Published: 20th February 2019
Why Thirumurugan Gandhi believes that no one will be brought to justice for Thoothukudi shooting
The activist talks about the situation in Thoothukudi and how education is increasingly catering only to the rich and powerful and denied to the oppressed
Thirumurugan Gandhi has become an icon for the youngsters in Tamil Nadu — a symbol of protest and defiance. When he was released from jail after 53 days, social media rejoiced. But there were also those who called him a separatist, a man who caused 'trouble'. Even at the ThinkEdu Conclave, an audience member asked him why he chose to protest unnecessarily when he could instead be more productive by cooperating with the government to 'create more jobs'. But Gandhi did not seem fazed, he pointed out that one of our fundamental rights as citizens is to protest and demand basic rights, it did not hinder any 'job creation' endeavours. Even as the State hushed up the Thoothukudi shootings, Gandhi was the one who spoke about it at the UnitedNations Human Rights Council meeting. In his address, Gandhi said that the government was spending only a minuscule amount of money on education when it should be spending 6 percent of the GDP. "The reason we need more government investment is that the profits are privatised and losses are socialised," he explained. The activist sat down with Edex to talk a little bit more about the state of education in India, freedom of speech and the situation in Thoothukudi.
Even though there was a hue and cry after the Thoothukudi massacre, the silence is almost deafening now. What do you have to say about that?
The state pressure in Thoothukudi is immense right now. Even gatherings are not allowed there. In such a situation, there is absolutely no freedom of expression. Thoothukudi is not silent, there is just no space for them to talk. Across India, besides the vision of the State, we can't talk about anything. We can't talk about any of our problems outside. The difference between then (pre-BJP rule) and now, is that in those days the corporates had to defend themselves but now the government defends corporates. The state is harassing people, portraying people as anti-social. People are always spreading false news. Even when it comes to me, people say all sorts of things that are completely untrue. They say someone has given me lakhs of rupees, someone else says that I'm actually a Christian and then there are those who say my very name is false. These sorts of attacks have never happened before. On one side, the people are being pressured by the corporate companies and on the other side, there is state pressure.
So you think that freedom of expression throughout the country has been compromised?
This sort of attack on expression only happened during the time of the Nazis. The party in power is conducting campaigns where they issue physical threats, harass and troll people in public spaces. This is exactly what happened with the Nazis, the State and the party behaved the same way. If you had a different opinion, then they dragged you out in public and humiliated you. They would shave off their heads and harass them. The Saffron groups today are doing the same. The ruling party wants to sell the country to corporate companies, whether it is education or anything else. Those who oppose the government will be branded an anti-national and they will be accused of receiving foreign funds.
Do you think those who unleashed the horror on Thoothukudi would ever be brought to justice?
No. In this system, there is no chance of them being brought to justice. So far, nobody has even taken responsibility for the firing. Who ordered the firing that day and what was the reason? Nobody knows. But instead of investigating that, the government is continuing to arrest the protesters and the victims. There is complete impunity. This culture of impunity shows the authoritarian government we have in power. Those who have the power, think they can do anything and get away with it.
You mentioned in your speech that there has been systemic oppression of people who have deliberately been kept away from education. Do you think that it has grown or reduced in the last few years?
In the last fours years, there has been a definite drop in terms of social justice measures, subsidising commodities, supporting schemes and scholarships. The government promised six percent of GDP would go towards education but its less than 0.2 percent. They are cutting funds for underprivileged students. They are privatising education and are pushing people outside the system. The dedication towards bettering the lives of the marginalised has gone down significantly. Now our educational institutions are only getting built for people who have the money.
What do you expect will happen in this year's elections?
BJP will definitely fall. It is very difficult for them to come into Tamil Nadu. They might win a few seats if they join the AIADMK but then the AIADMK will lose.