Chennai: The Tasmac shop in the residents’ colony of Padur on OMR has been shut by District Collector P. Ponniah but the warriors who fought for it aren’t smiling. They have been able to rid their place of all those booze crates but the police FIR listing out 140 of their young and old, men and women, continues to glare menacingly at them.
“Thank you for writing about our agitation and helping in getting the Collector to order its closure. But what about the police cases? We still live in fear of being picked up anytime”, says Ms Tara Sudhakar, a homemaker in her late 20s. She is among the many women figuring in the fat FIR resting on the desk of Inspector A. Pandiaraj at the nearby Kelambakkam police station.
Tara was one of the leaders in the Padur revolt against the tasmac decision to re-locate its shop from the main road in the closely populated interior in pursuance of the Supreme Court ordering closure of liquor shops within 500 metres of highways. The tasmac strategy of re-locating such shops that fell in the ‘banned’ terrain has been under severe attack from the residents in several places across Tamil Nadu-the agitations often turning violent as the protesters destroyed the booze stocks and even set the shops afire.
The Padur protest began on April 14, the Tamil New Year Day and went on for a whole month before Collector Ponniah’s closure order brought the curtains down on what had become a very distressing experience for the Dalit-dominated village. Police had used lathis to drive away protesters on the first day and detained several people, including women, in the station.
Worse still, teenagers were detained in the station through that night to force them to reveal the names of the agitators who had gone underground after the police lathi-charge. Inspector Pandiaraj was finally ‘successful’ in getting those names and prepared his FIR of 140 names that had several 15-year-olds. His oldest ‘accused’ is 60.
Now that the Collector has obliged the villagers and ordered the closure of the tasmac shop, would he be kind enough to close his FIR, DC asked Inspector Pandiaraj. “No, no. I can’t do that. Law does not permit that. I have instructions from my higher-ups to file charge sheets against at least 70 per cent of those listed in the FIR. The protesters had damaged property (read booze) worth Rs 1.60 lakh”, replied the police officer.
“This is a clear case of human rights violation and we must move the court to get this FIR quashed”, said noted rights lawyer Ms Sudha Ramalingam, pointing out that the Padur punishment “is traumatic and severe”, considering there have been several such protests across the state ever since tasmac resorted to re-locating its shops from the highways to the thickly populated interior areas.