The air seems to be still in this small town,holding in it the smell of burnt rubber. Few of the shops are open,thronged by the local public who have been largely restricted inside their houses for the past two days. All conversations are about the violence that happened two days ago.
And standing witness to the incident,which began with the unrest and spiralled into chaos before ending in deaths,are the charred remains of a fire-tender that occupy half of the main thoroughfare. Paramakudi,where seven Dalits were killed in police shootout,is gradually limping back to normalcy.
The road to this town in Ramanathapuram district is dotted with innumerable barricades set up by the police. Manning them and occupying bus shelters and roadside tea shops are hundreds of police personnel who are aware of the uneasy calm.
Paramakudi is where Dalits,particularly the Pallar sub-sect,visit once a year to commemorate the death anniversary of a slain local hero,Immanuel Sekaran,an aggressive leader of the downtrodden community who was murdered by a group of people from the Thevar community in 1957. A guru puja is organised to observe the day and as a sign of strength by the assertive Dalit community.
On the other side of the communal divide is the influential Thevars,among whom the tallest leader has been the late U Muthuramalinga Thevar,who fought against the British along with Subhas Chandra Bose and was a Forward Bloc leader. Thevars or Maravars were the warrior community who lorded over the region,and the unreformed social system enabled them to continue this hegemony over Dalits. It was his rivalry with Muthuramalinga that led to Sekarans murder.
As the social system began to change,the Dalits started to organise guru puja to pay their respects to Sekaran,similar to what the Thevar community has been doing in the case of Muthuramalinga. It did not help that the two memorials are just a few kilometres apart, said A Veerasamy,a retired teacher,adding that the two ceremonies were like a competition.
What added to the tension this time was the murder of a Dalit youth by those from the other community,the reason for which is not clear. Some say it was because of a derogatory poster on Muthuramalinga,others say it stemmed from a love affair. The youth,studying in class 11,was hacked to death. As it happened two days ahead of Sekaran guru puja on September 11,it led to tension.
In this volatile mixture came the spark in the form of Dalit leader John Pandian. Pandian had plans to visit the murdered youths residence,which other Dalit leaders feared could fuel communal violence. To prevent Pandian from entering the region,he was arrested in the neighbouring district. This led to violence and deaths.
Police tried to restrain the mob,but the situation went out of control. Thats when we opened fire, said ADGP (law & order) S George.
Not all are ready to accept that the Thevar-Dalit friction is the sole cause of the incident. A Dalit activist,who did not wish to be named,said the function has been taking place for several years without any incident. This time there was no cooperation from the police; it was as if they wanted to make this a big issue. Even those from Thevar community are telling us that the killing of those people was not fair, he claimed.
The families of the deceased have refused to collect the solatium announced by Chief Minister. We dont need the money. The community members are scared. The state has announced an inquiry by a retired HC judge. That will not bring truth to light. A probe should be conducted by a committee headed by a sitting judge,which should include a respectable Dalit official from government service, he said.