Published: 14th January 2020
NRC will only happen in TN over my dead body: Karur MP Jothimani on why she will not register
The Karur MP has said that she personally will not register and will till her last breathe ensure that the people of her constituency and Tamil Nadu will not have to register for it either
Jothimani S's third attempt at the Lok Sabha seat worked like a charm. The constituency of Karur put all their trust in her and sent her to Delhi. Jothimani's smile, demure and seemingly-calm personality is a treat and a honour to be around but when it comes to politics, the MP is all fire and brimstone. When discussing the NRC-CAA, she says with all conviction - 'Will only allow it over my dead body'. Jothimani has been at the forefront of the agitation against several BJP policies from the very beginning, whether on social media, in parliament or the streets. While speaking at a panel at The New Indian Express' ThinkEdu Conclave along with MG Devasahayam, former IAS officer and social worker and Madhu Kishwar, professor and conservative commentator on the topic Who Is An Indian? Jothimani spoke about the policies of the ruling party and how she believes that they are aimed towards hatred and divisive politics. In this interview, we spoke to her about CAA-NRC, the developments in the Sujith Wilson case, Congress as the opposition and if she believes our institutions are intact. Excerpts:
During the rescue operations to save Sujith Wilson, you were present continuously and remained by the family. You spoke about what ensued there quite passionately as well. Have the authorities tried to do anything to prevent such incidents since then? Have you been in touch with them?
We have been working on it. The area falls under my constituency and so I have been speaking with the District Collector. Also, he immediately took the effort to close all the borewells. We even alerted the public and asked them to inform us wherever they happen to see any holes, whether left untended to by the government authorities or on private lands. I also raised the issue in the Parliament like several others did. I was also shocked when I realised there was no rescue mechanism, even the fire department was telling us that only up to 30 feet can they do something. All possible rescue operators were there with us at that time including the Indian Air Force. But there is no fool proof mechanism in India to rescue a child. If they've fallen to a depth of 15-20 feet we can do something, not beyond that. There was no proper coordination too when the tragedy struck. Which is why I took special time to raise this issue. When I spoke about it, all the MPs were present and they were also shocked that no such mechanism exists in India. When I looked up the data it was even more shocking, I found out that almost every day a child falls inside a hole. So then we got in touch with NIT Trichy, we requested them to facilitate a workshop because there are many private players involved. We want other premier institutions also to come together and work on designing a rescue mechanism. I wrote to the Minister of Science and Technology as well. Incidentally, Science Minister Harsh Vardhan was also present when I was speaking in the Parliament on this issue. Hopefully something will be done, I'm committed to taking this to a logical conclusion.
You have been part of the protests against the NRC-CAA by the Congress and have also consistently taken to social media to criticise it. You've also been supporting the student protests and condemned the violence in JNU. Where do you see this leading?
See, CAA-NRC is a recent event. But even from the start, when the Modi-led BJP came to power in 2014 we have witnessed a completely centralised authority which has despotic intentions. They don't have any respect for fundamental rights, the Indian constitution or the idea of India. Because what ever the constitution ensured, assured you and me as a fundamental right is under threat now. So whether it is students, farmers, journalists or opposition party members or the common public who are protesting for their own rights. Anybody who is raising their voices against this government and speaking truth to power are branded as anti-nationals. This is dangerous. First, they brand them, then they use state sponsored violence to suppress them, whether it is Thoothukudi or Jamia. So there is a particular pattern in which this government is operating which has nothing to do with democratic norms or institutions. So now we are at a place where we have to protect the Constitution and the very idea of India. Even though the opposition is less in number, that doesn't mean that we don't have a voice to represent. The idea behind reading the preamble at the opposition party protest was also to reinforce our faith in the Constitution and condemn this anarchy.
The AIADMK initially told the people of Tamil Nadu that the CAA-NRC would not affect them and they also, of course voted in favour of the Bill. Now, a few days ago, CM Edappadi K Palaniswami said that he had told Home Minister Amit Shah that Tamil Nadu is not happy with the Act. What do you think about this sudden change in their stand?
I'm sorry to say but this Tamil Nadu government is only known for two things, one - corruption and second, slavery to Modi ji. When CAA was announced by Amit Shah in the Parliament he said he was going to implement NRC across the country, he said clearly that they were going to do what they promised in their mandate. After that, the Bill went to the Rajya Sabha. Even a child would know that this is the process, first the Lok Sabha and then the Rajya Sabha. The AIADMK knew what a cruel despotic bill this is and yet voted in favour of it without caring about how it would affect the people of Tamil Nadu and India. That vote could have changed the way things turned out. Now it has become a law and they are saying this, there is a huge difference defeating a bill and fighting a law. This government is not just playing with the lives of people in Tamil Nadu but also India.
People across the country are protesting because the Muslims could risk losing their citizenship due to CAA-NRC. But the Act could also affect people from oppressed communities who are going to find it hard to produce proof of identity. After all, we are a country that continues to have people who die of starvation because they can't get ration cards. So how do you think the Act would affect smaller towns like Karur?
The BJP is using this Muslim card. But this is also against each and every citizen of this country irrespective of his/her caste, religion or gender. Basically, I'm Tamil, my forefathers have lived on this land, my mother tongue and identity is Tamil, why should I prove my citizenship to anybody. This is an insult to our self dignity, respect and identity itself. During the local body elections I extensively campaigned against CAA-NRC. I personally will not register myself and I will never allow a single person from the government to come and register anyone in Karur, it will only happen over my dead body. I'm very committed and firm about his, from what my people tell me, Tamil people will not agree to this. We will fight it tooth and nail, NRC will not be implemented here, not on our watch.
There are more Muslims here than even Pakistan. So they are Indian by birth, by choice. The government can't say overnight that they are not citizens. Some people believe in Christ, some in Allah, some in something else and some in nothing at all. The Constitution says people have the right to choose — whether it is faith, food or anything else. Look at how things are right now — Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura are all burning. This government has failed on every account whether it is employment, education, economy, health or social unity. They don't want to be answerable. Our campuses are burning, students are bleeding and police is brutalising them or like in JNU, they are silent witnesses. Cases have been filed against the victims not perpetrators in JNU. There is no rule of law, no value for the Constitution, no idea of India or its people. Where are we heading?
Despite the wide-spread protests, the government has said they won't back down even by an inch. Some sections of society have also lost hope in the Supreme Court as well after their recent judgements have left several unhappy. Now with a small numbered opposition, the ruling party can pass any law they want without any hindrance, so what does this mean for those protesting?
The best part of India is our institutions, thanks to our forefathers. Whether it is the Election Commission or the Judiciary or the Reserve Bank. Our Constitution has allowed us to have great autonomy. Anybody can thus go to courts, to police stations to seek justice, they can trust institutions like the Election Commission because they are the custodians of a democracy. But now every institution is under attack or has been destroyed under this government in the last five years. So then obviously people will lose heart. We are a diverse country, we are still a developing country and chaotic but we still all live together. Togetherness gives us hope. If someone doesn't have health, education, employment or the right to speak out then we can't trust any institution. So now there is a sense of hopelessness that worries me. We are failing young India, as part of the establishment, apologies to them, but we have to muster up our courage and fight together against this oppression and lawlessness.
There are several theories as to how the BJP won the elections by such a margin this time. But have said there was simply no alternative, that there wasn't a strong enough opposition and many say there still isn't. What are your thoughts on that?
I don't buy the idea that there is no opposition. We had been oppressed for so many years and then we became a democracy, an economic power. India has come so far because the Congress and various regional parties also contributed to this development. But this idea of there being no opposition, is a false propaganda being spread by the BJP. CAA-NRC became an issue after we fought against it in the parliament, voted against it. We made this an issue, we rose up to the occasion. Now students are also protesting. We are also raising issues in education from NEET to unemployment to reservation. NEET we feel is completely anti-Tamil, only people with money can go to coaching classes and ace the exam. Government school students don't even have a chance. Also 27 percent reservation for OBCs has been abolished, that means for 10-15 years there will be no OBC doctors. Who benefits from reservation today? Not minorities. They don't control the industries, agriculture or any other sector. The government is using hate politics and policies like NRC to take away attention from other problems like the falling rates of exports, MSME industries being destroyed, reservation being undermined. We have to be suspicious of their language of hate, because every time something like that comes up, there is always some other issue they are trying to hide. We have to be alert to those issues.