The Tamil Nadu police must drop all charges and immediately release Dalit author Durai Guna and activist Boopathy Karthikeyan, who were arrested following a complaint that the alleged complainant says he never filed.
On 10 June, the two men were arrested on the basis of a First Information Report (FIR) that the police say was filed in Karambakudi police station, Madurai, by a man named T Sivanandham. According to media reports, the FIR states that Durai Guna and Boopathy Karthikeyan had assaulted T Sivanandham over an unpaid loan.
However, on 14 June, T Sivanandham told journalists that he had never filed the FIR. He told Amnesty International India, “The allegations against Guna and Karthikeyan are not true and the complaint filed in my name is false. The police had roughed me up and taken me to a hospital. They asked me to sign on a blank piece of paper, which I did out of fear. I’m scared for my life now because the police are looking for me.”
“The police appears to be attempting to harass Durgai Guna and Boopathy Karthikeyan by arresting them on a false complaint. Both of them must be immediately released. Authorities must provide protection to T Sivanandham, who says he feels under threat for saying that he had never filed a complaint,” said Makepeace Sitlhou, campaigner at Amnesty International India.
A Kathir, executive director of Evidence, a Madurai-based NGO, told Amnesty International India that the two activists were being targeted for raising their voices against a local police official from a dominant caste. He said, “Guna had launched a Facebook campaign against the official on the allegation of harassing a woman”. In 2014, Durai Guna said he had been subjected to a social boycott for a book he had written about caste-based discrimination. Karthikeyan has had cases registered against him by the same police official for allegedly causing unrest by spreading ‘rumours’ and carrying out protests
The Superintendent of Police, Pudukottai, and officials in Karambakudi police station did not respond to telephone calls by Amnesty International India.
“Authorities must ensure that an independent investigation is conducted into the allegation that the police fabricated the complaint against the activists,” said Makepeace Sitlhou.
Caste-based discrimination and violence against Dalit communities is widespread in Tamil Nadu and other states, and activists often face reprisals for speaking out.
In 2011, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders noted in a country visit report,“With regard to the police and state officials, Dalits’ rights defenders reportedly have often seen their complaints not taken up and instead have been charged in false cases and filed counter cases, in collusion with the dominant caste community.”
In January 2015, a Dalit man and his family were attacked by unidentified people after he filed a Right to Information application on the details of taxes paid by a private college in Pudukkottai district, Tamil Nadu. In March 2016, a Dalit leader in Erode district was killed days after he accused a dominant caste man of abusing a Dalit man during a temple festival.