SALEM: A few years ago, 23-year-old Valarmathi was felicitated by the then Salem city commissioner of police for her electric speech that left the audience spellbound. Little would have she imagined that come 2017, it would be the same oratorical skills that would land her behind the bars. The difference between then and now lies in the context.
From a promising teenager, she transformed into a fiery orator the police deemed a threat to the society, fit enough to be booked under the Goondas Act and confined to a jail cell. Valarmathi first grabbed headlines when she was detained by the police when she was en route to Neduvasal to throw her lot with the farmers, protesting a proposed ONGC project to extract hydrocarbon.
The over a month-long detention did not dampen her spirits and she continued mobilising support against the project. On July 12, she was arrested along with an accomplice for allegedly fomenting trouble by distributing pamphlets to students. Her earlier tryst with law ensured that the police had reasons enough to pitch for her detention, which the administration readily nodded to.
Coming from a middle-class Vanniyar community, Valarmathi’s father Mathaiyan (54) was himself a CPI (ML) activist during his youth. Her mother Kamala (52), a farmer, too dabbled in politics, becoming a ward member and even throwing her hat in the hustings as an independent candidate. The family resides at Veeranam in the city, known for its own brand of fiery communism. Little wonder then that activism and the urge to uplift the lot of the marginalised rubbed off on her.
Valarmathi’s brother Jeevanandham, a powerloom owner, recalls her as a bright student with a penchant for public speaking. “She inherited the skill of oration from my father. She won over 50 prizes in elocution competitions from classes VII to XII,” he said. It was after one such competition that the then Salem city police commissioner Sunil Kumar Singh awarded her. Her skills were felicitated by former collector Mathivanan and former minister Veerapandi S Arumugam as well.
Her first tryst with law came when she was a BSc (Agriculture) student at the Annamalai University. Participating in a protest urging the government to give scholarships to the meritorious students, she incurred the wrath of the police, getting a case slapped on her in the bargain. “Ever since then, police have been targeting her with a slew of cases,” her brother adds.
No less fiery is Valarmathi’s mother, who demands that the police drop charges against her daughter. Kamala says, “Farming is the backbone of our country. The State and the Central governments are mute spectators to the farmers’ protest for livelihood. If a protest is organised here for the same cause, I myself would participate. Mobilising students for such protests is normal at a young age. However, the police are branding her as a terrorist, a Maoist. This is a blatant attempt to make people fear the system.”
“Ever since the detention, neighbours have stopped talking to us. However, we are not going to wilt under pressure. We have strong ties with communism and we will face everything that comes our way. This is the first time in the history of the State that a student has been detained under the Goondas Act,” Mathaiyan said.
“The police, especially the Q Branch, are spreading rumours. It all began the day she protested in Annamalai University. Over 40 police personnel arrested her and since then, we have been facing problems. We ordinary people allow our children to participate in protest for a good cause and the police want to suppress the voice of student community by threatening us like this,” he added.
Speaking to Express, Tamil Nadu Makkal Urimai Katchi State president Poomozhi said that through her arrest, the police were indirectly warning the youngsters to abstain from taking to the streets against the government.
“Do the police have courage to book political leaders? Such attempts are made only on poor people. The police are constantly trying to crush the democratic and fundamental rights guaranteed by law. The government must withdraw the case,” Poomozhi added.