CHENNAI: Wednesday was a day of an unusual coincidence. Around the time JNU student union president Kanhaiya Kumar - arrested on sedition charges - was granted an interim bail by the Delhi HC, back in Chennai, another person arrested for a similar ‘anti-national’ activity too walked out on bail.
“Everyone is fuming against me burning the flag. But, no one bothered to know why,” said Dhilipan Mahendran, the 24-year-old son of a fisherman.
He was arrested by the Chennai city police on February 1 after pictures of him burning the national flag went viral in Facebook. He was blindfolded and his right arm was broken while he was in police custody before he was sent to prison.
In his speech, he strongly contended that people are soaking themselves with patriotism, while not bothering about fellow human beings.
Books on and by Periyar are strewn in his residence at Royapettah - a makeshift portion on the terrace of a three-storey residential building with a thatched roof over it. With his right arm still under cast, Dhilipan who proclaims himself to be a voracious reader recalled the sequence of events.
“From the Lankan issue, arrest of Tamil fishermen to the Cauvery, methane extraction, and Kudankulam to the recent GAIL issue, the Centre’s stand has never been in the best interests of Tamil nadu and its people,” he says. “That is why I burnt the flag,” Dhilipan says, “out of anguish.”
When pointed out that these issues have been in the realm for a long time now and why he chose to react then, Dhilipan had a ready reply. January 29, the day he posted the pictures on Facebook happened to be the anniversary of K Muthukumar, a Tamil journalist who self-immolated in front of Shastri Bhavan, which houses most of the Central government offices, in Chennai in 2009.
He had posted the same in his Facebook too. However, only the pictures of him burning the national flag went viral painting him as an an anti-national. After posting the pictures, Dhilipan says he went for volunteering work for those affected by floods. “I was able to source materials through Facebook for relief work,” he says.
A first-generation graduate in his family, Dhilipan moved to the city from Nagapattinam four years ago after completing BCA and was working at a private firm here as a systems operator. His father, Mathivanan repairs fishing boats at Nagapattinam. He says he was inspired by his grandfather who spoke to him about Periyar while growing up and joined the Thanthai Periyar Dravida Kazhagam (TPDK) after he quit his job A few months ago. Jail is not new to me, Dhilipan says. Four months ago, Dhilipan was arrested for pelting waste at the US embassy condemning their stand over the Lankan issue. But what was new to me was the way a person from the oppressed class is treated. After his arrest, Dhilipan was shown pictures of a child saluting the flag and given lectures on patriotism by the police officers.
“Since I am from one (oppressed class), they (police) broke my hand. Would they dare to do the same for offenders from the upper echelons of the society?” Dhilipan said, citing examples of politicians and film stars arrested for various degrees of crimes, who, according to him, have caused more disrespect to the nation than he did.