Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and AIADMK leader Edappadi K Palaniswami apparently forgot India’s, and Tamil Nadu’s, long history of women-led protests and political action when he announced yesterday, on the floor of the Tamil Nadu Assembly no less, that it has become “fashionable” for women and children to take part in political protests.
He made the statement in response to legislature party leader K R Ramasamy’s comments on police excesses and violence against women protesters who were agitating against Tasmac liquor shops in the country. He was referring in particular to footage of a cop violently beating a woman protester in Tirupur.
Of course, the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister said that police were merely “doing their duty” in Tirupur, and blamed television channels for only running the footage of the policeman beating the woman and nothing else. Except as far as we know, the duty of policemen is to protect and serve the people, not to beat them for exercising their right to take to the streets in protest, and it’s pretty worthy of media scrutiny if they do.
As The News Minute points out, it is not only in Tirupur that police have been involved in brutality and excess against civilians. They resorted to lathi-charge last week when protesters in Kathiramangalam refused to let officials work on a leaking ONGC pipeline unless they were assured that the oil from the leak would not damage their fields and ground water supplies further.
In fact, it isn’t even Tamil Nadu alone that resorts to violence against protesters, but police all over the country: we seem to have decided to collectively forgive and forget the violent actions, including the usage of tear gas, water cannons and lathis, that police took against women protesters in the immediate aftermath of the December 2012 Delhi gangrape.
It’s ridiculously patronising of politicians to ignore the demands women make when they take to the streets to protest the failure of government institutions and instead belittle their demands by calling it a “fashion”. It’s even more insulting in this case, as the context for his remark was women taking to the streets to call for a liquor ban in the state, which is a complex and serious issue that’s linked to domestic violence, addiction and the expenditure of money within the family unit. It’s also really short-sighted and belies a woeful ignorance of Indian history to make it seem like women participating in protests is a new “trend”.
Make no mistake though, while Indian women spearheading and participating in political action and resistance is nothing new, governments in India are indeed petrified of it, and constantly thinking of ways to violently suppress it instead of actually listening to their demands and taking constructive action (which would require far more effort and planning on their part than merely sending police to beat women up). In December 2016, Additional Director General of Police in Karnataka, T Suneel Kumar, noted the “rise of women protesters” and the need to have all-women battalions of riot police to combat this. More recently in April, after images of women protesters in Kashmir went viral, the Union Government decided to institute all-women battalions of reserve police in Kashmir to suppress them.