Caste Killings in South TN: Police on High Alert After 4 Beheadings in 10 Days

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The south Tamil Nadu police have received criticism after having failed to prevent a series of murders and beheadings in Chennai, including in the districts of Dindigul and Tirunelveli.

People living in these areas are worried whether these killings are similar to the ones that took place in the mid 90s as well as reprisal killings in the name of caste.

It was only after strong police intervention that these areas had returned to normalcy.

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Twenty-eight-year-old Sudheer Kumar, a young IT professional from Tirunelveli who works in a multinational company at Chennai, told IANS, "I am very much ashamed to tell people that I belong to Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu after all these beheadings in my home district. The fight in the name of caste and reprisal killings after several years for revenge is taking us back to the stone age. I won't go back home till the situation turns normal."

A farmhand, Sankara Subramanian from the Thevar caste, was murdered on September 13 and his decapitated head was found at the Gopalasamudram cremation ground. This gave the police a vital clue behind the murder of Subramanian as in 2013, Manthiram, a Dalit man was also murdered in the same way.

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In a case of retaliation, on September 15, a gang murdered a Dalit, Mariappan (35), cut off his head and placed it at the spot where Sankara Subramanian was murdered. Mariappan was accused in a murder case of 2014.

Police arrested six persons including Manthiram's son Maharaja (20) for the murder of Sankara Subramanian and eight people were arrested for the murder of Mariappan.

While both these murders took place in Tirunelveli district within a span of two days, in another gruesome incident, a woman Nirmala Devi (70) the fifth accused in the murder of a Dalit leader, C Pasupathi Pandian, was murdered and her head severed and kept in front of the residence of Pandian.

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Nirmala Devi was charged in the murder of Pandian after she had given asylum to the suspected assailants of the Dalit leader. The incident occurred in broad daylight in Dindigul district on September 23.

In another incident, 38-year-old Stephen Raj was murdered and beheaded on September 23 evening by bike-borne assailants. His decapitated head was left at the spot where he was murdered at Anumantharayan Kottai. The police could not ascertain the reason behind the murder of Stephen Raj and is probing whether it had any connection with the murder of Nirmala Devi on the same day.

The killings and counter killings in south Tamil Nadu districts in the name of caste have kept the police on its toes. South Zone Inspector General of Police TS Anbu, who is camping in Tirunelveli, told media persons that the police will crush the gangs who are taking the law into their hands and that no criminal raj would be allowed in south Tamil Nadu.

A retired senior police officer said that the situation is worse than in 1995 when bus services were stopped in the evenings for 40 days at a stretch due to caste killings and reprisals. He said that those days there were police officers who had fire in their bellies and who were go-getters but now there are officers whose knees shake when confronting an irate mob.

With Tirunelveli having rural local body elections on October 6 and October 9, political parties have called upon the police to ensure that the law and order situation improves.

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AIADMK leader O Panneerselvam has called upon Chief Minister M K Stalin to ensure peace and harmony in south Tamil Nadu and not to allow killings and counter killings to happen in the area.

A social activist, Shyam Krishnan of Tirunelveli, said that a caste-dominated criminal ecosystem is evolving in the area, openly collecting funds to fight cases in the court for the criminals who have committed the murders and severed heads. He said that amounts ranging upto Rs 20,000 are being paid by affluent people belonging to the same caste to fight the criminal cases.

Sources in the police said that they had information of a particular community having raised money to the tune of Rs 3 crore to fight the criminal cases and to engage good lawyers.

Dr M K Krishnan, social scientist and former Professor of Social Sciences at a foreign university who is from South Tamil Nadu, told IANS, "Until and unless the hero tag is removed from the criminals who kill and severe the head of a person, these criminal acts would continue. There needs to be proper awareness and education among local youths that killing a person and severing his head is not heroism. Sadly this is not happening in several parts of south Tamil Nadu and caste is still a major factor that decides human behaviour. Authorities have to take strong measures but proper awareness is a must to prevent such incidents in the future."

(Published in an arrangement with The News Minute.)

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