Statements on the arrest of folk singer S. Kovan in Tamil Nadu

November 3, 2015



A fortnight ago, the High Court of Maharashtra had severely rapped the police officials involved in the re-arrest of political prisoner Mr. Maruti Kurwatkar on 12 September 2015 from just outside the Nagpur Central Jail main gate, when he was released from the jail. The High Court orally expressed that the behavior of the Gadchiroli police under the orders of SP Sandip Patil was no less than criminal. It further observed orally that whatever that was shown in the movie Court was true as can be seen from the illegal/lawless behavior of the police. As this is being written, many have already commented that Balladeer Kovan’s dramatic abduction in the wee hours of 30 October 2015 by the Cyber Crime Branch of the Tamil Nadu police from his residence was more akin to what was depicted in the movie Court. As reported in the media, the Police abducted Kovan from his house in Woraiyur near Trichy at 2.30 am. His lawyer Gym Milton pointed out that the arrest was in violation of a citizen’s basic rights. He further pointed out that Kovan “was beaten up and pulled into the police vehicle forcefully. He was not given a reason for the dramatic arrest. Police refused to divulge information about his remand or exact charges with us, which amounts to denial of legal rights”. Even his lawyer Gym Milton was allowed to meet Kovan only after the intervention of the Madras High Court as it asked the public prosecutor to follow due procedure and ensure Kovan’s basic rights. Gym Milton, who met Kovan on Friday evening, said he has been charged under sections 124A (sedition), 153A (promoting enmity between different social groups and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony) and 505/1 (criminal intimidation, insult and annoyance) of the IPC. Kovan has been remanded in police custody for 15 days. Advocate Milton also reported that the police have not even spared the owner of — the website where Kovan’s songs were uploaded.

Kovan has been with the cultural organization Makkal Kalai Ilakkiya Kazhagam (People’s Art and Literary Association), a 30-year-old movement working for the oppressed and discriminated sections of the society. Here is someone who has been consistently writing, composing and singing songs against the anti-people policies of the government in Tamil Nadu as well as the Central Government. His two latest songs—the lyrics of which he had penned in the last few months–‘Moodu Tasmac Moodu’and ‘Ooruku oru Sarayam’ are strong critiques of alcoholism and the state policy on liquor sale.

The rising tide of fascism and the ruthless face of a penal state that criminalizes every form of dissent go hand in hand. When the leaders of BJP, its affiliate organizations let alone the Prime Minister of India goes around making statements of disaffection and utmost hatred towards the dalits, Muslims, women in particular and the oppressed and discriminated in general the law enforcers become the henchmen for them. Whereas a people’s balladeer writes songs and unmasks the real anti-people nature of the governments of the day who are only bothered about serving the interests of the business class and the money bags he becomes an anti-national; his songs of the dark times get seditious! Kovan told his lawyer that he was interrogated for over five hours on charges of instigating people against the government and the chief minister. One is forced to revisit the whole wisdom that propels forward a democratic society.

Why is that dissent or criticism of the establishment become unacceptable, anti-national/seditious for a state that claims to be the largest democracy? If Legislature, Judiciary, Executive and the Media are considered the four pillars that ensure that democracy is for, by and of the people then dissent is the fifth pillar that mirrors the aspirations of the people as a response to the policies envisioned by the legislature and interpreted by the judiciary and finally executed by the enforcers of law. Kovan was indeed doing a service to the people who are primary in any polity and through that ensuring the well being of society and not the least the country. But the travesty of the times is that Kovan has transgressed the line of control that a penal state has drawn between itself and the people it lords over. The breach of a line of control that allows the people to see things as it is than in its mystified world. What Kovan has critiqued through his songs is an excise policy—the largest money minting exercise for a parasitic state—since 1947. When the criticism is against the chief minister and her close aide Sashikala who owns the lion’s share of the liquor market then it becomes the tale of a larger truth that has been the case of Indian since 1947.

Writers are protesting against growing intolerance. Artists are on the streets against the growing climate of hate politics. Women are enraged on the growing instances of violence on them. Dalits and Muslims are incensed by the growing premeditated violence on them. More and more of the peasantry are committing suicide as they unable to get out of the debt trap and there is hardly any support from the state to ensure a fair price for their produce. Today we are at a juncture when the demands of a system moving through spirals of crisis after crisis of an economic order that has international ramifications has forced on us a penal state that can criminalize even our fundamental right to life as well! The only way out is stand united to put an end to all forms of arbitrariness, authoritarianism, bigotry, lawlessness through a united struggle of all the people who stand for a world free of all forms of exploitation and oppression. The defence of balladeer Kovan in this regard is a significant step that strengthens our struggle for a better future. We demand the unconditional release of people’s balladeer Kovan!


Statement from PUDR

In a bizarre move, the Tamil Nadu police arrested S. Kovan, a well-known folk singer on charges of sedition (S. 124-A), for promoting enmity between communities (S. 153-A) and criminal intimidation (S. 505/1) of the IPC. According to news reports, Kovan was picked up at 2.30 a.m. from his house in Trichi on 30th October 2015 for penning allegedly seditious lyrics in two of his songs, Moodu Tasmac Moodu and Ooruku oru Sarayam. Koval was whisked away to Chennai and his lawyer was not allowed to meet him the whole day.

Koval, an activist of Makkal Kalai Ilikiya Kazhagan, the cultural wing of the People’s Art and Literary Association, has always been associated with protest music which has dealt with numerous social and political issues, such as the anti-liquor movement, price rise or the prohibitive costs of education. The success of his music is apparent from the fact that both songs, which were originally uploaded on a Tamil website, have enjoyed immense popularity and are said to have gone ‘viral’ over social media. A top police official reportedly told the media that Koval “provoked” people against the state by uploading videos with ‘highly defamatory’ content against the government, the chief minister as well as the opposition leader. In another report, the police have admitted that they were under pressure to take action against the popularity of the anti-government and anti-ruling class lyrics, ahead of the assembly elections.

The action of the Tamil Nadu police is self-defamatory as it shows the government’s utter lack of credibility in being unable to withstand popular dissent against its patronage of the liquor trade in the state. Not for nothing, one of Koval’s lyrics pertinently points out that ‘Midas’, a distillery company run by the Chief Minister’s aide, Sasikala, is the source of people’s ruin. According to the NCRB data, more than 1500 people died between 2014 and 2015 on account of consumption of spurious liquor.

Pressing charges of sedition against Koval is not only undemocratic but also ridiculous as it once again exposes how our ruling elite have transformed from democratically elected people’s representatives into petrified megalomaniacs who freely use a repressive colonial penal clause, instead of being forthright and engaging with issues of popular dissent. PUDR demands the immediate and unconditional release of Koval and would like to remind the government and the administration that Art. 19 of our Constitution extends the right to freedom of speech, action and thought to all citizens. To counter it by using the sedition clause is an unprincipled act which invites the strongest censure and condemnation.

Megha Bahl, Sharmila Purkayastha

Secretaries, PUDR