Restrictions on the right to protest in Tamil Nadu

Ennore Gas Leak

Tamil Nadu is known for its rich history of protest; it topped the list of most protests held for more than a decade. Since the start of the year 2024, there have been many instances of violations of the right to protest. A few are mentioned below.

On December 26, 2023, in the fishing hamlets of Chennai Ennore, an ammonia gas leak occurred from the seabed pipeline connecting to the factory carrying chemicals for manufacturing fertiliser. In the early hours of December 27, people who woke up to the stench of strong chemicals fled their homes and walked several kilometres to escape the fumes. Around 50 people were hospitalised after the gas leak, while hundreds of residents sought medical attention in the camps that were set up in the neighbouring areas. People gathered in front of the southern and northern gates of the facility and staged a protest demanding the government shut CIL permanently.   

On January 3, 2024, police registered an FIR against Rajendran, Riyazudeen, Murali, Makesh, Venkatesh, Parthasarathy, John Kannan, Ganeshan, Sambandham, Kumaravel, Mathi, Babu, Santhosh, Gnanaprakasham, Madhan, Ravi Laippan, Ramesh Sudhakar and 18 others protestors under section 294(B) (singing, reciting, or uttering any obscene song, ballad, or words, in or near any public place), 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty), and 506(2) (criminal intimidation) of the Indian Penal Code.[1]

On January 4, 2024, The Tambaram Additional Commissioner of Police, Mr. Srinivasan, summoned the District President of the Manithaneya Makkal Katchi, Zakir Hussain, directly to the office and gave him verbal permission to hold a demonstration for only about half an hour. So, they gathered at Shanmugam Road, Tambaram. Around 500 people, including women, have gathered to participate in the demonstration.

More than 200 armed police personnel, led by The Deputy Commissioner of Police, Mr. Pawan Kumar Reddy, were deployed to systematically stop the peaceful gatherings and attack them. The protestors were brutally attacked and arrested. The attack, led by Deputy Commissioner of Police Mr Pawan Kumar Reddy, resulted in the injuries of many of those who had gathered peacefully and tried to express their views. Notably 1. Karimullah Baba and 2. Salim Pasha, who was seriously injured and is being treated at A.G. Private Hospital, and many others have suffered minor injuries and are on the run to save their lives. Thambaram police station registered a case against Tambaram Municipal South District Secretary Yaqoob and 329 others.

On January 4, 2024, the farmers demanded that the revenue department convert the cart track land to a geological cart tract at the village near Sulur. The farmers from J Krishnapuram village in Sulur taluk claimed that they were unable to transport cattle feed, vegetables and fertilisers through the cart track. Hence, the farmers requested the revenue department to convert the cart track to a geological cart track. After two years, farmers approached the revenue officers to convert the cart track land into geological cart track, but the officials kept the files pending; aggrieved by this, farmers started a waiting protest at the district collector’s office. The Race Course police, Coimbatore, detained 60 protesting farmers and kept them in a marriage hall.[2]

N Nasren was studying in an IXth class, was studying in a private school in Tirunelveli, his father Mr Nagarjan works with a private construction company; Mr. Nagarajan could not pay the second term fee for his son N Nasren due to floods in Tirunelveli. The school authorities demanded the second-term and third-term fees from N Nasren and scolded him for not paying school fees on time. Due to this, N Narsen did not go to school on January 4, 2024, and committed suicide when he was alone at home.

Nagarajan filed a police complaint and demanded to take legal action against the school management and compensation for the loss of his son. Many relatives of the deceased protested in from the school on January 5, 2024, condemning the death of N Nasren. Aggrieved by this, police arrested 19 people.[3]

On January 11, 2024, students of Salem Periyar University were detained by the Salem police while they were protesting against Governor R N Ravi visiting Salem Periyar University and meeting the vice-chancellor of the university, who is facing corruption charges was arrested and later released on bail last year.[4] The students and various political parties organised a black flag protest against the governor, and Salem police detained 175 students. A case has been registered by Karuppur Police station against 178 persons, including cadres of the National Students Union of India, members of the Tamil Nadu Student Federation, CPM and DMK. The case has been registered for showing black flags against the Tamil Nadu Governor and for staging the protest. They were booked under the charges of illegal gathering, causing law and order issues.[5]

The Declaration on Human Rights Defenders 1999 also seeks to protect the monitoring and advocacy functions of defenders by recognizing their right to obtain and disseminate information relevant to the enjoyment of human rights. According to Article 11 of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders 1999, “Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to the lawful exercise of his or her occupation or profession”.

The right to exercise freedom of speech and expression is enshrined under Article 19 (a) of the Indian Constitution. The right to freedom of opinion and expression encompasses three different aspects:

1)     The right to hold opinions without interference;

1.     2)The right to access to information and

2)     The right to impart information and ideas of all kinds.

Human Rights Defenders Alert (HRDA) condemned the targeted attack on the Human Rights Defenders. HRDA appealed to the National Human Rights Commission to exercise Section 12 (a) of the Protection of Human Rights (Amendment) Act, 2019, and take suo moto cognizance of this incident and initiate an independent inquiry through NHRC’s investigation wing. HRDA states that this is an opportunity for the NHRC to intervene and investigate Human Rights violations and condemn the same by issuing public statements in solidarity with the HRD.

Ashish Reddy is an Advocate and legal researcher who is currently serving as a Regional Coordinator of Human Rights Defenders Alert (HRDA)for southern India. He is also a member of the All India Network of Individuals and NGOs working with State and National Human Rights Institutions (AiNNI).

[1] Nithya Pandian Chandrashekar Nandini, “Ennore Gas Leak: Protesting Residents Allege Police Lodged FIR to Target Them,” The News Minute, January 3, 2024,

[2] “60 Farmers Detained for Staging Protest without Permission,” The Times of India, January 5, 2024,

[3] “Boy Ends Life in TN, Kin Say Was Chided by School Staff over Late Fee,” accessed January 19, 2024,

[4] “Governor RN Ravi Visits Periyar University in Salem amidst Protests,” The Times of India, January 11, 2024,

[5] “Black Flag Protest against Tamil Nadu Governor RN Ravi: Salem Police Registers Case against 178 People | Tamil Nadu News – News9live,” accessed January 19, 2024,

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