP/RSS.




The last several days have witnessed unprecedented police brutality in the state against democratic protests. On December 31, a massive protest was organised against the ills of demonetisation in front of an ATM centre in Medavakkam in Chennai city. The police from Pallikaranai police station launched a brutal lathi charge on activists of DYFI, AIDWA and CPI(M) participating in the demonstration. Fourteen DYFI activists were arrested and remanded to custody. G Selva, member of the CPI(M) South Chennai district secretariat, who had gone with some other comrades to the location where many activists were being held in custody, to inquire about the case of some activists who had been whisked away separately and were being held incommunicado, was brutally attacked and suffered severe head injuries. He had to be hospitalised and undergo surgery. Several other leading comrades from the South Chennai Party district committee as well as DYFI and AIDWA have also been injured in the police action. Many women comrades were subjected to sexual harassment and physically attacked by the police. DYFI state president Senthil and secretary Bala have demanded the arrest of Raja, the sub inspector of Pallikkaranai, for indulging in sexual harassment and violence against women activists and severe action against a number of other police personnel on the spot involved in violent acts against the demonstrators. The state secretariat of the Party has also demanded severe action along these lines against Raja and the other police personnel. A massive protest demonstration against police brutality and in defense of democratic rights was held on January 4 evening in front of the Pallikkaranai police station. Demonstrations also took place throughout the state at the same time. Several political parties and fraternal mass organisations of CPI(M), CPI and other parties as well as other civil society activists and groups have condemned the police action. Some sections of the media have also reported the events and the daily Thamizh Hindu has condemned the police brutality. The State Human Rights Commission has taken suo moto action based on media reports and sent notice to the police department concerning this blatant violation of human rights by the police. The Party will also be taking up the issue in all relevant fora including with human rights bodies.

Just as we were recovering from the shock of police assault on the Chennai demonstration, news has come in of similar brutality against comrades of AIDWA, DYFI, SFI and CPI(M) in Madurai. On January 3 in the morning, comrades from these organisations had conducted a massive demonstration in front of the Periyar bus station to protest against the police brutality unleashed against the demonstrators in Chennai on January 2 by the Pallikkaranai police, in defiance of the local police who had refused permission for the protest. The Madurai police showed their brutality, bundling men and women into vehicles using massive force and sexually harassing women comrades in the process. The protesters, including Ponnuthai, a member of the Party state committee and many district leaders of the Party and mass organisations involved in the protest were taken away and held captive in a mantap. In an unprecedented action late in the evening, the police attacked the activists in their custody with lathis causing severe injuries to many.  

The actions of the police in Chennai and Madurai bring out once again the anti-people character of the regime in the state. The Party secretariat has made it clear that the Party and the class and mass organisations will not be cowed down by such displays of brutality. Our struggle against the anti-people policies of the central and state governments will continue with greater vigour in the face of political repression.

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