Published: 02nd September 2020
Three years on, youth from Anitha’s village who protested for her, struggle for jobs, admission due to FIRs
S Maniratinam, Anitha’s elder brother told us that at least 15-20 people from the village of Kuzhumur had FIRs in their names, including dozens of others outside the village, in Ariyalur
Yesterday marked three years since 17-year-old S Anitha died by suicide after the imposition of NEET in Tamil Nadu had rendered her ineligible for a medical seat. It has also been three years since dozens of young people in her village of Kuzhumur organised a memorial and a protest to show their condemnation of the fact that the teenager was pushed to suicide despite scoring 1176 out of 1200 in her board exams. The youngsters, who include her own cousins, are today struggling to apply for jobs and pursue their academic dreams because they all have FIRs on their names because they had decided to protest for their sister — a daughter of the village.
S Maniratnam, Anitha’s elder brother told us that at least 15-20 people from the village of Kuzhuumur had FIRs in their names and that he had heard of dozens of other youngsters from outside the village in Ariyalur who also had these cases slapped on them. Maniratinam says that many of the villagers don’t even know that they have this FIR slapped on them and the ones that know have only came to realise this when they needed police verification done for jobs, a passport or college admission. “It was only after a year and a half later that people in my village began to tell me that this had happened. It really broke my heart because all these people came out to the streets for my sister. And now because of that they have to compromise on their dreams,” he said. Maniratinam believes that at least 25-30 people all over Ariyalur have FIRs.
“I assumed that since they were all kids, mostly school-going students, the police wouldn’t go so far to file FIRs and even if they did I was sure they would have dismissed it by now. After all, these are kids. When their parents express regret at their children having participated in this protest, it really hurts me but what else can they say. Their children’s lives are ruined now and their mental health is deeply distrubed too,” he added.
A few days after Anita died, some young people in the village said that they approached the police for permission to hold a vigil and a silent protest in solidarity with the family. “We got permission till 6 pm. And we finished on time, the police came when we were taking down the tent. Soon after, some other protests started in the village and now we’ve been told that our names are also in the FIR but the truth is we were not even there, our protest was peaceful,” some of the youngsters who spoke to us said.
One of the youngsters said that he only came to know of the FIR when he applied for his passport and he was required to get a police verification done. “I got my passport and then I got a letter from the passport office saying that there was a problem with my police verification and asked me to go to the nearest police station.” So the young graduate visited the police station but he was told that it was no major problem and was sent back, “Three months later we were told it was a criminal case in my name. We told the police that we had applied for permission and only then organised the protest. We were told not to block any roads and we didn’t. But the police is saying they can’t do anything.”
Maniratinam handing over the petition to MP Thol Thirumaavalavan to squash the cases against Kuzhumur residents
An adult in the village whose name was also mentioned in the FIR only found out about it, when he went along with the boys to find out why the police verification had not come through, "Atleast they should have alerted us, called us for enquiry. A lot of women's names have also been mentioned in the FIR and they have to suffer because of it," he said.
One of these women is a second year law student and she only found out that her name was on the list at a wedding last year when she met someone who had been trying for a passport. "It was only then that I found out that my name was the first on the list. When I applied for law, we were asked to present a certificate saying there are no cases in our name and I had no idea this FIR even existed. I knew the police was there when the protest happened but I didn't think anything was registered. Now I study in a different city, so the administration found out what the case was about and told me to try and clear my name soon. If I had applied somewhere in Tamil Nadu I would have never gotten a seat. But I'm sure I'll be asked to produce one soon and I don't know where to go then," she said.
One of Maniratinam’s cousins said he has met the inspector several times begging for the case to be dismissed and this is what he was told, “Firstly, we are being told that no chargesheet has been filed even though it's been three years since the protest. So far, there have been no enquiries, we’ve not been called in for questioning. The inspector told me that since some activity or the other like a protest keeps happening in Kuzhumur because of Anitha’s suicide, they couldn’t withdraw the FIRs. So now this FIR is just hanging above our heads like an axe,” he explained. Most have been charged under IPC 143 (Unlawful Assembly, IPC 188 (Disobedience to Order) and IPC 341 (Wrongful restraint).
A memorial for Anitha
This cousin said that he was all prepared to leave the following month after he received an opportunity abroad. “I was all set when the passport office told me that I had to return my passport. I have an education loan to repay and working here means I can only live hand to mouth everyday,” he said. But the problem for the youngsters doesn’t stop at applying for passports, it also becomes a problem when they apply for government jobs, they say. “Any government job they ask if we have any case in our name. We can’t lie and if we say we do, we are sure we’ll lose the opportunity. Now where do we go? We can’t go abroad and can’t apply for a government job. Even good private companies, if they conduct any deep background checks will ensure they find out these details,” says the BE graduate. “There are women mentioned in the FIR too, this will deeply impact them as well. So many of my friends are getting good opportunities but because we decided to do a peaceful protest against what had happened to our sister, we are being punished,” he tells us.
One of the women on the list, is a protestor's mother, "She came there to call me for lunch and they put her name in. Just like that, she literally just came to call me home for lunch."
Maniratinam said he knew that some activists had cases in their name for the protest but felt since the activists had been used to such action they would be fine, “But these were just regular people who are in my village. They were enraged by my sister’s death and decided to protest it. Now it is a decision they’ll regret because it is stopping them from achieving their dreams.”
One of the FIRs
On the eve of Anitha’s death anniversary, Maniratinam approached VCK President and MP Thol Thirumaavalavan with a petition to dismiss these cases, “He told us that he would try his best to address the issue but when things lighten a little bit. We previously approached a politician from Ariyalur too but he said he wouldn’t be able to do anything till he was in power. We hope that someone comes forward to help these people, they don’t deserve this,” the grieving brother tells us.
How Kuzhumur continues to remember Anitha
The village of Kuzhumar continues to remember Anitha and every anniversary observes it with a memorial or small programme. The library that her brothers built in her memory continues to stand tall and has continued to provide for school students in the area, “We have four computers, one for the office and rest for us. So currently three students attend their online classes there. But we are not encouraging others to come because of the pandemic, but otherwise we organise classes, screenings and study spaces for the children, “ he said.
“It’s been three years and we are continuing the same battle. Just like how they protested against the conduct of JEE, NEET during a pandemic, I hope all the states come together to protest it,” the brother said.