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The Rediff Special/ A G Nadar
'They burnt to death in front of our eyes'
The All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam has two big shots in Dharmapuri. On February 2, as soon as news of the judgment against his party chief J Jayalalitha reached him, he staged an agitation in Ilakayampatti on the main road.
A shopkeeper said that AIADMK cadres started obstructing the traffic. Soon, a few cars, buses and a large number of lorries were stranded. The travellers were walking around, not knowing what to do.
Recollects the shopkeeper: "The road became very crowded. I couldn't even go home. I locked up my shop. I knew that something would happen.
"The first bus to catch the ire of the partymen was one inside the bus station. They set it on fire. People in the bus stand put out the fire and the bus lost only three seats.
"The next to come along was one from Palani. The cadres were very angry. They started beating up the driver. Rajendran restrained one boy called Cauvery. The bus driver escaped. But Periyasamy, one in the crowd, egged Cauvery. He said, 'We must do something, buses are still plying'. It was then that the ill-fated bus came along," he says.
The students of the Coimbatore Agriculture College were returning home when petrol bombs were hurled into the bus.
Dharmapuri Police Superintendent P Kandasamy, contrary to what Jayalalitha claims, is certain that the culprits belong to the AIADMK.
"We have made our enquiries. The bus was set on fire by AIADMK partymen," he says. "The two who hurled the petrol bomb from bikes are Madhu and Nedu. We have mentioned that in the first information report. All the 20 accused belong to the AIADMK."
Only five have been arrested so far. The rest, the SP says, have fled the district.
"We will arrest them," Kandaswamy is confident. "They cannot escape."
"This incident has spoilt the name of our village," another shopkeeper says. "Our village is near this road. Why don't you come with me? You will see that we do not allow any political party to put up even one flag in the village. They are allowed only on this road, in the union office or inside the compound of their own office. We do not allow political fights within the village, but see what they have done now. The entire country has heard about us all for the wrong reason!"
DMK Councillor Murugan said: "I immediately called the fire brigade. A man had called the local police. But there was only the writer and he said, 'There is nobody here, I will inform when they come.' "
A news reporter said a police jeep with one cop passed by when smoke started coming out of the bus. The students stopped him. His reply was, 'There is no wireless in this jeep I will go and fetch help.'
"The cops as usual came after everything was over," the reporter said.
The driver of the university bus had stopped the bus under a tamarind tree. Near this tree is an English medium school and a telephone exchange. A few students got down to see what was happening, but about 20 girls stayed on board. Scared that somebody would throw stones they closed all windows.
Miscreants poured petrol in the front. Two petrol bombs were hurled inside. One landed in the front and the other in the middle. Seeing the smoke the boys ran to save their colleagues. A boy working in a teashop by the roadside recollected that people immediately rushed to the bus with buckets of water.
"Some girls stumbled out of the front door. But then the front portion caught fire badly and they could not come out. Most of the girls inside had fainted because they couldn't breathe. They themselves had closed the window.
"The backdoor was locked. In the panic nobody thought of keys. A few boys jumped in through the upper portion of the backdoor and started dragging the girls out. They brought out quite a few. But they couldn't save these three.
"Due to the smoke the boys were coughing badly. They also looked like they would faint inside. The fire was raging. The boys outside started screaming at these boys to jump outside or they would be killed themselves.
"They jumped out very reluctantly. We were all standing outside. Those three girls burnt to death in front of our eyes," the shopkeeper said, his voice shaking.
The girls who died have been identified as Hemalatha of Madras, Gayathri of Vridachalam and Kokila of Namakkal. And everything has been photographed and captured on video.
You wonder why so many cameras were around. A local journalist explains the reason: Rajendran is a VIP in the AIADMK. He advertises in the local papers regularly. "So when he calls and says he is leading an agitation we will naturally be there," he says.
Jayalalitha's claim that it wasn't her partymen who were responsible for the incident, thus, doesn't cut any ice.
An eyewitness adds: "The other girls started getting out of the bus immediately, but these three went for their luggage. It is fate that made them do that stupid thing."
Yes. Just as it was fate that made two hooligans throw petrol bombs inside.
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