Kaleel Rahman, Mohammed Younis, Mohammed Ishraf, Velmurugan, Saravanan and Sottaiyan. These are the names of the men that were picked up by the Tamil Nadu police, on June 1. They are suspected by the police to have resorted to violence during the anti-Sterlite protests in Tuticorin. This mere ‘suspicion’ of the police has cost these men their freedom. They are now behind the bars in Palayamkottai Central Prison. The six activists were booked under the National Security Act on June 11. This act facilitates preventive detention of a person up to a year, on grounds of mere suspicion. One must note that preventive detention was a tactic of the colonial order to supress the activities of nationalists fighting for freedom, and today it is being used by our ‘democratic’ government against the people that fight for their right to live a life free from pollution. Those who demand for clean air and water, seem to be a threat to the national security. Preventive detention has been used by various governments, ever since the transfer of power in 1947.
One may be detained under preventive detention on the following grounds: security of the State, maintenance of public order, maintenance of supplies and essential services and defence and foreign affairs security. The constitution clearly states that one can be detained under preventive detention without a trial only based on these grounds. Also, a detainee under preventive detention doesn’t enjoy any of the personal liberties granted by Articles 19 or 21 of the Indian constitution.
Former PM Jawaharlal Nehru’s government had passed a Preventive Detention Act. Later, preventive detention was allowed under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act, used (and abused) widely during the Emergency. In 1980, the Union government put in place the modern National Security Act that allowed state and the Union government to detain a person for up to 12 months. The People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) opined in 1981 that the act was passed to crush dissenting voices and targeting “political activists and trade unionists”. The NSA was recently used against Dalit activist Chandrashekhar Azad, in 2017, and he remains incarcerated.
The six activists, prior to being booked under the national security act, were already booked under a series of charges. These were the Indian Penal Code’s sections 147 (rioting), 148 (rioting, armed with deadly weapon), 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant), 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty), 436 (mischief by fire or explosive substance), 506 (II) (Criminal intimidation), and sections 3 and 4 of the Tamil Nadu Public Property (Prevention of Damages and Loss) Act. Soon after this, the state used its powers to detain the six men, using the draconian National Security act.
The State brutally suppressed the struggle of the people against the Tuticorin power plant of the Vedanta company. On May 22, 13 people were gunned down by the Tamil Nadu Police. The people were agitating for the closure of the plant, owing to the increasing pollution and health hazards caused by its copper smelting unit. The harrowing act of the police sniper, who was caught on camera, was seen literally picking up people and shooting them, as a hired assassin would have done instead of trying to neutralise the supposedly violent situation. It must not be forgotten, that this very Sterlite plant had been set up in Maharashtra in 1992, but had to shift to Tamil Nadu only after people waged a year-long struggle against its operations. It hasn’t been long since the police committed acts of violence against workers demanding higher wages in a Maruti plant in Haryana. The loyalties of the State lie not with the interests of the majority of its people, but with corporations such as Vedanta.