Three engineering students from Tuticorin are in jail for their college principal's murder. A Ganesh Nadar finds out what went wrong.
As he got out of his car in the college parking lot at 8:30 am on October 10, L R D Suresh, principal of the Infant Jesus Engineering College in Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu, was hacked to death with knives and swords.
Suresh, 44, was principal of the college for four years. Earlier, he was a professor at an engineering college in Karaikal, Pondicherry.
Suresh was known to be a disciplinarian, and a man of ideals.
"He could easily afford a driver, but he did not hire one," says Suresh's mother who did not want to be named for this report.
"He used to tell me, 'What if the driver is late to work? I will get late, so I don't want one.' If he had a driver maybe he would have been saved. At least they would not have caught him alone."
The principal had suspended a student, P Pichaikannan, for a fight with two other students over a seat on a bus.
Pichaikannan, a final year aeronautical engineering student, and two of his friends, Prabaharan and Danish, are in jail for Suresh's murder.
Prabaharan, from Nagaipattinam district, is a third year civil engineering student.
Danish, a Sri Lankan Tamil from the Okkur camp in Sivaganga district, is a final year student of information technology engineering.
Pichaikannan is from Vellarikaioorani village, near Nazareth in Tamil Nadu's Tuticorin district.
A classmate of his from school, Sneha, says he was an average student and very low profile in school. Though he never spoke to girls in class, Sneha claims, he had most of their mobile numbers and used to be in touch with them after school hours.
"I remember we had to warn him for coming to school on a motorbike," says K Kandaswamy, principal of the Ganesar HSC school where Pichaikannan studied.
"We do not allow our students to come on motorbikes. It gives them an enlarged macho sense which does not augur well for discipline. He was reported to the disciplinary committee of the school. His father and grandfather assured us in writing that he would not repeat the offence."
Pichaikannan's friction with discipline apparently followed him to college. He got into an altercation with the lab assistant during the second year final exams. He was asked to leave the lab without completing his paper.
Again, his parents apologised to the authorities to let him complete the year.
For two years, Pichaikannan took the bus to college. In the third year, he refused to go by bus and started going to college on his motorbike.
As the distance between his home and college is more than 30 km, his parents admitted him to the college hostel. Alleged bad behaviour resulted in him being thrown out of the hostel.
Instead of going back home, he and two friends rented a room in Palayamcottai in Tirunelveli district.
"It is not overnight, this becoming a murderer," says a professor at the Tirunelvei Medical College Hospital's psychiatry department, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"It always starts with small things. These boys exhibit anti-social behaviour at a young age. In school, they will not do their homework. They will ignore teachers. They will bully other students. They will be involved in eve teasing. Anything to show their 'I don't care' attitude image for their fellow students," the professor adds.
"They will see teachers who try to discipline them as their enemy. They will not cow down to authority and will challenge it frequently. We call them borderline cases. They might seem normal at most times, but the mask will slip."
"Murdering the principal is the last in a long list of similar violent behaviour," the professor believes. "He (Pichaikannan) must have quarrelled and beaten up fellow students many times."
A week before Suresh's murder, Pichaikannan was reported to have been in a violent scuffle with fellow students over a seat on a bus. That got him suspended from college.
The three arrested students are alleged to have been dispensers of justice on the college premises.
"It was always us versus them. That was the attitude of these three students," says a cousin of Suresh's who works at the Pope Engineering college, Sawyerpuram, Tuticorin.
"They had been constantly challenging his (the principal's) authority and he had no choice but to be strict with them."
In the small village of Vellarikaioorani, Pichaikannan's home seems huge compared to the other houses. There is a new tractor outside the house. His younger brother and the tractor driver are cleaning the tractor tyres when this reporter visits the home.
Even before I can say anything, the boy tells me to leave.
Pichaikannan's mother says the family did not know he had been suspended from college.
"Why could the college not inform us? They could have written to us, they could have phoned us, our number and address is in their records," she says. "I saw it on TV that my son has been arrested for murder. Till then we did not know what happened."