‘Poll Sop’: Activists as TN CM Drops Cases Against CAA Protesters

1,500 cases registered against anti-CAA protesters and 10 lakh cases against lockdown violators will be dropped.

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India
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Over 1,200 people gathered at Valluvar Kottam, Chennai on Thursday to protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act and National Register of Citizens exercise.
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With Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu just around the corner, Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami has decided to drop cases filed against those who violated the COVID-19 lockdown and those who protested against the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA). While the move was widely welcomed, activists across the state have called it an election sop.

“Probably if we had an election every year, we would be able to protest and this would actually become a democracy,” laughed 21-year-old Sumaiya* (name changed) who had participated in the anti-CAA protests at Washermanpet in Chennai in 2020.

As per the chief minister’s 19 February announcement, a total of 1,500 cases registered against anti-CAA protesters and 10 lakh cases against lockdown violators will be dropped.

The Quint spoke to several protesters across the state who said that while this is a huge relief, it does not make up for the harassment they had faced when the cases were filed. The government needs to acknowledge that “excessive” action was taken, they said.

CM Reaches Out, Police Ready for Compromise

The decision to drop cases filed against anti-CAA protesters comes days after the Tamil Nadu CM had addressed a gathering of the Muslim voters in Tiruppur.

In an attempt to diffuse tensions in the minority community he asked them not to ‘fear’ the AIADMK-BJP alliance and said, “An alliance is different and ideology is different. Nobody has to fear that they will be affected because of our alliance. We need your support for this rule to continue.”

A senior police official on condition of anonymity told The Quint, “Most cases will be withdrawn because elections are coming up soon. This is just one of the many sops given to people.”

Activists were clearer while describing what the sops mean.

“Both filing and withdrawal of FIRs are clearly political.”
Nityanand Jayaraman, Activist

“Anything a political party of any hue says a few months before elections has to be taken as a strategy for wooing votes. It is good that a lot of cases are being dropped, but at the same time, there is a whole grey area when it comes to incidents of violence,” said singer TM Krishna.

‘Convenient’ Poll Tactics

As the CM clarified that some cases will not be withdrawn, activists have decried his ‘dishonesty’ in the poll promise.

Cases against those booked under serious offences including disrupting the duty of police personnel will not be withdrawn. Mahesh Kumar Aggarwal, Commissioner of Police, Chennai told The Quint, “Cases that were filed as preventive arrests or against those who staged demonstrations without permission will be dropped. However, some cases where people indulged in violence will be treated as serious offences.” He clarified that most violations of lockdown rules will be ignored.

File photo of protests in Chennai when  20,000 people marched along the Walajah road on Wednesday, near the Secretariat, demanding that the Tamil Nadu Assembly pass a resolution against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC).
File photo of protests in Chennai when 20,000 people marched along the Walajah road on Wednesday, near the Secretariat, demanding that the Tamil Nadu Assembly pass a resolution against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC).
(Photo: The Quint)

A senior police officer said that out of 10,000 cases registered in Tirupathur during the lockdown, only 10 or more cases may account for serious offences. However, in the case of FIRs filed against those who had participated in anti-CAA protests, there will be a marginal number of cases that will be investigated, the Commissioner of Police, Chennai said.

A senior police officer also said that a few of the cases where policemen were abused or manhandled will not be dropped, like in the case of Washermanpet. In February 2020, an anti-CAA protest turned violent in the area, which was referred to as Chennai’s Shaheen Bagh, where four police personnel and several protesters were injured in stone pelting, that resulted in the police resorting to lathi charge.

“We are very normal people and filing cases on us can affect our future. We protested for our birthright, then we fought for our right to protest,” said Nadim* (name changed), who was part of the 33-day protest at Washermanpet. Abdul* (name changed) said he was amused to read the statement, which said cases against people who had ‘obstructed the police from discharging their duties’ will not be withdrawn, as “almost every FIR has this section included.”

“The police on the ground has been trained to beat up people. They should be actually trained to let people enjoy their rights of being citizens. There is always excessive force so unless the fundamental issue is addressed, it becomes a very slippery notion to understand,” added TM Krishna.

Deeper Understanding of Protests Sought

Violence which erupted in Washermanpet, late on Friday, 14 February 2020, led to a Shaheen Bagh-like sit-in protest in Chennai.
Violence which erupted in Washermanpet, late on Friday, 14 February 2020, led to a Shaheen Bagh-like sit-in protest in Chennai.
(Photo: Smitha TK/The Quint)

Several protesters also pointed out that ‘the practice of thwarting protests and silencing dissent has to be addressed.’

“Police pick up organisers and prominent faces in a protest and subject them to such pressure that it stops them from organising further protests,” Chennai-based advocate Gayathri said.

Kolams <em>(rangoli) </em>were drawn outside people’s houses with anti-CAA slogans, on Sunday, 29 December.
Kolams (rangoli) were drawn outside people’s houses with anti-CAA slogans, on Sunday, 29 December.
(Photo: The Quint)
“Whichever government is elected to power should look into the practices of the Section 41 of the Madras Police Act, which is being abused by the police.”
Gayathri, Advocate
Protesters drawing kolams <em>(rangoli) </em>outside people’s houses with anti-CAA slogans, shot on Sunday, 29 December.
Protesters drawing kolams (rangoli) outside people’s houses with anti-CAA slogans, shot on Sunday, 29 December.
(Photo: The Quint)
Eight people, including five women, were detained briefly by Chennai police on Sunday, 29 December, for drawing <em>kolam</em> <em>(rangoli) </em>outside people’s houses with anti-CAA slogans.
Eight people, including five women, were detained briefly by Chennai police on Sunday, 29 December, for drawing kolam (rangoli) outside people’s houses with anti-CAA slogans.
(Photo: The Quint)
If there is a law and order situation, Section 41 of the Madras City Police Act, 1888 (Madras Act III of 1888) authorises the Commissioner to prohibit protests and citizens need to seek prior permission to hold protests.     

“The very act of participation is seen as radicalisation. The state is unable to take criticism, gets violent and offended. Democracy is a culture that has to celebrate tolerance for different points of view,” Nityanand opined.

“Protesting must be made normal in a democracy,” a protester appealed.

Some activists were, however, more relieved than the others.

Twenty-one-year-old Rahul from Chennai said, “Yes, it is a huge relief because now I can apply for my VISA. However, had this case gone to court, it would have been quashed anyway as there is no merit in the case.”

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