Published: 18th October 2017
Remember the guy who climbed a cell phone tower? He's been protesting for six months in Delhi for liquor to be banned in TN, but NO ONE seems to care
T David Raj is a former fencing champion and hails from a Military family in Nagercoil. He's been campaigning against liquor for years, but no one is speaking up for him
You remember those farmers who sat with skulls and dead rats in Delhi? At least they had numbers and lot of attention. This young man, who campaigned with late prohibition activist Sasi Perumal, has been protesting solo outside Jantar Mantar for half a year and no one seems to care. The fact that he's a former Fencing Champ and an Army draft don't seem to have mattered either.
People protesting to impose a liquor ban isn't something new for Tamil Nadu, but most of these protests are often a political facade. But here, the case is different. T David Raj is a one-man army, who has been protesting for the ban of liquor at Jantar Mantar for over SIX MONTHS and counting. You may not know him by name, but he is the man who climbed to the top of a cellphone tower after the death of Sasi Perumal, a fellow anti-liquor protester, in 2015.
If you think that David is just a jobless protester, think again! This 28-year-old is a former national-level fencing champion who was selected by the Army Sports Institute, Pune for his excellence in sports and also served in the Indian Army before he joined the protests. The activist has made it abundantly clear that he will not be moved unless he is arrested, after a recent Supreme Court order. We caught up with him to talk about the protests and what drove him to Jantar Mantar. Excerpts:
What is your take on the Supreme Court's order regarding the Jantar Mantar protests?
The government and the Supreme Court have been thinking that the protesters at Jantar Mantar are jobless and have been occupying the places for survival. We are here to voice our opinion to the government and the people. Asking us to move to a place where there are no people is not the right decision. And I am not ready to move out of this place unless the cops arrest us.
Tamil residents in Delhi visit me daily. A few friends have conveyed their support through phone calls, while others aren't happy about what I am doing. So they advise me to go back to Nagercoil
David Raj has been protesting for liquor ban
What drew you towards fighting against alcoholism? What were your interests when you were younger?
I used to engage myself in sports during my school days and followed through in college as well. I joined a physical education course in Selvam College of Technology and during my second year, I was accepted into the army. It was exactly then that I felt bad for people who suffer from alcohol addiction. Rehab centres didn’t work well and that’s when I realised that the alcohol itself is the problem. I then joined groups that protested against alcoholism in Tamil Nadu.
I am here because the State Government is totally against what I am doing and they don't provide space and my rights are curbed. Even now, I am ready to take the very next train to Tamil Nadu if the state allows me to go on with my protests
David Raj, Fencing Champ and Activist
How did you take the protest to Jantar Mantar?
I think it is impossible for someone to forget Sasi Perumal's death, I was an active participant during his protests. It was after his death that I climbed the cellphone tower, demanding to close the liquor shops near institutions. Here is what people don’t know though. I was taken in a separate van and was attacked by the cops. I was then treated at Nagercoil Medical College and was later shifted to Government Rajaji Hospital in Madurai. But that didn’t stop me. Right after, I participated in an event that was organised by Makkal Adhikaram at Tiruchy, where I wanted to show my frustration on the way the cops treated me. I was branded an anti-nationalist, which happens to every common man who struggles to voice his opinion. I even participated in the farmers’ protests and that got me to Jantar Mantar on May 1.
How has the Centre reacted to all of this? How far do you plan to pursue this?
It’s been almost six months since I stepped into this place, but no one, not even the cops, have enquired about our protest so far. I’ve tried, numerous times, to bring it to the notice of the Prime Minister and I‘ve sent petitions to the Chief Ministers as well. I’m not doing this for publicity I’m here for a reason. So, the methods might change, but the goal is unwavering.
David states that the people of TN and the government readily welcome someone from the cinema industry into politics, but not those who are ready to fight the real battles. People have been supporting Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth to get into politics and the reason behind this is because they are popular
Does your family stand by you? Who helps you financially?
My father was in the army and so is my brother now. My father receives his pension and we also own a few brick machines and lorries back in our hometown, so that helps me with my financial requirements. And yes, they are supportive, but only because they don't have a choice. Initially, they tried to bring me back by not sending me money, after which I started fasting. My mother is completely against this. She cries and prays for me every day.
What would you like to say to those who oppose you?
This is a democratic country. Everyone has the right to express their concern towards the nation. I chose to do it through protests. I consider this a battlefield without the guns and swords, I don't want to lose, I don't want to run away from this place. If I choose to give up, then that is equal to my death.