RS Mugilan, the environmental activist known for protesting against Sterlite, Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant, Jallikattu, Hydrocarbon Project in Neduvasal, Neutrino, was spotted at Tirupati railway station on July 6, almost 140 days after he went missing.
After holding a press conference in Chennai on February 15, exposing the alleged role of senior officers in the firing in Thoothukudi during the anti-Sterlite protest, Mugilan went missing mysteriously from onboard a Chennai to Madurai train at Egmore station. Opposition parties subsequently demanded that the government find the missing activist.
#WhereisMugilan started to trend across social media. Henri Tiphagne, a Human Rights activist and executive director of People’s Watch, a Madurai based NGO, filed a habeas corpus petition in the High Court on Mugilan’s disappearance.
Under these circumstances, a complaint was lodged at the Kulithalai Police Station in Karur claiming Mugilan had cheated and raped a woman. A case was filed under Section 376 (rape) and 417(cheating) of the IPC and Section 4 of the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Women Harassment Act. The cases were later transferred to CB-CID.
Tiphagne got into the act and alerted the police that a person resembling the activist was found in the Tirupati Railway station. When RPF captured Mugilan, he raised slogans against the setting up of Away from the Reactor (AFR) facility at the Kudankulam Nuclear Power plant. The 44-second video of Mugilan screaming slogans in the police custody went viral on social media.
From Tirupati, the RPF brought Mugilan to Katpadi, Vellore on July 7 and handed him over to a special branch of CB-CID police from Tamil Nadu. Mugilan underwent a routine medical checkup in Adukkamparai Government Hospital and was then brought to Chennai by road and produced before Chief Metropolitan Magistrate A.M.Ravi in Egmore. The Magistrate ordered the police to present the activist before the magistrate in Karur. On July 10, Muglian was produced before the Judicial Magistrate and remanded in judicial custody for 15 days.
Mugilan’s arrest was widely criticised by the political parties across the state.
Who is Mugilan? Why he was searched day and night by the TN police?
Mugilan, a farmer’s son, was born in Chennimalai Village near the Erode district of Tamil Nadu. He is an engineering diploma holder and worked in the Tamil Nadu Public Welfare Department for some time. Since college days, he was involved in student activism. His thirst to fight for social justice made him quit his job to begin his life as an activist. For survival, he ran a printing press.
The co-coordinator of the Tamil Nadu Environment Protection Movement has been at the forefront of various struggles. He fought against excessive sand mining from the Cauvery riverbed. He was instrumental in shutting down a Coke factory in Perundurai. In 1995, he found a textile dyeing factory polluting the Noyall River. He along with his supporters collected more than lakh signatures to shut down the factory.
In 2012, Mugilan along with more than 300 activists of the Cauvery River Protection Movement were arrested for protesting against illegal sand mining on the Cauvery river bed. In Mugilan’s 2014 book “Thadhu Manal Kollai” (Stealing of Beach Land), he exposed the ill-effects of sea sand mining and its effects on coastal communities and coastal ecology. Since then, he had a regular confrontation with sand mining-mafias. Armed men would often get into the way of Mugilan causing him injuries, and threatening him to stop all his protest, but Muglian remained unfazed. The Madurai Bench of Madras High Court affirmed a ban on sand mining and quarrying activities last year. Despite the ban, illegal mining had been taking place allegedly with the support of local politicians and government officials.
Mugilan fought against the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant and was slapped with a sedition case. On February 15, 2019, Mugilan held a press conference in Chennai. In the conference, he showed the documentary “Koluthiyathu Yaar? Maraikapatta Unmaigal” (Who burnt it? Hidden truth). The documentary hinted that senior police officers were involved in the shooting of anti-Sterlite protestors.
On May 22, 2018, the police opened fire at the protestors who opposed the expansion of Vedanta’s Sterlite copper smelter plant. The firing took the lives of 13 civilians and caused injuries to more than 300 people. Speaking to indianexpress.com, anti-nuclear activist and a close associate of Mugilan, SP Udhayakumar, said: “I know Mugilan personally. He is no stranger to prisons, he holds onto its ground and he doesn’t sell out. I first met him in 2011, when we were put up together in Idinthakarai Village (near Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu) during the protest against the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant project. We were trying to educate the public about the hazardous effect of that plant. We told them if we allow this plant we will get electricity for 40 years but will suffer mentally and physically for 400 years. As we refused to give up our protest, we were rewarded with the sedition case.”
Udhayakumar said the government wanted a powerful stick to beat them and henceforth they accuse activists with false claims because it immediately undermines one’s credibility in the society. “ I guess Mugilan is being implicated in a false case. They are trying to silence the activists,” Udhayakumar added.
Activist RS Mugilan was lodged in Trichy central prison on Wednesday. He is survived by his wife Poonkodi and son Kaar Mugilan.
There is no clear answer to why he went missing for such a long time. Some say he was kidnapped, some say it was the excessive attention-seeking nature of the man and some say he really wanted to get away from rape and cheating case as it would really hurt his image. And Mugilan has so far not spoken about it. Unless he speaks out and with evidence, the mystery of the missing Mugilan would still remain.