Chennai: Putting an end to long-drawn-out suspense, environmental activist S. Mugilan, who disappeared on February 15 after holding a press meet on the involvement of Thoothukudi police in the shooting of anti-Sterlite protestors, was spotted at the Tirupathi railway station on the evening of July 6.
Mugilan was spotted by his friend, Shanmugam, in the railway station when he was in the custody of the Andhra Pradesh railway police. The Andhra railway police claimed that they had no clue who he was. Shanmugam passed on the information to the CB-CID and Mugilan’s wife Poongodi following which Mugilan was sent to Katpadi railway station. The CB-CID took custody of the activist and has brought him to Chennai.
Mugilan, who was involved in last year’s anti-Sterlite protests, went missing from a train while travelling to Madurai from Chennai. Hours before his disappearance, the activist had met journalists in Chennai to release a documentary – Koluthiyathu Yaar? Maraikkapatta Unmaigal (Who burnt it? The Hidden Truths).
As The Wire has reported before, the video incriminates the Thoothukudi police of having orchestrated the shooting of anti-Sterlite protestors on May 22, 2018. Putting together video clippings from various sources, Mugilan claimed that the “shooting was well-planned” by the police and accused two senior police officers of orchestrating it.
In a video that has now gone went viral, a visibly haggard Mugilan can be seen raising slogans against the government’s decision to set up a waste storage site at the Koodankulam nuclear power plant while being escorted by the police.
“For one, I am happy that he is alive. But there are many questions begging for answers,” says People’s Watch executive director Henri Tiphagne, who is also the petitioner in a habeas corpus case filed to find Mugilan.
“For one, Mugilan seems to be under enormous psychological pressure. What we see in the video is not the Mugilan we all know. His sloganeering is also disoriented. From his slogans, there is no clarity about who kept him under custody. We don’t know whether the failure of disclosure itself is voluntary or involuntary,” Tiphagne says.
#Mugilan seen alive on 1st platform Tirupathy Rly station by passenger on train standing on 1st platform proceeding to Rajamundary at 7 PM. Info passed on to his wife by this person. Mr. Jaffar Sait DHP TN CBCID duly informed. @karthickselvaa @GunasekaranMu @ThanthiTV
— Henri Tiphagne (@Tiphagne) July 6, 2019
Meanwhile, in an interview to a Tamil news channel, the inspector who took custody of Mugilan at the Tirupathi railway station alleged that the activist was trying to kill himself by jumping in front of a train. The inspector is quoted as saying that Mugilan was originally taken into custody following complaints from fellow passengers about his “abnormal behaviour”.
“The moment he saw the police, he raised slogans against the Centre and state, against the Koodankulam power plant, Sterlite etc and was trying to jump in front of the train. We stopped him and brought him to the station,” he said.
Even as the railway police were preparing to send him off to Katpadi, which Mugilan allegedly claimed was his hometown, the Tamil Nadu CB-CID got in touch and informed them that they were on the lookout for the activist. The Andhra police then sent him to Katpadi from where the CB-CID took custody of him.
Sources in the CB-CID say that they are still “ascertaining the situation”.
Meanwhile, Mugilan is reportedly also facing an alleged rape charge since his ‘disappearance’. Mugilan had also been arrested under 13 cases related to anti-Koodankulam struggle in September 2017, shortly after he took part in a struggle against Sterlite in Thoothukudi.
He was released in September 2018 after his lawyer obtained bail in all the cases.
“I should say top police officials swung into action and immediately brought him to Chennai. But as a petitioner, I would want Mugilan to be produced in the court and be given an opportunity to speak to the judge. And I definitely hope he will not be put through any custodial torture,” says Tiphagne.
Mugilan’s disappearance had led to an outcry on social media and prompted demonstrations against his disappearance. Human rights NGO Amnesty International also urged the authorities to investigate his disappearance. Just last month, the Crime Branch-Criminal Investigation Department, which was probing the case, had told the Madras high court that they had found vital clues in the case.
Mugilan, an activist with the Tamil Nadu environmental protection movement, has been one of the most vociferous voices on environmental issues in the state. He has been at the forefront of various struggles, including against illegal sand quarrying, Koodankulam, the Cauvery river and Jallikattu.
Kavitha Muralidharan is an independent journalist.