What happened to S Kovan, a 45-year-old folk singer from Trichy, in the early hours of Friday has a lot in common with the plot of India’s entry to Oscars 2016, Court. The movie portrays the ordeal of a Dalit activist-poet, who challenges the establishment through his songs and is subsequently held responsible for the suicide of a sewage cleaner. In Kovan’s case, the Tamil Nadu police Friday slapped sedition charges on him for songs he penned against the J Jayalalithaa-led Tamil Nadu government and its liquor policy.
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Officials said the Cyber Crime Police picked up Kovan from his house in Woraiyur near Trichy at 2.30 am. Kovan heads the cultural wing of Makkal Kalai Ilakkiya Kazhagam or People’s Art and Literary Association, a 30-year-old movement working for the weaker sections of society. The cultural wing routinely performs folk songs and street plays on socio-economic issues.
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Kovan was reportedly arrested for the lyrics of two songs he had penned in the last few months, ‘Moodu Tasmac Moodu’
both songs are strong critiques of alcoholism and the state policy on liquor sale.
A senior police officer confirmed Kovan was brought to Chennai early Friday morning. Kovan’s lawyer Gym Milton, who met his client Friday evening, said he has been charged under sections 124A (sedition), 153A (promoting enmity between different social groups and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony) and 505/1 (criminal intimidation, insult and annoyance) of the IPC. A senior officer who arrested him confirmed the charges.
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Kovan has been remanded in police custody for 15 days.
His lawyer also alleged that the arrest was in violation of a citizen’s basic rights. “He was beaten up and pulled into the police vehicle forcefully. He was not given a reason for the dramatic arrest. Police refused to divulge information about his remand or exact charges with us, which amounts to denial of legal rights. It was only after the Madras High Court asked the public prosecutor to follow due procedure and ensure Kovan’s basic rights that I was allowed to meet him. Kovan said he was interrogated for over five hours over charges of instigating people against the government and the chief minister. They have also registered a case against the owner of vinavu.com — the website where his songs were uploaded,” claimed Milton.
Police reportedly tried to arrest the website’s owner Kannaiyan Ramadas by conducting a search at his house in Thanjavur last night but he was not home, sources said.
Chennai city police commissioner T K Rajendran confirmed Kovan’s arrest and said, “Investigation is going on.”
The lyrics of Moodu Tasmac Moodu make an appeal to the ruling party to close liquor shops as alcoholism has spoiled the state. Ooruku oru Sarayam makes direct remarks about Jayalalithaa and her party. The lyrics state that the CM is rejoicing at ‘Poes’ — her residence is at Poes Garden — while people are dying due to liquor consumption.
It also refers to the apparently contradictory situation in the state where one can get an idli for Rs 1 but is forced to spend lakhs on education. It also alleges that the main source of liquor shops in Tamil Nadu is Midas — a distillery company with alleged links to Jayalalithaa’s aide Sasikala — and that the closure of liquor shops would affect their future.
The songs were originally uploaded on Tamil website vinavu.com before they went viral on YouTube and social media.