The recent incident of two AIADMK functionaries burning a 14-year-old girl to death in the Villupuram district of Tamil Nadu has reminded people of the gruesome arson attack carried out by cadres of the ruling party in Dharmapuri district around 20 years ago, killing 3 women.
In 2000, a special court convicted the then Chief Minister and AIADMK general secretary J Jayalalithaa on the charges of corruption and misuse of power in the Pleasant Stay hotel case. Jayalalithaa was sentenced to one year of rigorous imprisonment.
The judgment irked AIADMK cadres to set fire to a college bus, on which students of the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University had come to Dharmapuri for a study tour. Three female students, namely Kokilavani, Gayathri and Hemalatha were killed on February 2.
In February 2007, the Salem court awarded capital punishment to three AIADMK functionaries, who had set the bus ablaze. Both Madras High Court and the Supreme Court upheld the judgement. However, during the hearing of a review petition, the Supreme Court commuted the capital punishment to life imprisonment in 2016.
In February 2018, on account of AIADMK founder and former Chief Minister MG Ramachandran’s birth centenary, the state announced the release of long-term prisoners, including the convicts. Though the Governor initially hesitated to give his consent to the decision, he later did so.
All these events have an eerie connection. These had happened in February, which has a special place in AIADMK’s calendar since Jayalalithaa was born in the month. Ironically, the state government, this year, announced that February 24 — the birthday anniversary of Jayalalithaa — would be observed hereafter as ‘State Girl Child Protection Day’.
But has the government been acting accordingly? The answer seems to be ‘no’. If we look at the last four years of the current regime, the government’s handling of cases of violence against women has been shoddy — be it the Pollachi sexual assault case or a similar one in Nagercoil recently.
According to news reports, some or the other AIADMK men had allegedly been involved in both the cases. If they were just members, the party expelled them immediately. However, it has been hesitant to do so if they were key functionaries.
“When you have a corrupt party and government what more you can expect? They try to save their coterie,” says advocate BS Ajeetha. The party observes such days to show that it is concerned about the welfare of the people and, in turn, use women as vote banks, she says. It does all these just for the sake of it and delivers nothing. If the leaders are bad, the rank and file will also be the same, says Ajeetha.
CR Saraswathi, who was earlier in the AIADMK, and currently a propaganda secretary in the Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam concurs with Ajeetha. She too says the present regime is not ensuring the safety of women.
“The Villupuram girl’s case is not the first one. In the last four years, we lost Anitha to NEET. We lost Subhasree to banner. We lost Snowlin to Thoothukudi police firing. The courts must give capital punishments to the perpetrators involved in atrocities against women,” says Saraswathi. “Besides expelling cadres, the leadership must take stringent actions.”
According to K Balabharathi, former MLA from Dindigul and CPI(M) leader says the Villupuram incident mirrors the party’s condition. “One of the perpetrators was a former councillor. The party has such anti-social elements that entered politics to gain power. They did not come with a motive to serve the people,” she says.
When Jayalalithaa was in power, she had ensured a fair trial in the bus-burning case, says Balabharathi. “But the current Chief Minister released the convicts on humanitarian grounds. Observing a day for the safety of girl children is nothing but cheating the people. It’s the time for the party to self-introspect,” she says.
A female legislator from the AIADMK tells The Federal atrocities against women on any form is condemnable and punishable. “These kinds of activities will definitely affect the party’s image. But as a woman, I hope that the Chief Minister will take strict actions against the perpetrators,” she says.