In June 2018, Srivatsan, a cab driver removed a banner put up by the functionary of the ruling AIADMK on Guindy Road in Chennai. He was booked and remanded to judicial custody on charges that he had assaulted the police. Arappor Iyakkam, a civil society NGO is providing legal help in his trial which is going on at Alandur court. The irony is that it is the citizen and not the political party who is in the dock despite a Madras High court order of 2017 that bans hoardings of living persons, political parties alongside roads and pavements, obstructing traffic and causing inconvenience to pedestrians.
“That is the problem. The High court has to execute its power of contempt of court. So far it has been given only warnings,” says Jayaram of Arappor Iyakkam.
It was with exasperation that the Madras High court reacted to the killing of 23-year-old techie Subasri Ravi on Thursday afternoon. She was killed when an illegal banner erected by an AIADMK leader to celebrate his son’s wedding fell on Subasri, causing her to lose balance. A water tanker ran over and she succumbed to her injuries by the time she was rushed to the nearby hospital. The judges tore into the Tamil Nadu government.
“What’s the use of giving so many orders on banners?” it asked. “We have lost faith in the government. How many lives is this government going to sacrifice because of illegal banners? You allow the crime to be committed and then run after the criminal. Where were the officials when the flex boards were erected?”
Taking note of the AIADMK flags that were put up near the Secretariat (pic above), the bench asked why were the party flags put up on the stretch. Officials were ordered to remove the flags and respond to the court.
The DMK has responded to the tragedy with party chief MK Stalin prohibiting any illegal banners to be put up at party events and has warned he will not participate in any meeting or event where such flexis are put up. The AIADMK has issued a note as well asking cadre not to put up banners that cause inconvenience to the public.
“There needs to be a big shift in political culture. This banner culture reflects the personality cult in Tamil Nadu. Officials need to be made accountable for violations in their jurisdiction,” says Jayaram.
Meanwhile, friends of Subasri are organising a silent candle light march at Tambaram in Chennai at 4 pm on Friday. But with police permissions not forthcoming, the silent remembrance will be held inside the office of Pretty Lil Hearts, a NGO office.
“We are all feeling guilty. Why we never questioned the people who put up those illegal banners. This is not a protest, there is nothing political about it,” says Leo Akash Raj, who runs Pretty Lil Hearts.
Keerthana, Subasri’s junior, says she too is a regular user of the Pallavaram-Thoraipakkam road stretch.
“But it is not just this road. Just about everywhere in Chennai, you find this illegal banner and flexi culture. These are a huge distraction while we are driving. In silence, we want to remember Subasri today, show our love. It is not against any political party,” says Keerthana.