Activist Sasi Perumal’s death in Tamil Nadu sparks ugly politics over liquor prohibition

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Following the death of prohibition activist Sasi Perumal during protests demanding closure of a government-run liquor shop in Tamil Nadu, the state government has been brought under fire with many political parties blaming it for the Gandhian’s death. Several politicians have called for a total liquor prohibition as a tribute to the activist.

On Thursday, 59-year-old Perumal had attended former President APJ Abdul Kalam’s funeral and then gone to Marthandam in Kanyakumari district, about 350 km from Rameswaram, joining a local protest against the government-run liquor outlet.

Holding five litres kerosene and a bundle of cloth while threatening self-immolation, Perumal had climbed a 120-foot mobile phone tower. After five hours, even though an assurance came from the government that the shop would be closed down, Perumal was looking dizzy and vomiting blood. Following being brought down and being taken to the hospital, Perumal was declared dead on arrival.

An FIR lodged by the police said that the activist had hanged himself before the rescue team could reach him.

Two years ago, Perumal had gained prominence during a 33-day hunger strike near the Gandhi statue on Chennai’s Marina beach. He was later arrested for creating a nuisance and lodged in a jail on the city’s outskirts. Having continued fasting in jail till February 22, Perumal was then admitted to a hospital with his health having worsened.

Later, Perumal started fasting again near the Gandhi statue. He was arrested and released once again.

In June 2014, Perumal started a hunger strike in New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar, demanding nationwide alcohol prohibition. The protest ended after 35 days when Home Minister Rajnath Singh accepted a petition in person from Perumal.

In December the same year, Perumal also led the ‘Deepa Oli Sudar Ottam’ movement for prohibition in Tamil Nadu.

The local protest which led to Perumal’s death had reached its 1,001st day. A liquor retail outlet had been opened near a church and a school in 2012 by Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation (Tasmac).

Although government has since ordered complete closure of the shop, Perumal’s death has taken a sharp political turn ahead of the assembly elections.

Political parties including S Ramadoss’s PMK are promising prohibition as a tribute to Perumal.

Meanwhile, Perumal’s family has refused to accept his body, demanding an immediate closure of all liquor shops near schools and temples.

On Sunday, Tamil Nadu police detained over 100 people, including Perumal’s wife and his 10-year-old daughter when they tried to hold a fast demanding prohibition.

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