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10 August, 2009

Tamil Nadu Human Rights Defenders’ Conference in Tirunelveli

A conference of human rights defenders of Tamil Nadu is to be held at Tirunelveli on Wednesday, August 12, 2009.

A communication from the organizers of the conference says:

History is witness to the fact that there are a range of repressive tactics that governments of every political hue have been deploying to silence human rights defenders. Defenders working on human rights issues which have traditionally been neglected or marginalized often face specific obstacles as a result. The rights they uphold may be especially contested or controversial, either because they challenge dominant social norms or because they are seen as threatening to the established political, religious or economic order.

Mr. M. Barathan is a human rights defender who has been very active in Tirunelveli and surrounding southern districts of the state of Tamil Nadu in work with Dalit communities by forming Dalit Federations, conducting legal awareness trainings and rehabilitation for Dalit victims of human rights violations. He now heads an organization named Human Rights Education and Protection Council (HREPC), also known as Kalam in these parts and has been instrumental in the filing of the highest number of cases under the SC/ST (Scheduled Caste / Scheduled Tribe) (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 in the past year in a district in Tamil Nadu. Mr. Barathan has also been campaigning for police reforms and against custodial torture. In addition, on May 23, Barathan conducted a Dalit Cultural Night, in which he spoke about police torture, which has led to a false case of a triple murder being filed against him. On May 27, at 11 am, after the charge sheet in the case had been filed in the concerned court the police arrested him.

After Mr. Barathan’s arrest and remand to the Palayamkottai Prison on May 27, he was taken on June 3 to the Judicial Magistrate Court in Cheranmadevi for the hearing. On June 19 he was transferred from the Tirunelveli Central Prison to the Cuddalore Central Prison. On the way to the court he had been handcuffed and a complaint was made about this. As a result he was not handcuffed while being taken to Cuddalore.
Mr. Barathan was released on conditional bail on June 27 but was directed to sign at the Thiruvananthapuram Town police station in Kerala. There is apparently no such police station there and Mr. Barathan had to file an appeal the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court to get the order corrected. The condition has now been relaxed and he is in Tirunelveli.

The case is still pending against him in the court and his image among members of the public has taken a beating following the slapping of a false triple murder case against him. His organization faces several challenges following this criminal charge against him which will bring all its human rights work to a standstill and affect the community for which the organization works and also the morale of the staff of the organization. Marimuthu Barathan’s dignity needs to be restored and the intimidating attitude of the police towards him needs to be stopped for him to return to normal life and resume his human rights work.

On July 8, a ‘Joint Action Committee to protest the false murder case filed against Human Rights Defender Barathan’ comprising many organizations including Social Action Movement (SAM), Human Rights Forum for Dalit Liberation (HRFDL), Arundhatiyar Pengal Ezhuchi Mayyam, SC/ST Orunginaippu Kuzhu, DHRD, Social Awareness Society for Youth (SASY), WIN Trust, Society for Community Organization (SOCO Trust), Society for Integrated Rural Development (SIRD), Quarry Workers Development Society (QWDS), Citizens for Human Rights Movement (CHRM), Kalam, Dr. Ambedkar Paniyalar, Poriyalar Sangam, Vaanmukil, SC/ST Welfare Association, CPI (M) Tirunelveli District Committee Members, LIC SC/ST Buddhist Employees Union, Foundation for Human Rights and Development (FOHRD), Muthamizh Arakattalai, Rural Uplift Center (RUC), Kudisai, Tamilnadu Samakalvi Iyakkam, Malaragam and People's Watch was formed and a meeting was convened the same day at Tirunelveli.

The committee decided to take out a poster campaign and an email and postcard campaign. Tthese processes have already been set in motion by People's Watch and SAM. It was also decided that the different organizations in the committee must organize serial protest demonstrations, meet leaders of political parties and hold a conference of human rights defenders.

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