Modi’s India mocks international humanitarian norms by imprisoning Thirumurugan Gandhi

Join the campaign to free him!

At about 3.45 am on August 9, Thirumurugan Gandhi was arrested by the police at Bengaluru International Airport in India. The Indian newspaper ‘The Hindu’ declared that the ‘May 17 Movement’ co-ordinator had been arrested on charges of sedition for speaking at the ‘United Nations Human Rights Commission’ (UNHRC) about the police shootings at the Thoothukudi demonstrators. After being kept in isolation he was handed over to the Tamil Nadu Police. When produced in court, the Tamil Nadu magistrate S Prakash, rejected the request for 15 days remand and directed the police to release him within 24 hours. However, as soon as he stepped out he was surrounded by 20 to 30 police men and was taken into custody again!  The police proceeded to unearth old cases, and with these ‘new’ charges, tried again. One of the cases registered was with regard to his speech condemning the callous inaction of the government to save the fisherman during the 2017 Okhi storm. This time, a different magistrate, ruled that he be remanded for 15 days.  He was then taken to Puzhal prison. The following day, when his lawyers went to meet him in Puzhal prison they did not find him there. He had been transferred to Vellore prison, without anyone being informed.  Since his arrest, the authorities have been busy preparing dozens of cases to extend his incarceration. The court hearing on the 14th September will be another attempt to give legal cover to the blatantly political course of action to keep Thirumurugan Gandhi in prison.

The accusations against Thirumurugan Gandhi ranges from ‘illegally’ leading a candle-lit vigil in remembrance of the Eelam Tamils massacred by the Sri Lankan regime (with Indian support), participating in various campaigns against the destruction of the environment in Tamil Nadu like harmful mining, fracking, nuclear power stations, and campaigns against the Sterlite plant in Thoothukudi, garlanding a statue of Periyar (the social activist who started the Dravidian self-respect movement) and Ambedkar (the legendary intellectual and activist for the rights of the Dalits), making speeches in support of Palestinian rights etc, etc. The various charges that are made against him are, in fact, quite a comprehensive list of the injustices committed by the Indian state.

When arrested on the 10th August he was charged under section 124 A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). This piece of legislation was introduced when India was under the British rule. It states that ‘whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine’. The Indian State is using this piece of draconian colonial legislation in the same spirit as the British did – as a tool for the repression of legitimate political protest.

British complicity

The British involvement here is not just one of ancient history. The Thoothukudi massacre that Thirumurugan Gandhi was arrested for speaking about, has a British connection. The Sterlite copper smelting plant was run by London headquartered Vedanta Resources. The protests had been going on for over two decades. The fact that the plant had been set up in an ecologically sensitive zone and had been operating with disastrous environmental consequences was well known. Campaigns like Foil Vedanta had brought to the attention of the world that this plant has been the cause of land, water and air pollution and that the health and that the wellbeing of the people in the surrounding villages have been severely affected by its operation. But Vedanta, by virtue of being listed in the London stock exchange, having its head office in one of the most well protected places on the earth and being integrated into London’s financial centre – had the fortifications necessary to carry on. This international legitimacy combined with the support of the Indian judiciary meant that even after the Tamil Nadu government had shut it down several times, the plant continued to be operational. This is why, when the protest movement intensified in 2018 following the proposal to expand the copper smelting units, the police had the confidence to launch a murderous attack on the demonstrators.

Recent events in Europe point to the real possibility that the international balance of forces will even worsen. It is instructive to look at the so called ‘scallop Wars’. The French have started to physically obstruct the British from fishing for scallops in international waters very near to France. The French, who do not fish for Scallop at this time – to preserve the fish stocks – are justifiably angry with the English fishermen for making use of this situation to overfish. The Minister for the Environment Michael Gove is completely on the side of the British fishermen’s ‘freedoms’. All indications are that Britain, as it leaves the European Union, will use the ‘freedom’ of not having to abide by the environmental, social and humanitarian norms of the EU to try to build a new relationship with Africa and Asia.

Theresa May during her recent trip to Africa, exclaimed ‘I want to build a new partnership between the UK and our friends in Africa’ she said emphasising opening up the private sector in African countries. She went on to say that ‘by 2022, I want the UK to be the G7’s number one investor in Africa’. To do this Theresa May offered ‘the city of London makes the UK the unrivalled global hub for international investments with more than 8 trillion pounds under management’… ‘our legal system is second to none’…. ‘UK law enforcement works hand in hand with their counterparts in Africa’. Further, she offered military collaboration.  In Africa like with India the UK is looking for possibilities to rapidly increase arms sales – like their partner in crime the USA. Arms exports from the U.S. to India rose between 2008-2012 and 2013-2017 by no less than 557 percent. Donald Trump and Theresa May will be hard at work to massively improve on these numbers. As Britain leaves the EU the economic losses due to the inevitable friction for trade between the UK and the EU will energise the pro-Brexit forces to promote a wild-west entrepreneurism in Asia and Africa to compensate. In fact, when Thirumurugan Gandhi met with a high official of the German government – this person described the Britain’s strategy as an attempt to resurrect of the East India company. This, with proliferation of the city of London, private sector means there will be more Anil Agarwals (Chairman of Vedanta Resources) more Thoothukudi type massacres, more arrests under the (British built, second to none) 124-A. In the international campaign to fight for the release of Thirumurugan Gandhi – we have to be aware of the forces that we have to confront.

14 September – the UAPA case

The dozens of cases that are being prepared against Thirumurugan Gandhi are under sections, 124 A (sedition), 153 A (1) (Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony), 153 (b) (Assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty), 505 (1)(b) (publish or circulate any statement, rumour or report with intent to cause, or which is likely to cause fear or alarm to the public), 505 (1)(c) (publish or circulate any statement, rumour or report with intent to cause, or which is likely to cause  with intent to incite, or which is likely to incite, any class or community of persons to commit any offence against any other class or community) of the IPC. The hearing on the 14th September will be particularly disturbing as the case is under the under the notorious Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) of the IPC. This act allows detention without filing of a charge-sheet for up to 180 days!

Many of the charges accuse Thirumurugan Gandhi of promoting enmity between different groups of people. This is, in practice, an attempt to criminalise his ideology of Tamil nationalism. As it not possible to justify criminalising Tamil Nationalism as an idea in Tamil Nadu – the police struggle to build up a case on the actions of Thirumurugan Gandhi. But these actions, like making a speech the UNHRC, lighting a candle, garlanding the statue of a respected leader, are difficult to characterise as promoting enmity between different ethnic groups. It is also not difficult to see that the enmity between groups are created directly by those like Modi – whose Hindutva ideology openly discriminates against virtually every group that does not follow its beliefs.

The court case on the 14th September will be crucial. If he is kept in prison the international campaign will have to escalate to a different level. Normally people go to the UNHRC to speak to the world about an injustice. Here you get a case where speaking at the UNHRC itself has been deemed worthy of arrest and detention. The United Nations and the UNHRC as well as the international community must ensure that this precedent is not allowed to stand.

We request people to make a stand by getting your organisation or well-known people that you know to send a fax demanding that Thirumurugan Gandhi is released immediately.

Send a protest fax to:

President of India: fax numbers: 0091-11-23017290, 91-11-23017824

Tamil Nadu Chief Minster: fax number:  0091 – 044-25671441

 

Complaint Procedure Unit, Human Rights Council Branch

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

United Nations Office at Geneva

CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland

Fax: (41 22) 917 90 11

E-mail: CP@ohchr.org

 

Please send copies of the faxes to imrvbremen@gmail.com or fax: 0049 421 68 437 884