By Peter Boyle
Since 2011, a Remembrance Day commemoration of the 2009 massacre of Tamil liberation fighters and their famiies in Sr Lanka has been held in Chennai's Marina Beach in the form of a mass candle-light vigil. But this year, the police violently dispersed the crowd and arrested several leading Tamil human rights activists, including Thirumurugan Gandhi , Daison Jose , Ilamaran and Arun.
Thirumurugan is an internationally respected human rights activists and has strongly championed the democratic aspirations of Eelam Tamils, Palestinians, Kurds , Kashmiris, Western Saharans and Sikhs in local and international forums. He has appeared before the Geneva human rights sessions of the United Nations for the past three years and represented Tamil civil society in the Permanent People’s Tribunal for Sri Lanka in Dublin and Ireland in 2010 and 2013.
Thirumurugan and the other activists have been jailed, denied bail and charged with a number of spurious "criminal offences" under anti-democratic laws including the infamous "Goondas Act" (The Tamil Nadu Prevention of Dangerous Activities of Bootleggers, Drug Offenders, Forest Offenders, Goondas, Immoral Traffic Offenders, Slum Grabbers and Video Pirates Act, 1982), a law which seriously erodes civil rights under the pretence of attacking gangsterism.
"This latest attack is part of a crackdown on the May 17 Movement, a growing mass movement of youth in Tamil Nadu that have forsaken electoral politics and taken to the streets in defence of human rights and the rights of urban poor, poor farmers and fisherfolk," Selvakumar Perumal, a May 17 Movement activist told Green Left Weekly.
"In January, this movement successfully led a mass struggle to prevent the right-wing and Hindu fundamentalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) central government from banning the traditional local Jallikattu bull race.
"The BJP government tried to ban this local tradition under the pretence of stopping animal cruelty when, in reality, Jallikattu helped the poor farmers maintain and keep alive their stud bulls, hence preserving native cattle breeds.
"This was just one more attack from the BJP government against the poor. It is also trying to dismantle the essential subsidy system which has been in place since India won its independence. The poor people depend on these subsidies to survive but the Indian government has promised to dsimantle these subsidies, in stages, in the name of so-called 'free trade'.
"However, the May 17 Movement led a successful mass struggle against the attack on Jallikattu, in the face of police violence."
Selvakumar added that a weakened Tamil Nadu government has been increasingly been used by Narendra Modi's BJP government to attack the poor and the mass social movement that has arisen in their defence.
"The BJP aspires to take over Tamil Nadu in the next state elections and movements like May 17 Movement stand in their way."
[An online petition calling for the release of the Tamil Nadu human rights activists can be signed here.]