The police action against Dalits in Paramakudi leaves indelible scars
on the psyche of the oppressed people all over Tamil Nadu.
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...."
– J. Jayalalithaa, Chief Minister, Tamil Nadu
WHEN Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa, who also holds the
portfolios of Police and Home, made this announcement proudly in the
Budget session of the State Assembly on August 24, little would she
have imagined that within 20 days her government was to face the
embarrassment of ordering a judicial probe into a police firing at
Paramakudi town in Ramanathapuram district. Six Dalits were killed and
several others were injured in the incident. The government suffered
further humiliation when the National Commission for Scheduled Castes
sought detailed reports from the Collector and the Superintendent of
Police of Ramanathapuram on the incident.
The Chief Minister initially appeared reluctant to order a judicial
inquiry into the incident and announced a probe by the district
revenue officer (DRO). However, she relented after K. Balabharathi,
deputy leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in the
legislature, pointed out that the DRO, being subordinate to the
Collector and the Superintendent of Police, would find it difficult to
conduct an inquiry. Ruling out a judicial probe by a sitting judge,
Jayalalithaa agreed to set up an inquiry commission headed by a
retired judge of the High Court.
The police action against Dalits who had gathered at Paramakudi on
September 11 to pay homage to their icon Immanuel Sekaran has left
indelible scars in the minds of the oppressed people all over the
State. Sekaran was brutally murdered by a group of caste Hindus 54
years ago in the same town.
In another incident on September 11, two persons sustained bullet
injuries when the police opened fire on agitating activists of the
Tamizhaga Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (TMMK) at Chintamani on the
outskirts of Madurai.
THE POLICE CARRY the body of a man killed in the firing in Paramakudi
on September 11.
In Paramakudi, the police swung into action when a group of Dalits
staged a road-roko at "Five Point Junction" on the Madurai-Rameswaram
highway, demanding the immediate release of TMMK leader John Pandian,
who was arrested in Tuticorin district. Pandian was on his way to
Paramakudi to pay homage to Sekaran.
A large number of people on their way to Sekaran's memorial and back
were stranded in the town because of stone-throwing, setting of fire
to vehicles and throwing of petrol bombs by a group of miscreants.
Things went from bad to worse as the police resorted to a lathi-charge
and later opened several rounds of fire. According to local residents,
gunshots were heard from 12-40 p.m. to 5-15 p.m. People who ran for
their lives and those who were injured in the lathi-charge were taken
into custody. Some of the policemen were also injured and several
vehicles were damaged in the incident.
In view of Sekaran's memorial day, according to official sources,
around 4,000 police personnel, including officers, were deployed at
different sensitive villages and hamlets in the district. But in
Paramakudi, the police were not deployed in adequate strength at the
time of the incident, informed sources said.
The victims of the police firing are R. Ganesan (65) of
Pallavarayanendal, T. Panneerselvam (50) of Veerambal, P. Jayapal (20)
of Manjur, S. Vellaichamy (65) of Paramakudi, Theerthakani (25) of
Keezhakodumalur and Muthukumar (26) of Sadayaneri. Almost all of them
were farm workers or labourers in the unorganised sector.
Among the Dalits who were undergoing treatment for multiple injuries
sustained in the police lathi-charge were I. Israel and M. Thanikodi
of S. Kavanur, G. Senthil of Ammankoil, K. Vellaichamy of N.
Pethanendal, S. Chandran of Pambur and K. Pandi of Ponnaiyapuram.
Pandi, a 60-year-old construction worker, said a group of
lathi-wielding policemen beat him up when he was bathing at a place
close to the scene of protests. He has fractures in his left arm and
Vellaichamy, a 70-year-old retired headmaster of a primary school,
said he had been visiting Paramakudi for the past 20 years to pay his
respects at the memorial of Sekaran. He recalled that the police had
never before used such brute force during Sekaran's death anniversary.
Even after taking them to the police station, the injured persons were
humiliated, he alleged.
Even after a week, there were telltale signs of the violence – charred
remains of vehicles, glass pieces and stones that lay strewn on the
streets, and damaged hoardings. Schools and business establishments in
and around Paramakudi remained closed, as were the roads. Bus services
in the southern districts of the State were affected.
THE POLICE RESORTED to lathi-charge and later opened several rounds of fire.
Though officials claimed that the situation had started returning to
normal in Ramanathapuram and some other pockets in the southern
districts, it appeared to be far from the truth. Interactions with
Dalits in different villages and towns in the southern districts
revealed that beneath the calm there was simmering anger at the
attempts to suppress the rising Dalit assertion. They were upset at
the way their plan to pay homage to their respected leader was
In many villages, the residents, particularly Dalits, are in the grip
of fear as the police have registered a case against 1,000
unidentified persons. The police have registered cases under Sections
307 (attempt to murder), 324 (voluntarily causing hurt by dangerous
weapons or means), 435 (mischief by fire or explosive substance with
intent to cause damage), 427 (mischief causing damage), 147 (rioting),
148 (rioting, armed with deadly weapon) and 149 (unlawful assembly) of
the Indian Penal Code and under Section 174 of the Code of Criminal
"Don't be carried away by the officials' claim that the situation has
started returning to normal. Our problems are far from over. We have
to take care of the children and the aged, as the menfolk have fled
the habitations in and around Paramakudi fearing arrest," said a
woman, echoing the sentiment in the Dalit colonies.
The day coincides with the death anniversary of the national
revolutionary poet Subramanya Bharathi, who envisioned the
emancipation of the oppressed masses, particularly Dalits. It was
while returning home after addressing meetings to pay tributes to the
poet that Sekaran was murdered by an armed gang in 1957.
On the previous day, September 10, Sekaran, a Congress sympathiser and
Dalit leader, had participated in peace talks to end the violence that
had broken out in the wake of a by-election to the Mudukulathur
Assembly seat vacated by U. Muthuramalinga Thevar, All India Forward
Bloc (AIFB) leader and acclaimed leader of the Mukkulathor community.
The alleged kidnapping of nine Dalits close on the heels of AIFB
candidate Sasivarna Thevar's victory in the by-election resulted in
riots involving the two communities, claiming the lives of 42 Dalits.
Objecting to Sekaran's participation in the talks on an equal footing
with him, Muthuramalinga Thevar reportedly expressed reluctance to
sign the peace agreement.
THE MEMORIAL OF Immanuel Sekaran at Paramakudi, (below) A portrait of him.
For the past two decades, Dalits have been observing Sekaran's death
anniversary as "guru puja" at his tomb in Paramakudi just as Thevars
do on the anniversary of Muthuramalinga Thevar at Pasumpon on October
30. Dalits from several villages and towns in the southern districts
visit Paramakudi every year.
The number of participants has steadily increased in the past five
years. Dalit organisations have been demanding that Sekaran's
anniversary be declared a government celebration as has been done in
the case of Thevar Jayanthi, but the government has not paid heed.
This time, police action pre-empted the participation of a large
number of Dalits who had started pouring in from different districts
to take part in the guru puja, said V. Kasinathadurai, secretary of
the Tamil Nadu Federation of Loadmen Associations. Only some leaders
of political parties, residents of Sekaran's native village, Sellur in
Ramanathapuram district, and a few Dalit activists were able to pay
homage at the memorial, he pointed out.
P. Chandrabose, general secretary of Tyagi Immanuel Peravai, said his
organisation had been performing the guru puja since 1988, but this
was the first time the police had used excessive force. In the past,
Dalits who came to Paramakudi to pay homage to Sekaran have been
attacked by some persons belonging to the Mukkulathor community while
they passed through certain villages. Chandrabose said that only some
oppressive-minded persons who did not tolerate Dalit assertion
resorted to such crimes and that he would not blame any particular
community for such attacks as right-thinking people and those who
wanted to uphold human values and civil rights were spread over all
Paramakudi has witnessed police firings earlier. In 1991, three
persons including two Dalits were killed, and in 1998, a Dalit girl
Attitude towards Dalits
As has been pointed out by some civil rights organisations, the
incident raises many questions not only about the handling of the
situation but also about the attitude of the state towards Dalits. The
events have also brought to the fore various issues relating to the
plight of Dalits, who form a sizable percentage of the population in
southern Tamil Nadu and the composite Ramanathapuram district
(comprising present-day Ramanathapuram, Sivaganga and Virudhunagar
districts) in particular. The issues are many: growing awareness among
Dalit youth, deteriorating living conditions owing to dwindling
livelihoods, industrial backwardness of the region, conflict between
them and the oppressor communities who come in the way of their
empowerment including in grass-roots level governance, calculated
attempts by vested interests to keep the area as a hotbed of communal
tension, and the reported partisan attitude of the police at the time
of caste conflicts.
Jayalalithaa's remark 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, drew flak from the
Left and other opposition parties.
P. Sampath, leader of the Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front
(TNUEF), said no fair-minded person would accept the Chief Minister's
explanation on the murder of the Dalit student. Her statement in the
Assembly amounted to diverting the focus from the real issues, he
said. He also accused her of attempting to justify the atrocious
action of the police.
TNUEF secretary K. Samuel Raj, after visiting Pacheri, flayed
Jayalalithaa's remarks. Expressing anguish over her view that the
attack on Dalits in Paramakudi was the culmination of a chain of
events, he said the Chief Minister must have made this observation
keeping in mind her party's prospects in the ensuing local body
elections. He called for the immediate lifting of prohibitory orders
in the district under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure so
as to allow leaders of political parties, civil rights groups and the
media to interact with the residents of Dalit colonies with a view to
instilling confidence in them.
There are few takers for the theory that the police firing was made in
self-defence and to protect public property. Some civil rights groups
are of the view that the police did not follow the guidelines of the
National Human Rights Commission or those in the Police Manual to
handle tense situations.
JOHN PANDIAN, TAMIZHAGA Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam president, whose
arrest led to the agitation by Dalits.
Latha Priyakumar, member, National Commission for Scheduled Castes,
shortly after visiting Paramakudi and Ramanathapuram on September 15,
described the deaths as "very unfortunate". The mishandling of the
issue had claimed innocent lives, she said. The preventive measures
taken by the officials had not created an atmosphere conducive to
peaceful observance of the death anniversary of Immanuel Sekaran, she
The police had not used the public address system to warn the
protesters, she said. Moreover, she said, the people had stated that
most of the victims of police firing were shot above the waist. The
police should have cleared the protesters by other means instead of
taking the extreme step of opening fire for burning government
vehicles. "No one can bring the victims back to life, but vehicles can
be bought," she said. According to Sampath, the police had always let
loose violence on Dalits whenever they raised their voice to assert
their legitimate rights. He recalled the attacks on Dalits at
Nalumoolaikinaru and Kodiyankulam in Tuticorin district, the drowning
of 17 estate workers of Manjolai when they were chased by the police,
atrocities committed against the oppressed community of Kangiyanur in
Villupuram district while attempting to enter a temple for worship,
and the beating up of women, the aged and children at Uthapuram in
Dr K. Krishnasamy, founder-president of the Dalit-dominated party
Puthiya Tamizhagam, said the firing incident revealed the anti-Dalit
psyche entrenched in the Police Department and a well-planned
conspiracy to scuttle the smooth conduct of Immanuel Sekaran's death
anniversary function. He urged the Chief Minister not to tolerate
police excesses committed on the pretext of maintaining law and order.
He also called for immediate steps to suspend the police officers
responsible for the firing incident.
The Madurai unit of the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL)
condemned the police firing at Paramakudi and Madurai. Its
vice-president and coordinator, R. Murali, said, "[W]e are of the view
that the police should have handled the situation very carefully and
sensibly. This incident shows how the police have not been trained
well to face this kind of a situation…. It seems that the police
started indiscriminately firing after heavily lathi-charging the
people at Paramakudi. At this situation, the police officials who gave
permission to fire should explain on what authority they fired.
Similarly, in Madurai, the shooting by a police officer using his
revolver is obviously a violation of law."
Henry Tiphagne, executive director of People's Watch, referring to the
preliminary report of its fact-finding team, said there were "clear
cases of brutal police torture of some selected Dalit activists....
Most of the [bullet] injuries have been above the waist." He called
for a re-post-mortem of all the bodies of the victims in the presence
of family members, their authorised representatives or human rights
He also called upon the Chief Minister "to be sensitive to rumours
making the rounds in the southern districts of Tamil Nadu that the
police violence has been singularly engineered from quarters close to
her with or without her knowledge".
The issue found its echo in the Assembly as legislators belonging to
the opposition parties raised it in different forms, including a
calling attention motion. Members of the Communist Party of India
(Marxist), the Communist Party of India, Puthiya Tamizhagam and the
Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) staged a walkout in the Assembly on
September 14 protesting against the denial of permission to raise the
issues relating to the police firing. However, they made their
viewpoints on the issue public through the media.
AIADMK leader J. Jayalalithaa and her friend Sasikala pay tribute to
Muthuramalinga Thevar at the memorial on his 103rd birth anniversary
in Ramanathapuram on October 30, 2010.
A. Soundararajan, leader of the CPI(M) in the Assembly, stated
categorically that the probe would be meaningless if the police
personnel involved in the firing and those policemen responsible for
the riots were not suspended. He was of the view that the violence in
Paramakudi betrayed intelligence failure. Had the police acted in a
mature and fair manner, the untoward incidents could have been
averted, he said.
He also pointed out that Dalits were at the receiving end whenever
riots broke out. The violence also exposed the emptiness of the claim
that TMMK leader John Pandian was arrested only to prevent untoward
Referring to the government's decision to provide Rs.1 lakh each to
the next of kin of the victims, Soundararajan said the amount was
inadequate as the kin of victims of attacks by wild animals were given
a solatium of Rs.3 lakh. Echoing similar sentiments, CPI leader M.
Arumugam demanded that the police should be asked to stop foisting
cases on Dalits and conducting searches in their colonies.
G. Ramakrishnan, secretary of the State committee of the CPI(M), said
the party would stage protest demonstrations all over the State on
September 17 seeking action against the police officers who were
responsible for opening fire on the Dalits. Veteran CPI leader R.
Nallakannu said the party's activists would observe a dawn-to-dusk
fast on September 20 at all district headquarters, protesting against
the police excesses at Paramakudi and Madurai.
On September 15, a fact-finding team of the CPI(M), comprising
legislators and functionaries, visited the villages and consoled the
family members of the victims. The feedback obtained from the people
in different villages clearly showed that the violence in and around
Paramakudi had been triggered not by clashes between two caste groups
but by the police, said A. Soundararajan, the leader of the team.
The team also called for immediate action to implement Justice Mohan
Commission's recommendations to increase employment avenues in the
backward region. Unemployment has been one of the major reasons for
the recurring unrest in the southern districts.
The Bharatiya Janata Party and the PMK have also sent their
fact-finding teams to Paramakudi. In a statement on September 12, Lok
Janshakti Party leader Ram Vilas Paswan asked the State government to
register a case against the police personnel responsible for opening
fire on the Dalits. He also called for a compensation of Rs.20 lakh
each to be given to the families of the victims.
The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the erstwhile ruling party in the
State, trod a cautious course on the sensitive issue. Apparently, the
party cannot afford to antagonise the Mukkulathor community whose
support it badly needs in the local body elections, observers point
out. However, party treasurer and former Deputy Chief Minister M.K.
Stalin visited the affected areas in Ramanathapuram district on
September 15 and distributed Rs.1 lakh each to the families of the
victims of police firing.
After visiting the Dalits undergoing treatment at the Government
Rajaji Hospital in Madurai on September 14, John Pandian said the
police firing was aimed at suppressing Dalit assertion. The atrocities
unleashed against these oppressed masses should not happen to any
other community, he said, appealing to all sections of society to come
together and strive for communal harmony. Disagreeing with the Chief
Minister's view that the chain of events began with the graffiti in
Mandalamanickam village and the subsequent murder of the Dalit
student, he said she was misled by some government officials.
THE IDOL OF Muthuramalinga Thevar in his memorial at Pasumpon.
He demanded a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation into the
incidents at Paramakudi, Rs.10 lakh as solatium to the kin of the
victims of police firing, and legal action against the erring police
officers. A public interest petition has been filed before the Madras
High Court Bench in Madurai seeking a probe by the CBI into the police
The government has claimed that the violence was triggered by John
Pandian's plans to visit Ramanathapuram district to pay homage at
Sekaran's memorial in Paramakudi and to console the parents of
Palanikumar in Pacheri village. It may be true that John Pandian had
plans to strengthen his base in the district. But both the communist
parties are of the view that the whole episode could have been averted
had the police taken a wiser decision to allow him to pay homage at
The communist parties feel that the government should take steps to
ensure that there is no recurrence of the caste clashes witnessed in
south Tamil Nadu in the 1990s.
The government has announced that the inquiry commission will be
headed by K. Sampath, a retired judge of the High Court. The
commission will go into the factors and circumstances that led to the
police firing and the subsequent law and order problem. It will also
ascertain whether the force used was warranted by the circumstances,
whether all the prescribed formalities were observed before resorting
to firing, and whether there were excesses on the part of the police.
The commission has been asked to submit its findings and
recommendations in two months.
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