As the opposition DMK warned the Edappadi K Palaniswami government of statewide protests if he allowed police to conduct random searches in houses to arrest poor villagers fighting against government projects, one more protester — 24-year-old journalism student Valarmathi — was arrested from Salem town Tuesday for declaring solidarity with villagers protesting against the eight-lane Salem-Chennai highway project.
In a statement, DMK working president M K Stalin said the police were searching houses and threatening people in Salem and Tuticorin. “When these protesters are none other than farmers, women and youth, we cannot agree with such search operations,” he said.
Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam leader T T V Dhinakaran also warned of massive protests “if the government is going to favour big corporates by arresting villagers”.
Salem, where the survey for the highway project started Monday, witnessed a series of arrests including that of environmentalist Piyush Manush, actor Mansoor Ali Khan, more than 20 villagers, and Valarmathi, a student. While FIR said that both Manush, arrested on Monday night, and Khan, arrested Sunday morning, were booked for an alleged provocative speech they made 40 days ago to instigate people against the highway project, Valarmathi was arrested Tuesday during her visit to villagers in the area.
Valarmathi was part of a local environment protection group. “First we warned her not to attend a protest meet of villagers as it was meant for people from Acchankuttapatti. As she entered into heated arguments with police, asserting that the project would destroy natural wealth of the western belt, we received orders to arrest her,” an officer said.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Salem SP Georgy George said the arrests of Manush and Khan were based on a speech threatening the government. “Investigation is in progress. I do not know why Valarmathi was arrested,” he said.