Fear, hatred haunts violence-hit southern districts of TN
Fear lurks in the minds of people and mutual hatred persists among the warring groups in towns and far-flung villages of the southern Kamarajar district in Tamil Nadu, which witnessed prolonged caste clashes between Devendra Kula
Vellalars and Maravars.
With the death of four people in a stabbing spree earlier this week, the toll in this district alone during the two-month-long violence has risen to eight. The scars of the caste war are yet to heal in the southern districts as a whole, which has claimed more than 40 lives.
The genesis of the problem lies in the heightened militancy on
the part of the youth of the Devendra Kula Vellalar community, which
has thrown up leaders like S Krishnasamy, MLA. The victims of
Sunday's violence were innocent people--a mill worker,
returning from work in the night, two casual labourers and a village
official who evidently had to pay the price for entering a
''self-proclaimed war zone'' between the two castes.
Even a brief skirmish has the potential of creating tension
snowballing into clashes, involving scores of people, resultant
police firing and mass arrests.
On Thursday last, two people including a girl sustained bullet
injuries at Koomapatti, 25 km from Rajapalayam on the foothills of the
Western Ghats, as police opened fire to quell a mob which laid siege
to a police station and threw stones, demanding action against those
involved in the assault on a youth.
Seven people were arrested by the police and a high-level team
led by Inspector General (southern range) K Vijay Kumar had to camp
Some people, allegedly belonging to the Devendra Youth Organisation,
threw stones at visiting Thevar Peravai activists team on Sunday
last leading to a clash at nearby Desikapuram village. Eleven people
were injured in the clash following which police resorted to firing
and arrested more than 50 people.
The trouble originated in April last at Kandamanur, west of
Madurai, when a statue of Pasumpon Muthuramalinga Thevar, the
undisputed leader of Maravars, Kallars and the Agamudaiyars put
together, was found desecrated.
Krishnasamy, who defied a subsequent ban in the area, was arrested,
following which Devendrar Kula youth resorted to agitations, including an attack on a running train, from their stronghold of neighbouring Chidambaran district. The state government responded by releasing Krishnasamy.
Soon, clashes occurred in Kamarajar district in the wake of
Maravars's resentment over the state government's decision to carve
out a new transport corporation from the existing Pandyan Transport
Corporation and name it after Veeran Sundaralingam, a key lieutenant
of the eighteenth century freedom fighter Veera Pandya Katta
Bomman. The Maravars felt their very identity, represented by the title Pandyan, was being threatened and responded by targetting buses named after Sundaralingam for attack and arson.
The Maravars, who have been the beneficiaries of caste hegemony in a
number of southern districts, found themselves at the receiving end
of this newly emerging militancy among Devendra Kula Vellalar
Though the Maravar protests were initially confined to Madurai
city and some southern towns, last month's police firing on a group
of Maravar protestors in front of the Sivakasi sub-collectorate, in
which three people were killed, aggravated the situation and
clashes spread to far-flung Maravar villages serviced by the
controversial transport corporation.
A ride from this town to any nearby village in a rickety white
bus belonging to the new transport corporation could well turn out
to be a dangerous proposition, with the buses having become target
of Maravar fury. Incidents of stone-throwing on passing buses,
attacks on bus crew and setting fire to buses are quite frequent.
In fact, bus services are repeatedly suspended and services to
sensitive villages like Injar are being operated with police escort.
Some villages like Watrap have declared that buses bearing
Sundaralingam's name are unwelcome.
However, a Sundaralingam bus was seen going to Mugavur village, which witnessed the first death in the district in the caste clashes last month. Tragically,
Soundarapandyan, who had been stabbed to death, belonged to none of
the warring castes. The village had to go without bus services for
more than three weeks and the resultant caste clash ended with an
attack on a local cinema theatre and the arrest of more than 60
A rumour led to a police raid on Idayankulam, a Devendra Kula Vellalar habitat. Villagers allege that the police raided their houses and arrested more than 20 people after Maravar youth lodged a complaint that the Devendrars had erected an electric fence around the village. The fence turned out to be mere barbed
wire erected out of insecurity.
Palanichamy, a resident of Idayankulam, was sore that the police
had taken no action against the Maravars of nearby Mamsapuram,
who, he said, had provoked an earlier clash. Idayankulam, moreover,
had to accommodate more than 500 residents of the neighbouring Devendrar
habitat of Aamachiyarpatti, who fled their homes after a similar clash
with the Maravars of Mamsapuram.
The residents of Mamsapuram, however, said they were not
against the naming of the transport corporation after Sundaralingam,
but were only against the bifurcation of the existing Pandyan
Devendrar Kula youth complained of "routine police harassment". According to them, the majority of the 1,000 people arrested in the wake of caste clashes
in the district belonged to their community.
Residents of Tiruthangal, a small town on the Srivilliputhur-
-Sivakasi road, admitted that the town remained divided by the
railway line into two zones populated by Maravars and Devendrars.
While it was easy for an outsider to cross the railway track, youth
belonging to the warring caste groups could do so only at immense
risk to their lives. Two deaths had been reported from the town so
Sivakasi, well known for its fireworks units and printing
presses, however, wore a busy look. Posters have been put up by Left
parties and trade unions campaigning for communal amity on the one
side and by caste organisations accusing each other of provoking the
clashes on the other.
Residents of Kuraiyur village -- on the way to the district
headquarters of Virudunagar which witnessed an explosion
three weeks ago -- said the atmosphere in the village was still
somewhat tense. The explosion, which took place in the Devendrar
Kula Vellalar locality, created suspicion among the Maravars,
leading to stabbing incidents in which two persons were injured.
Geographic spread of clashes changes