A 24-year-old Dalit youth, who worked at a petrol pump near Villupuram, a town to the south of Chennai, was lynched when he squatted by the road to defecate.
While the incident happened on Wednesday, after videos of the torture began circulating in the area, police on Friday arrested seven people and said they were investigating the role of others.
According to a senior officer probing the case, the village where R Sakthivel was attacked is dominated by Vanniyars, a socially powerful OBC community in northern Tamil Nadu whose members are known to share an open animosity towards Dalits. While Sakthivel belongs to the SC Adi Dravida community, Vanniyars belong to the Most Backward Caste (MBC), which falls under the OBC category in Tamil Nadu.
Talking to The Sunday Express, R Theivanai, the 26-year-old elder sister of the victim, said Sakthivel was attacked “only because he was a Dalit”.
“On Tuesday, he was on night duty at the petrol pump and reached home on Wednesday morning. Later, he received a call from his colleagues, asking him to come with his Aadhaar card and a photo for some official verification. When he left home around 1.30 pm, he mentioned how there was only a little petrol in his two-wheeler,” Theivanai recalled.
The petrol pump is 27 km from their home and soon after Sakthivel left, Theivanai says he called to say he had run of fuel, just as he had feared. “He said he would try to push the bike for a km or two and that he had asked a friend to get petrol in a bottle. But just before he hung up, he said he had a pain in his stomach and that he had been feeling the urge to defecate for a while. He said he would sit by the roadside,” Theivanai said.
“After sometime, I received another call from his phone and I asked if he had reached his office. But there was a different voice at the other end. The man said they had tied Sakthivel up and that he was in their custody. He asked me to reach Boothur Hills (about 5 km from their home). It was clear there was some problem,” she added.
Theivanai then left for Boothur hills, sitting pillion with a relative on a two-wheeler and carrying her six-month-old baby. “When we reached, Sakthivel was bleeding profusely from his mouth and nose and some 15-20 people had gathered around him. When I reached, they beat him some more. I tried to stop them and pleaded for help, but they kicked me and my child fell to the ground. Sakthivel could hardly talk but he signalled to me to leave with the child,” she said.
Police, who reached the spot about two hours after the torture began, asked Sakthivel and Theivanai to go home. Theivanai and a few others from their village, who reached Boothur Hills by then, managed to get Sakthivel to sit on a two-wheeler, between Theivanai and a relative. “We thought we would go home, take some cash and take him to hospital. But when we reached home and I tried to get off the two wheeler, Sakthivel dropped on the ground. He was unconscious all along but we didn’t know that he was dead. Later, doctors at the nearby hospital said he had been brought dead,” she said.
Based on visuals of the lynching circulated on social media, police have arrested seven people, three women and four men, for Sakthivel’s murder. An allegation that has emerged now is that Sakthivel was attacked for allegedly flashing at a woman.
A senior police officer who interviewed several villagers said the victim was wearing a tight pair of jeans and had removed it fully before squatting on the roadside. “A woman working on a site nearby saw him and thought he was flashing. We are probing further,” he said.
“He will never do that,” Theivanai said of her brother. “Sakthivel was the man who fed us every day. He dropped out after Class 10 and started working when he was very young. He got me and my younger sister married. Earlier, he used to carry huge cement sacks to make a living. After the mob caught him, they checked his Aadhaar card and noted his caste name. While attacking him, they kept abusing him and calling out our caste name,” she said.
Villupuram SP D Jayakumar, however, said only a detailed probe can reveal if there was a caste angle to the murder. “He died of heart attack due to the severe torture. A case has been registered under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act with IPC Section 302 (punishment for murder),” Jayakumar said.
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