Killing Pallars To Propitiate Thevars
-A fact Finding Report on Police Firing at Paramakudi
By Anand Teltumbde
30 October, 2011
“An oppressed people are authorized whenever they can to rise and break their fetters.”
The news of police firing on Dalits, congregated at Paramakudi to observe the 54 th anniversary of the martyrdom of their leader Emmanuel Sekaran, killing six of them and injuring scores of them, just within four months from Ms J Jayalalitha regaining her power in the state for the third time, shocked the entire nation. The atrocities on Dalits in this part of Tamil Nadu is not a novel occurrence; just a few months before a decorated lady panchayat president – Krishnaveni, belonging to Arunthatiyar caste, one of the three major Dalit castes in the state, was fatally attacked. In a neighboring Tirunelveli district, a few years ago, the panchayat presidents of Nakkalamuthanpatti, P Jaggaiyan and Maruthankinaru Servaaran, who belonged to the same Arunthathiyar community, were murdered by members of the dominant castes. In a similar manner, 15 years ago, a dalit panchayat president, Murugesan, and his six relatives were cruelly done to death near Madurai . Indeed there is a history of atrocities on Dalits in southern Tamil Nadu. But unlike these incidents, which represented the civil society strife culminating into an atrocity, this one was committed by the state for apparently no reason. Again the partisan role of the state is not a new thing in India in the conflicts between Dalits and non-Dalits, it has always sided by the perpetrators of crimes overtly or covertly, but the state committing a deliberate crime of doing Dalits to death in execution of a political plan of a ruling party in a blatant manner, is surely a rare occurrence, which deserved to be exposed to the wider public.
Tamil Nadu based Centre for Protection of Civil Liberties (CPCL) took an initiative to constitute an all India team to do the fact finding into the incident. Accordingly a team comprising Priyadarshini of Democratic Students Union (DSU), New Delhi; Lakshmi Prasanna of Caste Annihilation Liberation Front; Advocates Murugan and Kesavan and S. Gopal of CPCL, and Dr Anand Teltumbde of Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights (CPDR), Mumbai visited Paramakudi, Manjoor, Keelakodumbaloor, Sadayaneeri, and Veerambal; Patam, Puliyur, Chintamani Junction; Apollo hospital in Madurai; met with eye witnesses, victims' families, injured persons and talked to state authorities—district collectors of Ramnad and Madurai districts; RDO, Meera Parameshwari and Tehsildar, Paramakudi over the two days, i.e., 2 nd and 3 rd October 2011. Taking stock of all the facts, the committee has come to a conclusion that the police action was not only unprovoked but was rather preplanned to serve the larger political interests of the ruling party.
Paramakudi is a taluka town in the Ramanathapuram district in South Tamil Nadu, about 70 km from Madurai on the Madurai- Rameswaram high way has been a sensitive place in the ‘thevar belt' from the viewpoint of inter-caste violence between the Thevars and the Pallars for many years. Paramakudi has witnessed police firings earlier: in 1991, three persons including two Dalits were killed, and in 1998, a Dalit girl died. The major backdrop for the subject incident is the congregation of the Dalits for their guru pooja , a veneration of their leader- Immanuel Sekaran on the anniversary of his martyrdom in 1957. It takes place in competition to the guru pooja organized by the dominant caste Thevars in commemoration of their caste leader Muthuramalinga Thevar, who was accused of murdering Immanuel Sekaran. This phenomenon of guru poojas may appear as innocuous commemorative events of respective communities notwithstanding their observance in competition with each other, but they are no more so because of the active participation of the political parties and the partisan involvement of the state since some years. Unless one understands the context of these rival guru poojas, the incident at Paramakudi may not be fully understood.
Thevar Guru Puja
Thevar guru puja or thevar jayanti is the observance of the birth and death anniversary (both, his birth and death anniversary falling on the same date, 30 October) of Muthuramalingam Thevar, an important Thevar leader at Pasumpon Village in Kamudi Taluk in Ramanathapuram District located at about 45 km away from the district city. From 1971, the memorial as well as the event at Paumpon was undertaken by the state.
U. Muthuramalingam Thevar (October 30, 1908 – October 30, 1963), also known as Pasumpon Muthuramalingam Thevar , hailed from a wealthy landlord family belonging to the Maravar community, the dominant caste group in southern Tamil Nadu. In 1920 the government of the Madras enacted Criminal Tribes Act (CTA) including Marvar as one of the “criminal tribes”. He mobilized resistance to the CTA. Since the ruling Justice Party had refused to revoke the law, he began to work for the Congress. In 1937 provincial elections, Thevar contested the assembly election from the Ramathapuram constituency and defeated a powerful opponent, the Raja of Ramnad. He had high hopes that after forming the government in the Madras Presidency, the Congress would repeal the CTA but the new chief minister, C. Rajagopalachari, did not oblige. Disillusioned by the Congress leadership, he joined the Forward Block, launched by Subhas Chandra Bose following the Tripuri session of the Congress, where he (Bose) was humiliated by the Gandhi camp. In 1946 elections to the Assembly he was elected unopposed. Soon thereafter, the CTA was repealed. When the Congress expelled all the dissenting fractions, including the Forward Bloc in 1948, the Forward Bloc became an independent opposition party, and he became its president of its Tamil Nadu state unit. In January 1952, the first general elections in independent India , he was elected for both Lok Sabha as well as Legislative Assembly. He decided to vacate his Lok Sabha seat and concentrate his efforts to the Madras legislative Assembly. In a central committee meeting at Nagpur in 1955, he was elected as deputy chairman of the Forward Block.
After the general elections in 1957, Thevar made peace with his former enemy C. Rajagopalachari, who had formed a new party called Congress Reform Committee, to defeat Kamaraj and the Congress rule in the state. In this election also he repeated his previous feat winning both the Lok Sabha as well as Assembly seats. This time however he resigned from his Assembly seat. In the ensuing election for the assembly seat, T.L. Sasivarna Thevar of the Forward Bloc defeated the Congress candidate. Clashes between Maravars, who largely supported the Forward Bloc, and pro-Congress Pallars began in a few villages and soon engulfed the entire district, resulting into several persons being killed and thousands of houses being torched. After the riots, a ‘Peace Conference' was held which ended in acrimony between him and Emmanuel Sekaran, an important Dalit leader. Sekaran was killed the following day. Thevar was arrested for having masterminded the murder of Emmanuel Sekaran but was acquitted of all charges and released in January 1959. In the next elections in 1962, he was again reelected for the Lok Sabha but soon thereafter he died on October 30.
After his death, the Forward Bloc became ridden by splits and disputes. Consequently, the chunks of the Maravar vote-bank were overtaken by the AIDMK and DMK. Several official honours were showered upon Thevar. In 1968 the Pasumpon Muthuramalinga Thevar College was founded in Usilampatti by the then DMK-led state government. His biography was included in the high school textbooks in Tamil Nadu. In 1971 his cemetery in Pasumpon was converted into an official memorial by the AIDMK government. A life-size portrait of Thevar was installed in the Tamil Nadu assembly in 1980. In 1984, after the bifurcation of the Ramnad District the ‘Pasumpon Muthuramalingam District' was created. Greenways Road and Chamiers Road , two important arterial roads in Chennai, were renamed after Thevar, and his statue was installed at the intersection of his eponymous road with Anna Salai. Also, in Mumbai city the old Sion-Mahim link road was renamed after him.
Thevar assumed great importance in the political life in southern Tamil Nadu as an icon of the Thevar/Marvar community. Most political parties eyeing support from that community at the time of elections visit his memorial to pay respect to him. However, his legacy is not entirely uncontroversial; for Dalits, he continues to be the murderer of Immanuel sekaran. At times violence between Thevars and Dalits flares up, and desecrations of his monuments takes place.
Pallar Guru Puja
Right from 1957, when Immanuel Sekaran was murdered by Thevars for not having stood up in respect for Muthuramlinga Thevar during the Peace Conference after the riots between the Thevars and Pallars in 1957 elections, the Pallars started observing anniversary of his martyrdom as guru puja. Large numbers of people congregate at Paramakudi, where a platform is erected over his burial site as the memorial.
Immanuel Sekaran was born on October 9, 1924 in Sellur village in Mudukulathur, Ramanathapuram district to Vedhanayagam, a school teacher and founder of Devendra Kula Vellalar Sangam. He participated in the Quit India movement at the age of 18 and was imprisoned for three months by the then British government. In 1945, he joined the Indian Army as Havildar Major. After serving the Army for a few years, he returned to Paramakudi to become a Youth Congress leader. He worked towards uplifting the Dalits and organized ‘ Annihilation of Caste Conference ' in Madurai , which was presided over by Dr Ambedkar . He also coordinated many village-level meetings and fought against caste-based discrimination. He propagated the importance of education among Dalits and inspired them to fight against oppression. He had a close relationship with Congress leader P. Kakkan and Perumal Peter, a Dalit leader who was heading Poovaisya Indira Kula Vellalar Association. Following the rise of Immanuel Sekaran, a significant social change, in the form of opposition to caste oppression by the Dalits did occur, especially in southern districts. This uprising, resulted in raising the consciousness of the Dalits, who utilized the available opportunities for education and jobs to make fast progress.
Following Sekaran's death, widespread riots broke out across the region (in and around Mudukkalthur in Ramanathapuram district in the south east of Tamil Nadu), and tragically both Thevars and Dalits were killed in large numbers. Dalit homes were destroyed, their crops set on fire, their families humiliated, entire villages burnt down, a church where Dalits had taken refuge was stormed by Thevar mobs and two men were killed. Several Thevars were killed too, as Dalits retaliated, and many more died in police firing. These events laid the basis for a volatile political atmosphere, which continues to persist in the region, and one in which the Thevars have lost no chance to let the Dalits know their place; Dalits for their part have continued to resist, often amidst tremendous odds. The then chief minister Kamaraj had arrested Muthuramalingam Thevar. Interestingly, Periyar had demanded this arrest. However, DMK opposed it and came to power with the support of Swatantra party led by Rajaji.
Thol. Thirumavalavan, the leader of Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi provided a succinct account of Immanuel's struggles and the circumstances leading to his assassination :
“After returning to Paramakudi, Immanuel Sekaran founded the Gospel Lutheran Christian Union on 26 September 1954 and served as its General Secretary. He functioned very bravely and questioned every casteist injustice heaped on the Pallars in the Ramanathapuram district. His increasing popularity and the militancy inculcated in the Dalits due to his efforts frightened the oppressor caste Maravars (Mukkulathors). Kamaraj, who heard of this resistance, asked Immanuel Sekaran to join the Congress Party so that he could be given protection as per the law. In 1957, Forward Bloc leader Muthuramalinga Thevar won from the Arupukottai parliamentary constituency and the Mudukalathoor assembly constituency. Because he resigned from the Mudukalathoor assembly constituency, a bye-boll was held on 1 July 1957 . Immanuel Sekaran, now of the Congress Party, wanted to contest the election, but, Kamaraj preferred to nominate a Maravar. Immanuel Sekaran campaigned for the Congress. Sasivarna Thevar, a candidate of the Forward Bloc won the election. However, the Dalits and the Nadars had voted for entirely for the Congress. Angered by this, the Maravars started unleashing greater oppression against the Dalits and the Nadars. In order to offer sacrifices to the Badrakali temple, the Maravars kidnapped 9 Dalit men from the village of Katamangalam and took them along. The crops belonging to the Dalit people were destroyed. Caste riots and rampages took place, and 42 Dalits were slain in the Mudukalathoor riots. Due to the escalating oppression, the then District Collector C.V.R.Panikkar made arrangements for talks between the Dalits, Maravars and Nadars on 10 September 1957 . Perumal Peter and Immanuel Sekaran represented the Dalits. Muthuramalinga Thevar suggested that all the leaders could address the people in a public meeting. The Dalit representatives feared that Muthuramalinga Thevar could use the meeting to create further tension, suggested that all the leaders sign an agreement, which could be distributed among the people. When Muthuramalinga Thevar had entered this meeting, everybody including the Collector stood up with the exception of Immanuel Sekaran. The Collector asked Immanuel why he did not stand up when a leader entered. Immanuel replied, 'He is not a leader to me. He wanted to destroy my whole community.' This angered Muthuramalinga Thevar very much. As a consequence, the talks came to an abrupt end without any solution in sight. Muthuramalinga Thevar who felt slighted is reported to have not even touched food when he visited a luncheon hosted in his honour immediately afterwards. He is said to have remarked that everybody was complacent when a small boy had dared to question him. The next day, on 11 September 1957 , Immanuel Sekaran who was returning to Peraiyur, after having participated in a function to commemorate the poet Subramania Bharthi, was attacked by the Maravars and murdered on the spot. Periyar passed a resolution seeking the arrest of Muthuramalinga Thevar. Kamaraj, the then Chief Minister, immediately arrested Muthuramalinga Thevar and all the Maravars who were responsible for the riots. Later, the C.N.Annadurai-led DMK government released all those arrested in connection with the 1957 riots. Today, there is a memorial for Immanuel Sekaran in Paramkodi in southern Tamil Nadu.”
The facts of the case are simple enough. Since there are a couple of good videos available of the entire episode, they could be even treated as incontrovertible. Despite this the incident was projected as “a battlefield between the agitators and the police personnel” in which “Scores of policemen were injured and a number of government vehicles including a riot control vehicle were torched down by the agitators”. The Madurai edition of the Hindu reported the incident as the front page lead item further:
“The trouble started when a group of 200 persons, mostly belonging to the Tamizhaga Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (TMMK), staged a road roko at Five Point Junction, demanding the release of their leader John Pandian. The TMMK leader was arrested by the police in Vallanadu, Tuticorin district when he was about to proceed towards Paramakudi about 60 km away farther.”
“Initially, the police held negotiations with the agitators, asking them to give up the protest. When the negotiations were on, some miscreants threw stones and footwear at the police, following which the mob was lathicharged. The police also burst teargas shells at the protesters. Meanwhile, the Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, in a statement said that the agitators, however, continued indulging in violence. The police had to resort to firing .. .. Only after that, did the mob disperse, … ”
“The Chief Minister stated that the police firing was made in self-defense and to protect public property. She also pointed out that number of police personnel including a Deputy Inspector General of Police was injured as a result of violence by TMMK.”
The previous day, it had reported the murder of a 16 year Dalit student with a blaring caption “The rival group allegedly committed the crime provoked by offending remarks on a wall against the community to which they belong”:
“A Dalit youth Palanikumar (16) [son of Thangavelu of Pacheri village of Ramnathpuram, and a student of Government Higher Secondary School, Anaikulam was allegedly hacked to death by a group of 10 persons early on Saturday when he was returning after watching a play. Following his murder, tension had built up in and around Kumudhi and Mudukulathur.”
The Hindu is cited here only because it is considered by most people as authentic news reporter If it had reported the incident uncritically based on the police version, what would most others, which thrive on sensationalizing news would have done. The media has always displayed a caste bias against Dalits in any such episode.
The incident as recorded in the video may be narrated as follows: As in previous years, since the morning of 11 September, people began gathering at Paramakudi to observe the 54 th death anniversary of Immanuel Sekaran. The people had collected at the Five-Point junction. There was a big posse of policemen in helmets and laced with the anti-riot gear. They had formed a wall along the Madurai - Rameswaram road, leaving a lane sufficient to pass vehicles. There were no vehicles however because the traffic on that road was diverted as per the practice in previous years. They had also brought an anti-riot armoured vehicle called vajra and stationed it at about 20 meters distance. People, oblivious of the police presence, were shouting slogans. The crowd was swelling as the time passed.
At around 11.30, suddenly, the police begin lathi charge. People run helter skelter towards Mudukulathur road. People are chased away by police further. People begin pelting stones at police from distance. Most stones do not reach police. Some police however appears to have been hit. Just after 10 to 15 minutes, the vajra is brought in and positioned opposite to Mudukulathur road. Suddenly, the firing starts and people start falling. Many people do not seem to realize that it was firing until they see people being hit and fall bleeding. They start running leaving the road littered with the footwear and the blood splatter. At this en of Madurai-Rameswaram road, some people are seen breaking the glass of a standing truck. Vajra is majestically providing shelter to the policemen firing at the mob. As the video record comes to an end, the police begin lifting bodies without much qualm for dignity of dead or wounded. There are no stretchers. They catch hold of stray people and start thrashing them. An old man, identified later as Vellaichamy, a 70-year-old retired headmaster of a primary school, who had been visiting Paramakudi for the past 20 years to pay his respects at the memorial of Sekaran, gets caught by the police. The old man is hit by every policeman as though he were a football, as he is pushed out of the road. Velaichamy had to be hospitalized for 5 days.
On the same day around the same time there was another incident of police firing at the Chintamani junction on the outskirts of Madurai. The people of Puliyur, while travelling in an open lorry were stopped by the police at the Chintamani junction outpost. Altercation between people and police ensued and police fire in which two people were injured. As per the Police version faithfully carried by the media, the people indulged rasta roko and arson and burning vehicles including theirs and hence they had to resort to firing to save the public property.
At the end, four people die of gunshot injury and two of severe beating. No newspaper reports the latter. Slowly, certain falsehood in the police version trickles through the media. The Hindu of 15.09.11 reported John Pandian, President of Tamizhaga Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (TMMK) saying, “I was allotted time between 3 pm to 5 pm to pay my respects at the memorial … but was later illegally detained saying Section 144 Cr PC has been promulgated prohibiting me from entering Ramnathpuram.” He demands FIR to be filed against Rajesh Das, IG Police, South Zone, and K A Senthilvelan, Deputy Commissioner, Adyar (who was on deputation) under section 302 and Avaniapuram (Madurai) Inspector Gajendran under section 307 of the IPC. The chief minister makes the prompt statement defending the police on the very first day and declares Rs 1 lakh as solatium to the family of the dead. She rejects the demand for the CBI investigation and rather proposes RDO investigation, not realizing that a junior official like an RDO could not possibly go into the actions of the SP and Collector. Eventually she institutes an enquiry by a retired single judge, J Sampath. People express their anger and no confidence, showing black flags to J Sampath when he visits a village.
The incident is tenuously based on whether people really go out of control warranting firstly lathi charge by the police. Was there a sufficient ground thereafter for opening fire on people, which dropped four of them dead and injured scores of others? Police claim that they had burst tear gas shell, which the video recording does not indicate. None of the witnesses also told us that there was any warning from the police before actual firing. At Chintamani junction at Madurai, similarly, there did not seem to be any justification for the police to open fire. What could a lorry full people really do? The task before the team therefore was to find out from the cross section of witnesses whether the police action killing six people and wounding several was justified. It is obvious that the police had not followed their own manual.
Day 1: 02 October 2011
Location: Paramakudi, Five-Point junction
At the spot of firing, we generally spoke with the crowd collected around us about what they saw around 11.30 onwards at the Five-Point junction on 11 September. Some eye witnesses came forward telling what they saw.
Witness 1: Ravichandran
At about 11.30 he was there. There may not have been more than 200 people. The police perhaps were in larger number. He did not know what happened. Suddenly, he saw people running on Mudukulathur road and police after them with their lathis. I had at that point slipped off from the place.
Witness 2: Somasundaram
He said he was standing on the road at 11.30. There were little over 100 people in the crowd but people were adding fast. There is a bypass to Paramakudi from Madurai on which the traffic is diverted every year. No public transport is allowed on the road and hence there was no question of any road roko.
Witness 3: Shaktivelu
At 11.30, there may not have been more than 200 people. The stone throwing had started after the police began lathi charge. After reaching the safe distance from the police, people started pelting stones at them. When the firing started, I also could not comprehend it but when I saw a person fall some 100 meters away on the Mudukulathur road, I got scared and fled away.
Witness 4: Murugaya, Belonged to the SC/ST government employees' association
I go every year to pay my homage to Immanuel Sekaran. Form 2007, we have been demanding that the Sekaran guru puja should be declared as the state function. Since two dalit MLAs have been elected from the area, this demand caught particular force. At 11 am people learnt about John Pandian's arrest. They began his immediate release around 11.30 am. The lathi charge of the police was unprovoked. As far as I saw it clearly, people had not indulged in any physical action. The police particularly, Shiv Kumar, Inspector, Paramakudi and Senthivelan, Dy Commisioner should be held for all the loss of life and atrocities.
Witness 5: Selvam (small business in Parahmakudi
Sivakumar, inspector Paramakudi and Senthilvelan, DG are the prime accused who targeted the people. He is also notorious for his anti-Dalit stand and also has many cases pending against him. There is a strong demand from the people of Paramakudi, especially from 2007 for declaring Emmanuel Sekaran's death anniversary as a state function. This time there are two Dalit MLAs from Paramakudi, hence the expectation of its materializing has become stronger. People in Paramakudi do not have any doubt in mind that the police firing was preplanned. All the stories the police fed to the media and official channels are false. There was absolutely no provocation. People were just shouting slogans in revelry and nothing untoward had happened to provoke the police to open the lathi charge and soon thereafter firing. The police action is to demoralize the dalits from making such a demand and to please Thevars who would not want the Sekaran guru puja to be the state sponsored event quite like theirs. They would their symbolic dominance if it happens.
The team tried to elicit information from the small stall owners at the junction where the firing had taken place. Most of them said that they had shut the shop and were either inside or were at homes. They did not see exactly what happened. They only heard the sound of firing and saw people running helter skelter and some having fallen on the Mudukulathur road.
Place: memorial of Emanuel Sekaran
Witness4: Adv. Pasumalai
Last year over 3 lakh people came for the gathering on September 11. In recent years the number of people congregating for the function has risen drastically. With the exception of CPI and CPM all political parties attend this function. Since 2007 this has been transformed from being a cultural and social event to a political event. The enemies of dalits perceive a threat of such huge dalit mobilization and make efforts to sabotage it either by committing a murder on the eve of this day or in any other manner. There have been killings and counter killings between Thevars and Pallars right from 2007. But the administration pushes it under carpet.
Visiting the families of those murdered:
Place: Manjoor Village nearly 12 km from Paramakudi, adjacent to the Madurai-Rameswaram road.
Victim: Jaybal, died of gun shot
Jayabal ( ), who died of the gunshot belonged to this village. He was the only son to his parents and worked as a lorry driver. He had married an upper caste girl. Jaabal's wife had delivered a female child two days ago. Manjoor is a settlement of dalits who are a part of the larger village having Konar and Muslim population. Most of the people had gone for works. We spoke with his grand mother, who lived with him along with her husband. They told us that they work either on farms or on the brick kilns. The wage rate for the farm labour is about Rs 50/ day and that for pother work approx Rs 100/ day. On asking about the MNREGA work, people who worked on the scheme came forward and showed us their records, which had Rs 35 to 50 as the daily wage rate. They said only this year because of elections they got Rs 90/ day. This is the village which put up black flags in protest of J Sampath enquiry commission and prevented him from entering the village.
Place: Kodumbaloor Vilage
Victim: Theerpukani, died of brutal beating by police
It is a dalit village with 350 Pallar families. Theerpukani, a 22years old youth studying in II year of polytechnic, was brutally beaten to death. He is survived by his parents, a brother and two sisters.
We spoke with his mother and sister, joined later by his father. His mother inconsolably wept narrating his story. She told that they all had gone to the memorial to pay homage to Emmanuel Sekaran and went to the 5 road crossing around 11 am. They saw people running in all directions from the five-road crossing. Theerpukani wanted to take his bike parked there but seeing no one except police there he returned home along with his friends. In the evening at around 3 pm he, accompanied by his friends and cousins, had gone back to the spot to fetch his bike. After an hour or so they started to search for him as he did not return. By 7p.m. the Village Administrative Office had called their house to inform that Theerpukani was dead and that his body was taken to Madurai. Later they found out from his friends and cousins that they were all picked up by the police and beaten badly. Theerpukani was wearing a banyan in Red and Green colour (the colours of the Flag of Devendras, i.e., Pallars), which irked the police. He was picked up and taken to the police van. He was beaten to death there itself. His postmortem report confirmed that he was beaten to death.
Victim: Muniyandi, elder brother of Theerpukani's father
He is Theerpukani's uncle. His hand was bandaged and had a wound on his back. He had gone to look for Theerpukani and his cousins around 4.30 pm. On his way near the Five-Point crossing he was stopped and was beaten by the police. When he fell down his mobile and watch slipped. The police had taken (stolen) his mobile. As he was injured he came back home. He got treatment from a private Doctor with his own money. He said there would be scores of people like him who were wounded with police beating but do not figure in any records. Most people, who could manage to get away did so and treated themselves privately. His wounds were yet not healed and he was finding it difficult to bend his arm.
Place: Sadayaneeri Village
Victim: Muthukumar (26), died of gunshot
The village was exclusively Pallar. Muthukumar, who died of a gunshot, was working in a gas agency in Paramakudi. He is survived by his parents, wife son (4) and daughter(2 ½).
Since Muthukumar was working in Paramakudi, he had gone to Five-Point crossing earlier, while his family along with villagers. After paying homage at the memorial, they had started back around 11.30 pm and were stranded on the way as the firing had already started at the junction. A bullet hit him there. Pandeeswari (his wife) told us that her parents, who reside near Paramakudi were first informed about Muthukumar having been shot by his friends. His friends managed to click a picture of him with phone camera, after having been hit with a bullet. They were informed that he was taken to the Paramakudi General Hospital, but he was not admitted there. While his in-laws went there, they were informed that he was taken to Madurai General Hospital. It was only the next day that they could go to Madurai. We were told that he was alive till September 12 th and died due to non-availability of treatment.
The family had 1 acre land which they cultivated and supplemented their income by working as farm labour.
Place: Veerambal Village
Victim: Paneerselvam (50), died of gunshot
Veerambal is a Pallar village with a majority being Christians. It is the native of Emmanuel Sekaran's mother. It is surrounded by 13 dominant caste villages and is considered as one of the sensitive areas from the viewpoint of caste conflict. We got down at the church where many people were already available. Father at the church gave us information on the village and conducted us to the house of Pannerselvam, who had fallen to one of the police bullets.
Pannerselvam had migrated temporarily to a place near Paramakudi, bought some land and was cultivating it. On that fateful day, he had come to Paramakudi to visit his daughter. He had called her around 11.30 pm to inform that there was a firing at the Five-Point junction and therefore he would go to her the next day. That was the last time they had spoken to him. They had tried contacting on his mobile phone the entire day but it was not answered. Around 7 pm, the phone was answered by an unknown person who did not reveal his identity but inquired about Panneselvam and his family and disconnected the phone. It was only through the television footage that the family came to know that he was killed. As per the post mortem report, Panneselvam had died due to a bullet hit on his forehead.
Place: Paramakudi while returning to Madurai from Veerambal.
We were met with S. Raju, who identified himself as General Secretary, Thiyagi Immanuel Peravai, Paramakudi.
He gave a brief background of the incident. He said that it was not an isolated incident of police firing but was a part of the plan that is unfolding since 2007 to sabotage the event assuming a rising scale. From 2007, the Immanuel Sekaran guru puja is really transformed into a big event, where lakhs of people began congregating to pay homage to his memory. He told us that since 2007, almost every year, some Dalit person who is active in one way or the other would be murdered by the Maravars in the first week of September. In 2007, a teacher Kutti Vathiyar was murdered by the Maravars. In 2009, Arivazhagan, from Sivagangai district was murdered in September. In 2010 Harikrishnan from Konthgai, who was a mason by profession but also used to do wall writings inviting people to join the gathering on September 11, was murdered by the Maravars. In 2011, a 16 year old boy Palanikumar from Pallapacheri village was murdered on September 9 th , just two day before the guru puja day.
All these murders, he said, were aimed at frightening the people from going to Paramakudi and sabotaging the event from being successful. But these plans did not work. The people not only came but also came in larger numbers and resolutely paid their homage peacefully. Also, the Pallar people did not forget to give the Maravars in their own coin. All these murders were also duly avenged by killing the perpetrators of crime.
In September 2007, at the time of 50 th guru puja, the people had put up welcome posters using ‘ daiva thirumagan ” and “ therasi talaivar ” the epithets, normally used for Muthuramlinga Thevar, for Immanuel Sekaran. The police had objected to it and advised the dalit leaders not to use it. The leaders retorted asking for the government order and kept on using it thereafter. John pandian's party especially uses them on their hoardings.
He believed that the state did not want to make September 11 a sate function, which is the demand of the people since 2007. This year, they were determined that they would clinch it as they had two MLAs from that area. Hope was strengthened by the fact that in 2010 the central government had issued a postage stamp in honour of Immanuel sekaran.
Day 2, Date: October 3 October 2011.
Place: Sivagangai, Madurai
There was an incident of police firing in the outskirts of Madurai near the Chinthamani ring road. It is said that the people who had come from Sivagangai district were stopped at the Chinthamani junction as they were traveling in an open truck (which is prohibited to carry people). While the people were arguing with the police, those who were coming in closed vehicles were also stopped, leading to altercation between the people and the police. It is reported that one Gajendran, Inspector police, shot at the crowd without any provocation. Two boys were seriously injured from firing and many due to beating.
Place: Pattam Village
Victim: Balakrishnan, wounded by the bullet shot
We went to see Balakrishnan, an 18 years old boy, son of Ramar, a farm labourer. His family members were away on work. Balakrishnan said that they had some own land but they have to work on others' farms to supplement their earning.
He had an entry and exit wound on his back, which shows that he was fired upon from a close range. He narrated that the Pattam villagers started off for the guru puja in a Tata Sumo and one more closed vehicles. When they reached the Chinthamani junction, the Puliyur villagers were having an altercation with the police. The police stopped the Pattam villagers also. But they moved ahead saying that they were in closed vehicles and hence they wouldll just leave the place without causing any problem. But they were again stopped. Some people got out of the Sumo. The police began beating them up in which one Bose was severely injured on his head. It angered the Pattam villages who confronted the police asking why they were stopped and were being beaten. Gajendran reached there in a jeep and as he got out, he immediately started firing from his service pistol. Balakrishnan said that he had not even realized that he was hit with a bullet as he was running but then he fainted.
Raja, another witness told us that Balakrishnan was carried on a two wheeler by the people themselves and admitted in the General Hospital and was later shifted to Apollo Hospital, from which he was discharged recently. He said that Balakrishnan is falsely charged for molestation of a woman police constable in the police report along with other usual charges of rioting, etc. Balakrishnan, although shocked at his plight, was not reconciled with it and was determined to fight a legal battle against the police.
Victim: Jaya Prashanth, wounded with a gun shot
Not very far from Balakrishnan's house, across the village street, was the house of Jeya Prashanth, a 19 years old boy, who had a diploma in electrical engineering. He was working in Trichy with Airtel tower company. He was grievously injured by the bullet. The bullet had entered from the right side of his back, at the place close to the spinal cord, came out from under his arms, and entered his fore arm, eventually exiting just above his right elbow. Although discharged from the hospital, he was plastered all over. The nature of the wounds itself was indicated that he was shot from a close range.
He narrated that he along with his friends reached the Chinthamani junction to catch the vehicle that was going to Paramakudi. But when they reached, people were already running as they were being beaten up by the police. As he too turned to run he was shot at by the police and fell down. As he cried for help, the police ran to him to beat him. When he told them that he was already shot at, they picked him up in a police van and took him to police station instead of a hospital. He said that even as he was bleeding profusely and fighting for life the police asked him to sign blank sheets of papers and threatened that only after he signed them, they would take him to hospital. He refused to oblige. It was only after the pressure from people gathered there built up, that he was taken to the hospital. It was by then, 1 pm but even there he was not treated until the evening. It was only with the intervention from Vaiko they started treatment on him. He also has charges of molestation against him like Balakrishnan.
Place: Puliyur, a Dalit village in Sivagangai district.
We went to this village as it was the people from this village who were stopped by the Chintamani junction police. We stopped at a place where some people were collected. One Nagendran, B.com from American college, who was in the vehicle that day came forward to give his testimony.
He told us that from Puliyur, they tried to arrange vehicles to go to Paramakudi for Emmanuel Sekaran's guru puja. But none of the travel agencies was ready to rent them vehicles. Even those who received the advance returned the money on a previous day and hence they got only an open truck. When they left in one such open truck, they were stopped by the police at Chinthamani junction. The police firstly thrashed the driver for taking them. When the others confronted the police they started to beat the people. Two to three people were injured in the head and some others also got injured elsewhere. Around that time, Gajendran, the police inspector arrived there. As he got down from his jeep, he took out his pistol and fired at people felling two boys. When asked if there was any instance of molestation, he deniede saying that there were only two women constables and they were standing far away from where the lathi charge took place. He was vehement that Gajendran should be charged for attempt to murder among other things. The police people there also behaved highhanded with people in unnecessarily beating them. They all also should be booked under the SC/ST Atrocity Act.
He along with other villagers felt that it was a planned action by the police in order to prevent people from going to Paramakudi. They also said that after the incident police came to raid their village and picked up people randomly forcing men folk to flee and to sleep in the farms for more than a week.
Place: Chinthamani junction, Ring Road.
Duraipandi along with his friends had arranged for welcoming people who were going to Paramakudi. They had also arranged for loud speakers. He told us that from the previous evening itself, the sub inspector Shanmuganathan had started harassing people who had gathered around the place. The next day when people were passing from there towards Paramakudi they were stopped, on the pretext of traveling in an open vehicle. As the people argued with the police and pleaded that they should be allowed to go, the police unnecessarily lathi charged them. As if that was not enough, the inspector Gajendran came there in his jeep and opened fire from his pistol. He left the spot on a two wheeler immediately after firing down two young boys. Duraipandi told us that after the incident, the police burnt their own vehicles to make a story that people indulged in burning their vehicle and hence they had to lathi charge and fire in self defence. He had heard that the Police FIR against people contains all such charges but they were all false. He had seen it with his own ayes. On asking about the molestation charges against police women, Duraipandi expressed surprise that the police could go to such a silly extent.
Place: Apollo Hospital.
Victim: Singadurai, Burma colony, Paramakudi
At the hospital, we had to take special permission from the general Manager, who agreed two of us to be conducted by his staff but not before telling us that the victims told all kinds of cock and bull stories to various people who visit them. It showed the typical upper caste upper class bias against Dalits even in the times of severe crisis.
We were taken to Sighadurai, who had multiple fractures, probably with dislocations in his right arm and also a deep head injury. He told us that he was picked up by the police around 3 pm near the Paramakudi Railway crossing which is about half a kilometer from the Five-Point junction. He was taken to the police van. They were some 12-15 boys like him who were also badly beaten with lathis for an hour or so until they fell unconscious. They were then taken to Elayankudi General Hospital. The police left them there and went back. They were sent from there to Sivagangai General Hospital and then sent to Madurai General Hospital where they received some treatment.
Place: Apollo Hospital, Madurai.
Victim: Kumar, 26 years, Kattu Paramakudi. He has a wife and a 7 months old son.
He had a fracture in both his hands right leg and also a head injury. He told us that he was going to a shop in Five-Point junction and was picked up from there by the police and was thrashed badly. He said around 15 police men rounded him up and beat him. Later he along with 5 others was taken to Elayankudi General Hospital. He saw two of them dying on the way. The three others were sent to Sivagangai and later Madurai General Hospital in an ambulance.
Victim: Siva, 19 years, Odachiyar Valasai village, Ramnad district.
He had a bullet injury on his right thigh. He had received it and was taken to the hospital by the people around. He was brought to the Madurai General Hospital and was there for eight days without any treatment. He was then transferred to Apollo hospital where he was operated upon and the bullet was taken out.
Place; Police Headquarters, Madurai
Police Superintendent: Asra Garg
We went to see SP, Madurai to know from him the reasons for the police action at the Chintamani junction. We sent a request in but were asked to wait downstairs. We could not afford to wait endlessly and hence requested him through his attendant to give us a time slot for a brief interview. He did not respond and kept us waiting. Ultimately, we left with his assurance that he would give us a call when he was free. He looked all along reluctant in talking to us and hence we did not believe that he would call us. It came true. He did not call us.
Collector, Ramnad District: Arun Roy (phone: 9444183000)
We contacted Mr Arun Roy, Collector, Ramnad district on phone. We asked him two questions: one, what was the provocation for the police action to lathi charge and open fire a short while thereafter that led to loss of four lives and left scores of people injured. And two, what made the police go into action between 3 to 5 pm after the situation had come to normalcy after the firing, rounding up randomly 18 youth belonging to Pallar castes and beating them badly in a police van and thereafter in the police station such that two boys die and balance are seriously injured. Roy replied narrating the sequence of events and said inter alia that people were doing rasta roko. The police were negotiating with them but they were not budging. Suddenly, they started abusing and throwing stones at them in response to which the police had to begin lathi charge. On telling him that since the traffic on the main road was diverted that day as in previous years, there was no question of rasta roko. Moreover, the stray vehicles were passing through a lane maintained by the police smoothly. He said that it was not the vehicular traffic, they prevented movement of people. On asking which people, he did not have cogent answer. We asked him whether he was aware of the video recordings of the entire episode being available, which do not corroborate with his version. He said that he heard of them but had not seen them. He however insisted that he was convinced that police action was justified. In reply to the second question, he said according to his information was that all the six people died on spot. On reminding about his own report to the court indicating that some people died of non-bullet injuries, he agreed that there was a case of that kind. When we told him that the postmortem reports clearly showed at least two people had died of beating. He pleaded ignorance.
Roy tried to justify the police action saying that many policemen were injured in the stone pelting and had to be hospitalized. When even after the lathi charge, people continued to pelt stones and began burning vehicles on the Madurai- Rameswaram road, police had to open fire. On questioning that after the police chased people away with lathi charge deep into Mudukulathur road, how could people burn vehicles on Madurai - Rameswaram road, he did not have cogent answer. We then asked him whether as a collector he had ascertained that police followed the procedure while opening fire such as issuing warning, bursting tear gas shell and only after then opening fire aiming below the waist. He said that he believed the police did however could not answer in specific. He could not tell us the number of tear gas shell the police fired before opening fire. On specific querying whether he checked the inventory records to ascertain the police version, he answered in negative. On pointing out to him that according to post mortem reports all casualties showed bullet marks well above waist, indicating that police had fired to kill, he said he did not have this information.
He then tried to divert the topic saying that Paramakudi was a sensitive place; there were other communities too and they needed to be protected. So the firing was effectively for two reasons: one, self defence and two, for the protection of other communities. He could not however explain which other communities he meant as there were none around the spot needing police protection. He further stated that normally the collector was supposed to do his own investigation into such incidents but since the government had announced a one man judicial commission, he himself became a subject of investigation. He could not call for any evidence as it would amount to tampering with evidence.
RDO, Ramnathpuram: Meera Parameswari (Phone: 9445000473)
The RDO categorically denied that she had given permission for firing and said she was 40 km away from Paramakudi.
Tehsildar: Shiv Kumar
He declined to speak to us without the permission from the collector.
A reporter who did not want to be identified told us that after the incident Gajendran rode his bike and spoke on his cell phone with his staff. When a photographer approached him to take a snap he suddenly realized something and stopped him. He went inside and put up saline and asked the photographer to come and take a photograph.
Place: Madurai, Collector's Bungalow
Madurai collector: Mr. Sahayam, IAS
Mr Sahayam gave us a patient hearing and said that he himself was shocked to hear about the firing at the Chintamani crossing, when he learnt about it after some time. He was not informed about the firing by the police and had got the news from other sources. He told us that he had immediately called the SP and rushed to the spot. He said that since there was an inquiry going on he would be able to provide only the police version of the story. He then narrated that the people had traveled in open vehicle which was the reason for them being stopped. It led to commotion. He said he was told that the police negotiated with the people to leave the spot. But when it failed they had to resort to lathi charge and firing. He commented that even if going by the police version, he felt that the firing could have been avoided. He said that he visited the hospital too and saw the injured. He ordered for the best treatment to them. He was visibly moved by the facts we narrated. He said it was not known to him that the people in the Apollo Hospital were randomly picked up after the firing and were beaten by police. It was too brutal for anyone to do that. He regretted that it was not his jurisdiction.
We reported to him that the SP, Madurai was not willing to talk to us.
When the issue of false cases being slapped on the victims was brought to his notice, he said that some lawyers had also told him about them. He was shocked to hear that the two boys who were fatally hit by Gajendran's bullets were 18 and 19 years old and they were charged for molesting a woman constable along with some usual ones. He assured us that he would definitely look into this matter and do all that is possible to withdraw these false cases against the victims. He also noted that the victims were already under pain and stress and such false cases by police would only amount to more harassment.
Analysis and Observations
The Police Action was Preplanned
It is not difficult to pin in the crime of police on 11 September 2011. The massive evidence in the form of video records, which certainly remains unused so far will demolish every excuse they have been making for resorting to lathi charge and firing. All of our findings tell us that the police acted without any provocation from people. While it is imaginable that the arrest or detention of John Pandian had created the anger in people, it had not reached the point of expression into any violent act. Taking into account all the facts, it appears to us that the entire episode was preplanned with some political objective in mind.
Firstly, in the context of recent history of murders on the eve of rival guru pujas, the extra security arrangement by way of preparedness of police to take care of any contingency may not be faulted but to prevent John Pandian, the TMMK president from coming to Paramakudi, in violation of the earlier permission granted to him, was certainly an unwarranted provocation to the crowds. In what followed, it smacks of the police plan to create an alibi for their action on the Pallars. They claim that the people were demanding John Pandian's release and suddenly began pelting stones on them, which impelled them to start the lathi charge. The videos we studied would dismiss any such possibility. The stone pelting is possible when there is distance between two groups. The crowd at the Five-point junction prior to the lathi charge did not keep any such distance from the police. The segment of Madurai - Rameswaram road at the junction was packed. If any stone was pelted in that situation, it could only injure the people and not the police, who were wearing protective gears like helmet. The concocted story of stone pelting by people thus does not hold any water. Rather, it is the police by resorting to the lathi charge provoked people to do stone pelting. It is clearly captured in the videos. Because then the people were pushed quite inside the Mudukulathur road, creating some distance between them and the police. Likewise, the story of people resorting to breaking and burning vehicles also is false because there were no vehicles at the Five-point junction. Only after the police left their position for chasing people into the Mudukulathur road, people were angered and may have indulged into such activities. The video, for instance, has captured a couple of boys trying to break the front glass of a truck standing at some distance. It may thus be concluded that the entire story constructed by the police to justify their getting into action itself is false.
As the lathi charge happens, the people run away on the Mudukulathur road. After some minutes, some of them begin pelting stones towards the police who were trying to chase them away. These are the normal reactions by people to the police action they see unjustified. Firstly, it was not heavy stone pelting and secondly most stones did not even reach the police. It did not in any manner spell an uncontrollable situation. Police could simply warn people to stop it or just retreat to their old positions. They were all wearing helmets and as such did not risk being injured in normal course. People would have stopped it after some time. After all, where would they get endless supply of stone for pelting? In any case the police manual prescribes the procedure to be followed before resorting to firing. It includes adequate warning to the people on the public address system, followed by the water jet or tear gas shell. Even after this the mob defiantly continues violence; the police could be justified to open fire. Fire, not to kill but to disperse the people! But in Paramakudi, nothing of this kind has happened. The police claims to have burst the tear gas shell but it is totally bogus. If they had burst the shells, the video would have captured the bursting sound as well as smoke and reactions thereto in people. None of this is indicated in the video record. None of our witnesses also told us that the police warned or burst tear gas shells before resorting to firing. After the lathi charge for 10 minutes or so, they get vajra on the main road and immediately begin firing. One can see people dropping on road clearly with bullet hits. All the bullet injuries people received are above waist and violative of the police manual. It is clear that police hastened to fire and fired to kill.
The way the police treated the injured and the dead only reflects the deep hatred in their minds against the Dalits. Many of the injured people we met told us that they were carried to the hospitals by their friends. Many people got themselves treated privately and hence did not figure in the official count. The video recording showed the callous manner the police carried the corpses, with the head and limbs dangling against ground. Those injured whom the police carried had to wait bleeding for hours before they were taken to hospital and even then some of them told us having remained unattended. The entire conduct of the police was abominable and smacked of casteist prejudice. We were told that some key police people known for their anti-dalit attitude were brought especially to handle the plan at Paramakudi. The key persona on the police side whether it is at Paramakudi or the Chintamani junction had some history of dalit hatred and moral infirmity.
If Paramakudi was the case of mass provocation, what had really happened at the Chintamani junction in Madurai? There it was a simple issue of people travelling in an open truck. If what people told us was true (and there is no reason for us to believe it was not) that the bus owners whom they had paid advance to book the bus for going to Paramakudi, had returned it on the previous day, at the instance of police. It was a highly objectionable act on the part of police. Many people had to drop the plan of going to Paramakudi but some hired whatever vehicles that were available. When the police stopped people travelling in an open truck, the altercation was bound to happen. Although no one told us about the rasto roko at the Chintamani junction except for the newspapers, even if people had resorted to rasta roko, the police cannot just react with caning them. Such things are normal expression of peoples' dissent in democracy. The police have to have some tact of handling mobs, and patience to see its viewpoint and not just arrogantly flaunt their lathis and gun.
Well, people from Puliyur village were stopped for travelling in an open truck; what about the people of Pattam village who were travelling in a Tata sumo? Why were they stopped? Whatever that transpired to provoke the police to lathi charge the people, where was the need to fire upon them? The manner in which Gajendran reaches there, takes out his pistol and fires upon people may become a police inspector in a Tamil movie, not the real one. The two boys that he injured would well have been dead but for their luck. He perhaps realized the wrong he committed. Because thereafter his policemen themselves were found damaging the vehicles at the Chintamani junction as some loader union member told us. Ganjendran himself left on a motorbike to the hospital and got himself bandaged for nothing. The journalist, who did not want to be identified, told us that he had seen him riding his bike and wanted to take a snap as he had just heard of the firing but Gajendran had asked him not to and asked him to come to the hospital after some time. When he went there to meet him he was lying with fake bandage. We made several efforts to contact him on phone but we could not get him. Ultimately, we physically went to his place, but even there we could not find him.
We were told that the police slapped various charges of arson etc. on the victims and also made a policewoman, incidentally belonging to Pallar caste, to file an FIR that some of the boys tried molesting her. Two boys, aged 18 and 19, who were injured in the firing reportedly have been charged for molestation. The entire cover up operation the police planned is not only ridiculous but also adds to their crime.
There is absolutely no doubt that the Chintamani incident also was a part of the plan. No one on earth can justify firing there. The manner in which it was done is simply deplorable.
What was the Plan?
The chief minister J Jayalalithaa promptly issued a statement that it was a caste conflict between Thevars and Pallars and tried to colour it as a caste issue. She had stated in the Assembly on September 12 that the Paramakudi episode was the “culmination of a chain of events” triggered by a defamatory graffiti against Pasumpon Muthuramalinga Thevar written on a wall at Mandalamanickam village by miscreants and the subsequent murder of T. Palanikumar, a higher secondary school student of Pacheri Dalit hamlet on September 9…” In the face of it, it was intriguing how her police killing people in the name of law and order becomes a caste conflict. While both the castes should be commended for having maintained their cool in the face of such provocation, what the chief minister perhaps unintendedly revealed is what lies at the root of the episode. The incident has clear overtone of the on-going caste conflict between Thevars and Pallars in southern Tamil Nadu. It is important to understand the dynamics of this conflict and its implication to the vote bank politics of Tamil Nadu.
As though to preempt the doubt about the professionalism of the state police in what would come after 20 days in paramakudi, the chief minister Jayalaithaa, who also holds Police and Home portfolios, made this announcement proudly in the Budget session of the State Assembly on August 24: “The Tamil Nadu Police, in its modern avatar, reflects a glorious tradition of over a century and a half. It was the only force to embark on State-sponsored modernisation in the early 1990s which was pioneered by me during my first tenure as Chief Minister from 1991 to 1996. Seizing the opportunity, the Tamil Nadu Police transformed itself into a mature and modern force with a humane face and unique approach to people and problems....” One may just consider a comment on making of Tamil Nadu police in southern districts, with which we are concerned, in a celebrated report by Human Rights Watch in contrast:
“The Thevar Peravai (Thevar Front), the most active and organized of Thevar organizations, was until early 1998 led by retired Director General of Police (DGP) Pon Paramaguru. His successor, dr. n sethuraman, was also the general secretary of moovendar Munnetra Kazhagam, a political party launched by the all india Thevar Pearavai in 1998.
During his tenure as DGP from 1972 to 1975, Paramaguru recruited many Thevars into the Police Force. J Jayalalitha, leader of the AIDMK,. Was considered a “strong Thevar community supporter” during her-year tenure as chief minister of the state from 1991 to 1996. Her support included extending influential political and police positions to members of the Thevar community, allowing them to further consolidate their power base… Lawyers, human rights activists and the local press have noted that, as a result, a majority of the police force in the southern districts now ‘hails from the thevar caste and, often have been unable to overcome their affiliation.”
Thevars are the dominant caste cluster, generally called as ‘Mukkulathors' comprising Kalars, Marwars and Agamudayar in southern Tamil Nadu. They claim descent from the clans of Chera, Chola and Pandian, and thus a kingly past. As in earlier days kings were portrayed as gods, they claim that they were called Thevar, meaning god (distortion of Sanskrit deva, for god). Not to be left behind, Pallars also claim their regal descent from none other than the king of gods, Indra. They prefer to call themselves as Mallar or Devendra Kula Vellalar. They invoke ancient Sangam literature to claim that they were the ancient people originating in the Marutam land, situated near a river. They also claim to be the first cultivators of rice in Tamil Nadu. Both the communities thus have created their competing mythologies to claim the glorious descent despite the fact that not before many years, some of the components of Thevars were classed as the criminal tribes by the colonial rulers and the Pallars continued to be the untouchables. As Geetha observed in her recent piece, the thevar ideologues tend to reaffirm their proud past in perverse manner akin to varnadharma which “requires them to treat dalits with contempt, in keeping with the logic of graded inequality.”
The Pallar caste is considered to be the most populous caste among the 76 Scheduled Castes in Tamil Nadu. Ramaiah (2004), citing figures from the 1981 census, states that out of the total Schedule Caste population excluding the Adi Dravida - a category consisting of number of Schedule Castes - the Pallars constituted the maximum with 27.60 per cent followed by the Paryar with 22.96 per cent, the Chakkiliyar with 14.29 per cent and the Artinthathiyar with 11.81 per cent. A majority of Pallars (33.4%) reside in Thanjavur district followed by Madurai (21.2%) and Ramanathapuram (about 3%) districts. Though in most of the villages the Scheduled Castes are spread in small numbers, there are villages exclusively made up of Pallars. Compared to Parayars, most of the Pallars own land and therefore tend to be more aggressive, socially and politically conscious, more militant and better organized. Pallars tend to refer to themselves by their caste name so that they are not amalgamated with other lower castes. ‘Pallar` unlike other dalit caste names, is not associated with any defiling occupations; it refers to agriculture and allied activities in which primarily the Pallars are engaged. They have been noted as a class of agricultural labourers. The Pallars maintain their caste superiority also by means of not eating beef which the other Scheduled Castes do. It is said that when Ramvilas Paswan visited Paramakudi and was generally referring them as Dalits, someone told him that they were not dalits.
Thevars are the dominant land owning caste but many of them continue to remain as small and marginal farmers and even as agricultural labourers. Over the recent decades, they built up substantial social capital through their presence in cinema, in local administration, in political parties. In contrast, Pallars built their cultural capital through higher education, government jobs and migrating to other countries like Gulf countries Malaysia and Singapore . With some capital accumulation, they have also entered some businesses. For instance, i n the towns of Paramakudi, Muthukulathur and Ramanathapuram, they have entered trading by setting up commission shops for agricultural products, etc. All these developments have taken place during the past 15 years (1977-1992). In their new role as landholders, small traders and employees in non-farm sector, a section of the Pallars has freed themselves from the every-day oppression of agricultural employment in Thevar-owned farms.
These developments have changed the contours of the conflict between Thevars and Pallars during the last two decades. Pallars' economic independence coupled with educational advancement has posed serious threat to the hegemony of the Thevars in the area. As a result, Thevars tend to affirm their authority through violence. Pallars also organized themselves against the onslaught of Thevars and began to respond in the tit for tat manner. In earlier conflicts it was mostly the Pallars who lost their lives and property but in recent caste riots both the tally of deaths and the loss of property are more or less evenly distributed between the two castes. Moreover, because of their organization, the local caste conflicts do not remain any longer local and quickly spread to other parts engulfing a large area. In southern Tamil Nadu, the behavior of these two communities was largely conditioned by the spirit of enmity.
Because of their numbers and organization, they have been important vote bank for any political party. The AIDMK under MGR and later on under the present Chief Minister J Jayalalitha however have succeeded in winning their confidence. Jayalalithaa's soft Hindutva line came handy for them to exercise their vendetta against the Pallars. As Geetha observed, “Ever since the AIDMK under MGR and later on under the present Chief Minister J Jayalalitha have chosen to patronize the Thevars (and the other sub-castes that are linked to them, including the Kallars and the Maravars), community leaders in the southern districts have reaffirmed their caste authority and hegemony by taunting, insulting and inflicting violence on dalits who dare to defy their diktats. Political support in fact has earned them an impunity that is explained away in terms of their so-called ‘primeval' will to acts of violent anger. It is not surprising that they are troubled by the memory of Immanuel Sekaran, his martyrdom, since it has persisted as a defiant symbol of dalit militancy.” During the last DMK rule, this symbol received substantial boost. Since 2007, there has been visible increase in the numbers that congregated at Paramakudi for the guru puja and the demand for it being declared as the state function had taken root. In 2010, clearly with the mediation of the DMK, the central government had issued a postal stamp in memory of Immanuel Sekaran. From 2007, the Pallars have been using with impunity the epithets that symbolized their guru, Muthuramlinga Thevar and responding to them in every defiant way. Now that Jayalalithaa has come to power, they needed a concrete demonstration from her that she is firmly on their side. On her part, Jayalalithaa also needed to reconsolidate the Thevar block in reconfiguring her constituency by discarding the unreliable vote-groups.
For the forthcoming local elections, she has already dishonoured the traditional coalition arrangement. Pallars, although showing increasing degree of organization vis-à-vis Thevars, are in relatively small numbers and do not reflect political cohesion. The faction led by Dr Krishnasamy was allied with the AIDMK and won the two seats that were given to it. Others followed John Pandian's TMMK. John Pandian himself fought the 2011 assembly elections but lost to AIIDMK's Murugan in Mudukulathur constituency. In the overall vote bank assessment, Thevars surely score over Pallars and that precisely Jayalalithaa would do. There was a notice from Aapanattu Maravar Sangam calling for stopping the guru puja of Pallars. [See the Appendix] From Thevar view point, preventing the Immanuel Sekaran guru puja from becoming a major event or a state event is crucial to maintain their social dominance in the area. It almost symbolizes their recent battle against Pallars, which they cannot afford to lose. If the Pallar guru puja becomes a state function, the battle that Immanuel Sekaran had declared against the Thevars would be won by the dead Sekaran.
Here comes the plan; nay, intrigue for the vote bank politics. By firing upon the crowd of Pallars, the government is giving two simultaneous messages. To Pallars, it conveys that they should limit their enthusiasm and do not aspire to equate themselves with Pallars. It also tries to deter them from crowding at Paramakudi in huge numbers. To Thevars, it tells that the government is firmly on their side. Jayalalithaa's closest Thevar friend Shashikala would manage the loyalty of the community for the continued electoral success of the AIDMK. The forthcoming local elections will reveal the prowess of this plan!
Apart from the above core consideration, Jayalaithaa badly needed to enact some such event which will effectively dismantle the unity of people being built over the issue of Tamil nationalism. The execution of the death to Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan accused of killing Rajiv Gandhi had spontaneously brought cross sections of Tamil people together. On Monday 29 August, the people had a successful rail roko and a demonstration; students boycotted colleges and lawyers courts; and a dalit girl immolated herself. The next day (30 August), as the case was to come up for a review, 400 lawyers had collected from all over the state into the court. The court granted stay to the scheduled hanging. Jayalalithaa, who was against this demand all along strikes a master stroke by getting the resolution about clemency to be granted to the awardees of the death penalty passed in the Assembly. Although, for time being she had managed to diffuse the death penalty issue, the issue of Tamil nationalism could potentially crop up any time. This could be possibly prevented by igniting an issue of caste or community.
1.Palanikumar Murder Case
In the melee of police firing at Paramakudi, the murder of Palanikumar, a 16 year old student is almost forgotten. As the media reported that he was murdered because he had scribbled some derogatory remarks against Muthuramaliga Thevar, one can realize what the police think of the case. As a matter of fact, the place where this so called scribbling was found just could not be reached by the boy. It is out and out a false alibi to soften the crime. Although reportedly some people are arrested in this connection, they need to be tried in an effective manner. One hopes, the police have put proper charge sheet under IPC as well as Atrocity Act. The state should constitute a panel of lawyers belonging to dalit community to oversee the investigation and make a tight case for prosecution.
2.State in guru Pujas
In Tamil Nadu, the electoral politics transcends newer and newer highs of ludicrous. The political parties vie with each other in enticing voters with declaration of largess in their manifestos, which began from the subsidized rice to free colour televisions and now free laptops. Apart from these cash equivalent bribery, the parties after coming to power use the government to further their electoral interests. There would be numerous instances of this nature, where state has illegitimately lent its support to some partisan cause. The subject incident underscores the state support to the Thevar guru puja, which is ostensibly done by a caste in the caste name. It is obnoxious to see the state functionaries attending the Thevar guru puja every year. Although the people should be free to perform such pujas, the constitutional state should keep away from them.
3.Observance of police Manual
Over the years, the incidents of police highhandedness have been increasing. It is mainly because the politicians use police as their agent. The arbitrary arrests, levying of false charges, selective laxity in investigation, torture in custody, beating and firing upon people are rampantly done with impunity. It has become a norm to take these things as normal. The police being the face of the state to the people needs to be closely watched for its conduct and behavior. They should be made accountable for their actions and inactions. The violation of the rule book by them should be taken seriously and they should be tried not only for the dereliction of duty but also for delinquency.
4. Citizens' committee to Oversee Police Firing Incident
The incidents of police firing are increasing in number. They are basically meant to terrorize people into submission but are invariably projected as the acts in self defence and to protect the public property. The stories of police bandaging themselves and indulging into destruction of properties in order to justify their action have been noted by civil rights groups in many fact finding missions. The state has never taken a note of this novel strategy of police. In order to curb the recurrence of these incidents we would recommend an independent citizen's committee with involvement of civil rights activists be constituted and empowered to carry out immediate investigation in such episodes. Their report and evidence should be honoured by the state to take immediate action like suspension of the guilty police officers, pending formal proceeding against them.
The state police has completely lost moral right to investigate into this case and hence the case be handed over to the CBI for investigation.
The police responsible for the criminal act of killing and beating innocent people should be charged under the Atrocity Act as well as for the murder under IPC. Some names that prominently figure are: M/s Senthilvelan (DCP), Sandip Mittal (IG), Elangovan (DSP), Siva kumar (PI), Gajendran (PI), Shanmuganathan (SI)
Pending investigation, the above and other officials involved in the process of granting permission for fire (such as Siva Kumar, Tehsildar, Paramakudi) should be summarily suspended.
All the arrested people should be released forthwith.
All the false cases foisted on people in this episode should be dropped.
The relief of Rs 1 lakh announced by the government to the deceased is ridiculous. Since the state has killed or maimed people for no reason, the state should compensate the families for the loss of potential earning of the dead. It should buy them annuities worth minimum Rs 5000 per month for 40 years.
All injured people should be given Rs 1 lakh as compensation besides the reimbursement of their medical expenses.
The coming state sponsored Thevar jayanthi is surely to repeat police atrocities on Dalits. The government should ensure that Dalits are not harassed.
The government support to certain community's ‘guru pooja' is at the root of this and other such problems. They are purely a caste-function. It is unbecoming of a secular state to do so. We condemn the state behavior and demand it withdraws from such indulgence.
Aappanattu Maravar Sang
The Thevar Marriage Hall in Mthukulathoor, Ramnad district was built by raising fund amongst the Maravars in Ramnad. It was built by the Maravar community for the developmental works of the Maravars. Today 34 persons have declared that this hall was registered in their name in 1993 and only they have all the rights regarding the hall. Stating that they have records to prove their claim, they have stated that the right over the hall will be passed on to their next generations and the Maravars cannot question this. Further they have also stated that they can sell or rent out this property and if the Maravars need to use the space for any function they will have to pay rent to the 34 people as the Maravar community has no legal right over the hall. They have also passes a resolution in this regard. In order to scuttle such nefarious plans of these 34 people and also to plan for the upcoming Thevar guru puja we request all Aapanattu Maravars to come under one administration and one leadership and attend the meeting to be held on September 18th in Thevar marriage hall, after the 5 people remembrance day(sep14).
Important request, as many leaders of our community will be attending the 5 people remembrance day we will have to make it a big celebration and also in recent time Immanuel Sekaran's guru puja is celebrated like that of Thevar guru puja and those attending the function are also increasing every year demanding to announce it as a state function, in order to sabotage this we request all Maravars from all the village to assemble at Keelathuval.
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