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In Tamil Nadu town, fundamentalists play moral cops, even kill to have way

Over a fortnight ago, 35-year-old Mumtaz was killed by a group of young men in Melapalayam in south Tamil Nadu.

Written by JAYA MENON | Melapalayam (tirunelveli) |
March 26, 2007 1:33:47 am

Over a fortnight ago, 35-year-old Mumtaz was killed by a group of young men in Melapalayam in south Tamil Nadu.

They murdered her when she was returning from a local beedi company after collecting leaves and tobacco. They accosted her on the road, warned her against a affair she was allegedly having with a married man and the local manager of a beedi company.

She just told them to mind their own business.

They first threw stones at her. Then, some of them came closer and stabbed her. Mumtaz died on the spot.

In Melapalayam, which the police say has been a hotbed of fundamentalism with a strong presence of Al Umma, there has been little outrage.

“Many in the town believe that Mumtaz deserved it,” said Abdul Subahan (18), the district secretary of the student wing of Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazham, a political outfit which police think is linked to Al Umma.

Residents of the town say Mumtaz had been given “sufficient warning” to keep away from her “paramour.” But she had not.

Her sister Nabeena said: “People in the town are saying she deserved it. We don’t know what to think.”

Her mother, Zubeida Hussein, who had left her daughter a few months ago after she began receiving threats, said: “Our heads bow in shame.”

The mob murder on March 9 by the self-styled ‘moral police’ was not the first honour killing in this small town. Mumtaz is just the first woman victim.

In August 1997, Selvakumar, a homeopath doctor, was killed for having “relationships” with Muslim women. The same day, 16 Al Umma sympathizers hacked to death two RSS workers who were karsevaks in the Babri Masjid demolition.

In 2001, Sathyaseelan was murdered by nine Al Umma members for “having contacts with a Muslim woman.”

Two months ago, three youths, all Al Umma sympathizers, were arrested after they threatened another single woman in the town “on suspicion” that she was having an “illicit” relationship with a married man. “They snatched her mobile phone and extorted Rs. 1,000 from her and told her to behave herself,” says Inspector Stanley Jones, the investigating officer in the Mumtaz murder case.

The Melapalayam town chief, Khaludeen, felt the youths should have brought the case before the local Jamaat. “Only a year back we threw a woman out of the town with her seven-month-old baby boy whom she begot through an illicit relationship,” he said.

According to him, the married man accused of getting her pregnant, had “sworn” on Allah that he was not responsible. “Once a man swears on Allah, we believe him,” said Khaludeen. But the woman had to leave the town.

Said Dr Bhagat Singh, the TMMK’s district secretary: “The youths (accused of killing Mumtaz) should not have taken law into their hands. They read the Quran and make their own interpretations. To prevent such incidents, the Government should introduce the practice of stoning immoral women to death. Many Middle-East countries follow this practice and keep women under check. That’s the only way to handle such issues.”

Two days after Mumtaz’s murder, the police arrested S Rasool Moideen (22), Shahul Hameed (21), his brother K Noushad Ali (19), K Imran (19), Mohamed Hussain alias Allappa (23) and Mohamed Moideen, all from Melapalayam. Two of them are college students. The police are searching for Shahul Hameed (27), who is said to be the mastermind.

Police say Al Umma, the fundamentalist outfit which had become weak after the arrest of more than 100 of its members in the Coimbatore case, has been rejuvenated and is trying to enforce edicts on the Muslim community in Melapalayam.

“We believe there are some agencies trying to lay down stiff rules for the society. They don’t represent the larger community and behave like outlaws,” said N K Senthamarai Kannan, the Tirunelveli District Superintendent of Police.

“Unless someone comes forward with a complaint, we cannot do anything. They (the town residents) don’t have the courage to initiate the legal process as they feel they have to co-exist with the community,” he said.

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