The arrest of revolutionary singer Kovan of PALA: Increasing suppression of free speech and growing repressive measures on leftwing organizations in Tamil Nadu
The revolutionary singer Kovan, from well-known active left-wing organization People’s Art and Literary Association (PALA), in Tamil Nadu was arrested by the Chennai city crime branch police at 02.30 a.m. on 30th October 2015 at his house for singing songs against Chief Minister Jayalalithaa. He had been charged under section 124A (sedition), 143 (attempt to create enmity between social groups),and 502/1 (sale of printed or engraved substance containing defamatory matter). In the wee hours of 30th October, a special squad of ten policemen in civil dresses swooped into his house and dragged him out of his house, made him sit in a police van and sped away.
Until the habeas corpus case was filed in Madras high court on the same day, his whereabouts were not revealed by the police. It was only after filing the case that PALA comrades were allowed to see Kovan. The honourable high courts and apex court have been trying to protect the rulers of the state and central government. In Kovan’s case too, the Madras High Court has not violated this untold law of protecting the state’s repressive machinery by dismissing the habeas corpus petition filed by his friend. By doing so, the court has shown its allegiance to the chief minister of Tamil Nadu, Jayalalithaa, and has told the people of Tamil Nadu that justice is not for the thousands of people whose families have been ruined by the Tasmac (The Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation).
However, various progressive organizations and parties from Tamil Nadu ha conducted a lot of protests against the arrest of Kovan and demanded the state government to release him and withdraw the charges levelled against him despite the ruthless attacks by the police (He was released on bail on November 17th).
The arrest of Kovan is a continuation of a larger trend of suppressing alternate voices and imposing Hindutva ideologies on all walks of life by the Indian state. For speaking against the RSS Hindutva forces, the intellectuals Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare were brutally murdered. The Kannada writer MM Kalburgi was gunned down by the rightwing people for writing against the caste system and the atrocities of Hindutva groups. Now comrade Kovan was arrested for singing songs against the liquor which is supplied by the Tamil Nadu government through Tasmac.
The two songs: (i) “Moodu Tasmac iMoodu (Shut Down TASMAC!)” and (ii) “oothikoduthauthami... (The lady who served liquor makes merry in Poes Garden)” are said to have defamed Jayalalithaa, for which he has been charged under ‘sedition’. If a person sings songs to make the people aware of the ravage caused by liquor which is benevolently served by the government itself, he gets arrested for sedition. In the growing list of ‘seditious’ acts – drawing cartoons, posting on Facebook, etc – now singing songs has also been added as a heinous crime!
Kovan, born in a musical family, was encouraged by both his father and mother to sing from childhood itself. Later on, Kovan started to sing revolutionary songs, openly exposing BJP government’s ideology of saffronizing the nation, privatization in education, futility of electoral politics, recolonizing the nation, the dangers of growing capitalism, etc. It is no exaggeration to say that his songs have politicized thousands of working class people for more than two decades. Not to mention, his songs have also made the rulers afraid of their wide appeal among people. Two of his songs which were composed during the anti-liquor movement and publicized by People’s Power organization have got unexpected wide reach, to the extent of making people download them as their mobile ringtones. This in fact has made the ruling ADMK party leader and the chief minister, Jayalalithaa, afraid of losing her vote bank. Justice Kumaraswamy’s verdict of acquitting her from the 18 years old Disproportionate Assets case has already ruined her vote bank considerably.
The movement against state owned liquor shops was conducted in Tamil Nadu in two different ways: one was led by late Sasi Perumal, a social worker, and another one was by the organization, Makkal Adhikaram (People’s Power). The anti-liquor movement got widespread support and became stronger after Sasi Perumal died tragically while standing on a mobile tower. Sasi Perumal and his people protested against liquor by submitting petitions and organizing meetings. On the other side, People’s Power did not trust the government to close the liquor shops, as the shops are run by the government and it is planning to increase the revenue by opening more shops on the highways and other places. Hence, the organization took the decision of closing the shops themselves with the support of people and they were able to close nearly ten shops with the overwhelming support from people.
In 2002-2003, the income from TASMAC to Tamil Nadu government was Rs. 2,828 crores. Whereas, in 2014-2015 the income from TASMAC was Rs. 26,295 crores. Such a drastic increase in income was possible only by opening more state owned liquor shops. Not to mention, the freebies such as grinders, mixers, fans, laptops, etc., were being given to the people mainly with the income from TASMAC. It is said that Rs. 30,000 crores has been fixed as a target by the government for the present fiscal year, for which the district collectors and TASMAC officers have been working hard to achieve the target. In 2013, the state government announced that 6835 liquor shops were owned by the government. Surprisingly, it is more than the state owned ration shops. Last August, an NGO named Mahasool Trust came out with sample statistics which say that in Tamil Nadu 1,320,000 men have the habit of consuming liquor. Out of this, 53 percentage of men consume liquor every day. And of these men, 64 percentage of them beat their wives and children. It is also said that there are a lot of young women who are becoming widows because of liquor. In a village named Kacchirayanatham, in Cuddalore district, there are 105 young widows, who are left with small children to take care of.
We live in a period where Hindu fundamentalism, recolonization, capitalism, state violence and others are quite carefully constructed against Dalits and minorities. In this well-planned war against progressive voices, Kovan’s arrest should not been seen in isolation. It is the continuation of the larger agenda of suppressing alternate voices by the RSS BJP government. As the British imperialist government used opium to subjugate Chinese people, the Tamil Nadu government is using liquor to subjugate people in this recolonization period. Quite ironically, the movie ‘Court’ has been nominated by the state for the Oscar award, yet a character like Narayan Kamble, Kovan, has been arrested for singing songs to shut down liquor shops. This is sheer suppression of free speech and freedom om expression in the name of ‘sedition’ by the state. As PALA’s press-release says: “We will not be cowed down by this oppression. The songs of PALA will continue to reverberate. We call upon all democratic forces to fight these fascist oppression by spreading this message and the songs,” it is the need of the hour to fight against this fascist oppression of curtailing fundamental rights ensured by the constitution.
Kovan’s two anti-liquor songs with subtitles:
‘Shut Down Tasmac’ song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oo1D07qIZo4
Boopathi P is a Ph.D research scholar in EFL University (EFLU).