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Desecrating Memory – The Paramakudi Police Shootings: V Geetha

September 24, 2011

Guest Post by V. GEETHA

Readers of Kafila might have heard of the horrific shootings that took place at Paramakudi and Madurai on September 11. Officially seven people died when police opened fire on dalits who had gathered to pay their respects to Immanuel Sekaran, a dalit leader who was brutally killed in 1957 in circumstances that pointed to the complicity of dominant caste thevars in carrying out this murder.  (The thevars are an important constituent of the ‘Mukkulathor’ complex of castes that includes the kallars and the maravars.) Subsequently, U Muthuramalinga Thevar, Forward Bloc leader was arrested in connection with Sekaran’s death – he stood trail and was released two years later, because the case against him was not established and proved. (Thevar was proud of his anti-communism and his Hinduism; to him he claimed that patriotism and theistic belief constituted his very vision, they were the ‘eyes’ through which he saw the world.)

But before all that happened, a great many other deaths took place – following Sekaran’s death, widespread riots happened across the region (in and around Mudukkalthur in Ramanathapuram district in the south east of Tamil Nadu), and tragically both thevars and dalits were killed in large numbers. Dalit homes were destroyed, their crops set on fire, their families humiliated, entire villages burnt down, a church where dalits had taken refuge was stormed by thevar mobs and two men killed. Several thevars were killed too, as dalits retaliated, and many more died in police firing. These events laid the basis for a volatile political atmosphere, which continues to persist in the region, and one in which the thevars have lost no chance to let the dalits know their ‘place’; dalits for their part have continued to resist, often amidst tremendous odds.

Sekaran’s murder happened on the heel of widespread competitive political anger and discontent in the region, triggered it would seem, by a by-election which saw a thevar candidate returned to the Tamil Nadu Assembly. It was rumoured then, and continues to be repeated to this day that Sekaran, along with members of the Nadar community were Congress supporters, whereas Muthuramalinga Thevar whose candidate had won the by-election was a Forward Bloc man, and opposed to the Congress in Tamil Nadu, especially its leader, K Kamaraj. Political passions, we are made to believe, ran high and peace meetings, held in anticipation of further and greater violence in the wake of the elections were scuttled by the recalcitrance of all parties concerned. In the event, widespread violence was unleashed, and the rest is now history.

What is often conveniently forgotten in such reasoning is the persistence of the most atrocious forms of untouchability in the region, in Ramanathapuram, since the 1930s, and which has not retreated with time and has in fact reinvented itself in the face of dalit resistance. What is also forgotten is the social capital that thevars have assiduously built up – through their presence in cinema, in local administration, in political parties – and which is often used to buttress their claims to social status, long denied to them in the order of things in Tamil Nadu, (the Southern kallars were counted amongst the criminal tribes by the British) and which they now covet and make their own through the willful denigration and humiliation of dalits. Though, historically they have, for several periods of time, themselves been outside the pale of the caste order, that memory is not significant in their recall of times past. Their ideologues appear to want to do two things: view the kallar-maravar-thevar complex as authentic Tamilians, committed to the land and its faith; and as purveyors of a martial past. Having served as guards of the frontier to the imperial Cholas, and of the seas for the Pandyas, these ideologues are inclined to see their communities in the light of a proud past of which they claim to be forbears. This pride, in that perverse manner rendered routine by varnadharma requires them to treat dalits with contempt – in keeping with the logic of graded inequality. Dalits to this day continue to bear the brunt of that wretched pride.

II

Immanuel Sekaran has since been memorialized in song and legend and has emerged as a pivotal memory to mobilize dalits into acts of resistance. Over time, the occasion of his death has come to be celebrated as a solemn event – and ironically as it were, it precedes the celebrations that happen in October every year to honour the memory of Muthuramalinga Thevar and which are usually observed in triumphant hauteur by the members of his community, with able support from political leaders from across the ideological spectrum.

Ever since the AIADMK under MGR and later on under the present Chief Minister J Jayalalitha have chosen to patronize the Thevars (and the other sub-castes that are linked to them, including the kallars and the maravars), community leaders in the southern districts have reaffirmed their caste authority and hegemony by taunting, insulting and inflicting violence on dalits who dare to defy their diktats. Political support in fact has earned them an impunity that is explained away in terms of their so-called ‘primeval’ will to acts of violent anger. It is not surprising then that the memory of Immanuel Sekaran serves to haunt and anger all those determined to counter dalit militancy.

In this latest instance of violence, which saw police shoot at a gathering of dalits in a major junction in the town of Paramakudi, as they sought to make their way to pay tribute to Sekaran’s memory, it is evident that the firing was entirely unprovoked. Several sets of fact-finding reports are currently circulating in the Tamil public sphere, all of which make it clear that there was nothing to suggest that the dalits who had come together to keep vigil with Sekaran’s memory were causing a law-and-order problem. Chandra Bose, a senior dalit leader in the region who was present in Paramakudi in fact attempted to counsel the police into not doing anything rash, but all his imprecations were ignored, and simultaneously, as it were, the police resorted to lathi charging and shooting – this fact has been fudged by the police who claim that they shot at the gathering only when all other attempts to quell the crowd had failed. Further teargas was not used, and the mechanism for using it remained untouched.

The police also have argued that their officers shot in self-defence, because the crowd of dalits had resorted to stone-throwing. Again, on the evidence of Chandra Bose and others who have spoken to various fact-finding teams, it appears that the stone-throwing started after the shooting and not before.

Further, just at the very moment when the police opened fire in Paramkudi, police in Madurai city shot at a modest gathering of less than 100 people. In addition, it is claimed by dalit leaders in and around Paramkudi, two young men were singled out by the police and either killed in custody or shot point-blank.

The police story has other aspects to it which do not bear scrutiny: they have argued that they were anticipating a major law-and-order crisis with the impending arrival of John Pandian, a fiery dalit leader, known to provoke his hearers into angry action, and so had to stop him from proceeding towards Sekaran’s memorial – hearing the news of him being apprehended by the police, his supporters, we are told gave into rowdy action, and the police had to resort to firing to protect themselves. A very thin excuse, it would appear, since John Pandian had been granted police permission to go to the memorial and it would not have taken much to render his visit ‘safe’.

So, why did the police shoot? There appears to be a malevolent ritualism to the shootings, their timing (on the very day that Sekaran was killed), that they were not provoked, that they were not preceded by warnings… and that they happened in the same month as the original riots of 1957. Further, the shootings happened in the wake of the death of Palanivel, a 16 year-old dalit youth who was murdered because he had allegedly sought to defame Muthuramalinga Thevar through a piece of wall writing that offended the thevars. Those who spoke to his family members in his native village have pointed out the very modest circumstances of his family, their fear of the thevars, and the sheer incongruity of the young man attempting something that for sure would have brought him to disaster and death. It has long been observed that the dalits in villages close to Mudukkalathur are extremely vulnerable to attack and they are least likely to indulge in lone acts of opposition.

To return to the question of the shootings: why did the police shoot? Angry progressives have noted that this is sheer police brutality; that there was not even the excuse of caste tensions (a claim that is falsified by the role played by the ‘Aapanaattu Maravar Sangam’a group that is local to the region and avidly involved in settling issues of dominance). Others have argued that the state government has been taken aback by the unexpected show of solidarity cutting across castes and faiths that has mobilized hundreds of young Tamils to protest the death penalty awarded to Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan, accused in the murder of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and have resorted to this vile measure to scuttle Tamil unity. What is of course not addressed here is that this unity which is achieved in the heat of struggles to do with pan-Tamil causes such as this one, or to do with language and opposition to Brahmin-bania authority, comes regularly unstuck when it comes to caste.

So, to understand the logic of the firings, we need to look elsewhere: at the manner in which the police continue to be wooed and pampered by both the DMK and the AIDMK; at the impunity they enjoy as custodians of ‘law and order’ which gives them power and legitimacy to consistently place themselves outside civic and public scrutiny; at the ‘right’ they have arrogated to themselves to use firearms speedily and without thought; at the unregenerate casteism that is present pervasively in the force; at the cultural affirmation they have received through flattering and feared media representations (a character in a Tamil soap, a ‘good’ cop went by the name of ‘Encounter Dorai’); at the histories of service of the police heads who were involved in the firing, and which reveal a thoroughly anti-people attitude which has been made evident on other occasions.

More particular is the clout enjoyed by the leaders of the thevar community with the ruling party, and which has decided to use it to ‘settle’ the question of dalit defiance in the south eastern districts. It is extremely telling that Jayalalitha was dismissive of the deaths that happened, did not deign to refer to the desecration of a commemorative event observed in honour of a dalit leader and that she would not allow even a glimmer of doubt to be cast on the police.

We must also look at the history of governance under the AIADMK – especially the last two times J Jayalalitha was in office. She is unabashedly elitist, an aspect of her personality that is fudged because she plays the benevolent ‘mother’ to her large group of non-Brahmin and dalit supporters, and happily and successfully infantilises their politics. She has made no secret of the support she has consistently extended to Narendra Modi. She has shown herself to be easily instrumental and cynical in the manner she treats public causes, supporting them now, dismissive of them another time, all with an eye to immediate political gain. Of course, many of these ways of being would apply to the political class as a whole, including her arch-foe, the DMK, but there is a shade of political evil that she covets, which has to do with her ability to shut up people. In this latest instance, not one of the fact-finding reports, even when released to well organized press meets have found their way to the dailies. (The only report that gained some media attention was the one given out by the Dalit Panthers, but this was only because the press conference was addressed by Ram Vilas Paswan, and it seemed alright to let him speak.) The Tamil weeklies which gloat over every minor political event until they can render it sensational have shut up after making initial noises about the Paramkudi firings. It is this ability to reach out to the undemocratic core that lies at the heart of every violently beating democratic heart that renders her a politician that is more than ordinarily corrupt and cynical. It is as if she allows many of us to be unabashed about our founded and cruel disinterest in the politics of caste and caste based injustice. Not only the public, but this time around, the district administration too has been drawn into this evil politics of silence and denial.

Sadly, the vibrant Tamil nationalist public voices that have created a new civic space around the issue of protesting the death penalty are all too eager to be conspiratorial about the Paramakudi events, and not entirely willing to consider the caste question as it emerges and re-emerges in all that we do, or don’t do. The Dalit Panthers, the CPI (M) and the CPI have, to an extent, insisted on bringing the policemen to book, but even before the dead were cold in their grave, the two communist parties were engaged in parleys with the AIADMK on the matter of local elections. It is another matter that they finally have decided to go it alone in the local polls, but tragically this is not on account of Paramakudi.

26 Comments leave one →
  1. Raj permalink
    September 25, 2011 2:42 PM

    Atlast Kafila has broken the silence. The role of Tamilian media on this issue is a question mark since it is heavily under upper caste-hindus control and influence. Moreover it is tragic that this news was shot down by English and regional ones except with a brief coverage. And about the attitude of CM, need we say more?

  2. Kumarpushp permalink
    September 25, 2011 5:06 PM

    Immanual Sekara was killed by Muthuramalinga Thever and his clans in 1957 because he did not stand in respect to barbaric Muthuamalinga just 4 days before his brutal murder.166 million dalits should learn the lesson from 120 million muslims who had stopped fighting with hindus and Hindu police directly but they are giving them back in different way.Dalits of Tamilnadu should join together to chalk out Plan to punish the Thever,Kallar and Maravar in different way.what a shame for Hindu police who had killed innocent dalits but same police men will wet their trousers when terrorist had attacked India.time is not faraway when dalits will get educated .Mr kanshi ram had came to UP and ask the dalits to sell their TV sets and buy the arms to punish the Hindus and their Hindu led government in india.Dalits of UP had sold their TV sets and brought the arms to defend their lives.DMK and AIDMK both are protecting the Thevar,Kallarand maravar.Dr Ambedkar had told the Dalits gathering in AGRA that no hindu will sacrifice the Lions but they sacrifice the goats since that days till today dalits of Agra had fought two war with hindus. it is shame for Hindus and their hindu led government who are protecting Thevers in tamilnadu.

    • April 8, 2012 1:44 AM

      Dont Spread rumor dude without knowing anything Mr. Kumar. That Muthuramalinga thevar supported Dalit People only. Don’t you know…???

      If you don’t know anything. Just shut your mouth dude. No need to punish anybody. If you are educated, you don’t like to speak like this. Really you are an uneducated fellow. Try to live to achieve something in this world. Don’t push any hard things to any innocent people.

      Dalit people are not slave. They are humans. Same for all kinds of people. Isn’t?

      Just throw away your thoughts like that. Be a human Dude….

  3. ravisrinivas permalink
    September 25, 2011 9:05 PM

    ‘In this latest instance, not one of the fact-finding reports, even when released to well organized press meets have found their way to the dailies. (The only report that gained some media attention was the one given out by the Dalit Panthers, but this was only because the press conference was addressed by Ram Vilas Paswan, and it seemed alright to let him speak.) ‘
    I dont think this an accurate picture.The report by Peoples Watch was carried by many dailies.In fact dailies wrote editorials criticizing the police. A google search would show that V.Geetha’s claim is false. Let us not forget that perhaps the largest selling daily in Tamil is Dinakaran which is part of the SUN TV Media groups and the largest private TV channel in Tamil is the SUN TV network. Of course there is Kalaignar TV as well. I think her claim
    ‘but there is a shade of political evil that she covets, which has to do with her ability to shut up people’ is sheer nonsense given the critiques published in dailies and elsewhere. Media in fact carried the statements of the left parties also. The fact is leaders like Nallakannu of CPI are not willing to demonize one section and its leader and eulogize only one section and its leader. Hence they dont buy the arguments that pit one caste against another in the name of justice. Moreover the return of Jayalalitha with a massive majority and some of her actions in issues like the cause of SriLankan Tamils, Koodankulam atomic power plant have earned her more support from persons like Nedumaran, Seeman and others who espouse Tamil Nationalist politics. So even when they are critical of her in the Paramakudi shootings they are unwilling to make that a huge issue that would be of political use to her opponents, particularly DMK. In other words ‘the vibrant Tamil nationalist public voice’ is critical of her but does not want to indulge in anti-Thevar caste rhetoric or is unwilling to run a campaign against Jayalalitha’s government on account of Paramakudi firings. Obviously this has disappointed those who cannot reconcile with the fact that a person from a community they hate could become Chief Minister for the third time that too with such a majority. Perhaps they thought with the Paramakudi firings those who support her would turn into her political foes. It did not happen.

  4. September 26, 2011 12:48 AM

    I think the State Human Rights Commission if there is one, or any High Court appointed Commission, should inquire into the firings thoroughly and present a comprehensive and impartial report on the matter. And strict action should follow against those who are guilty in the course.

    • Kumarpushp permalink
      September 26, 2011 11:44 AM

      Majority of judges are hindus who are protecting hindus and his clans.can you give me one incidence where culprit were punished even Balthakare whould hve been in jail according to Krishana reports but Hindu led congress did not arrest him because of roudy behaviour of Shiv Sena.India is a country where hindus are let free to do any crimes other side Muslims are punished as terrorists and dalits are being punished as nexlite.

  5. September 26, 2011 2:03 AM

    Ravi Srinivas, One can understand that you want to issue a few correctives on facts like how media covered the Paramakudi police firing from your point of view and observations. But you go on to make bizarre statements like “Nallakannu does not want to pit one caste against another” as if Geetha is inventing caste antagonism all by herself. You should know, as much any sane member of Mukkulathor community (the three communities of Thevar, Kallar and Maravar) like Nallakannu knows, that the assertion and mobilization of the Mukkulathor castes as a political entity resulted in the subjugation of Dalit castes in the unfortunate logic of graded inequality of castes which Geetha has ably narrated. AIADMK since 1972 has been abetting this process since Mukkulathor castes were largely seen to be outside the fold of the DMK owing allegiance to variously fragmenting Forward Bloc after the death of Mutharamalinga Thevar. Under Jayalalitha’s leadership AIADMK nearly turned out to be a Thevar party (remember Kodiankulam?). Given this historical context don’t you think every decent person with political awareness should condemn the brutal, premeditated and unwarranted Paramakudi firings as an act of minimum concern for ethics? How can any other political concern or persuasion come in the way condemning this naked act of brutality in which every norm and strictures about police firing has been blatantly flouted? Why does the so called civil society always think that caste inequity and Dalit repression is none of its business? Is that because the cheap labor force made available by poor Dalit castes is the secret of the capitalist growth for the crumbs of which “civil society” is waging its war with the political class? What kind of amnesia are u suffering from to let yourself think that people are against Jayalalitha and use Paramakudi incident to turn her “friends” into “foes” because of “her” caste? When did “her” caste ever become a problem for her in leading a popular Dravidian party apart from helping her to win admirers in English language media, Hindutva forces and now the likes of you?

  6. D.Karthikeyan permalink
    September 26, 2011 4:22 PM

    I think Ravi Srinivas is correct, the English language media did give a lot of coverage to the firing incident, especially The Hindu, Times of India and Indian Express did provide a lot of space. It was the Tamil dailies especially Dinamalar which highlighted how policemen were not allowed to their duty etc,( it is nothing new about the Tamil Dailies they always suppress information when it is about Dalits)

    For your kind information I was the one who covered the issue for The Hindu,

    http://www.thehindu.com/news/states/tamil-nadu/article2444651.ece

    http://www.thehindu.com/news/states/tamil-nadu/article2455342.ece

    http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Madurai/article2445098.ece

    http://www.thehindu.com/news/states/tamil-nadu/article2447937.ece

    http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Madurai/article2455650.ece

    http://www.thehindu.com/news/states/tamil-nadu/article2452449.ece

    http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-tamilnadu/article2443838.ece

    http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Madurai/article2447656.ece

    http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-tamilnadu/article2466790.ece

    http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Madurai/article2456448.ece

    http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-tamilnadu/article2471998.ece

    http://www.thehindu.com/news/states/tamil-nadu/article2470391.ece

    http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/article2469183.ece

    http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-tamilnadu/article2475210.ece

    http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-tamilnadu/article2481517.ece

    http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-tamilnadu/article2481516.ece

    http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-tamilnadu/article2483882.ece

    please check the above stories that were published by the Hindu

  7. joe permalink
    September 27, 2011 11:27 AM

    like to draw a parallel to jewsand their later transformation

    • joe permalink
      September 27, 2011 2:18 PM

      like to know more on how the movies like thevar magan helped this process.some body ,who knows, please give any links on the material in net

  8. A.Ajit permalink
    September 27, 2011 11:33 AM

    Yes of course everything that is distasteful to any community is Hindu led :D sit back relax and type in how every thing in this country has to do is based on castist ideas.propagate more hate and ignorance and bring more people to kill one another that is precisely how we will create a better future.ty Mr.karthik for the links @ readers please do go through the entirity of the incident before contemplaying support and or hatred

  9. Kumarpushp permalink
    September 27, 2011 12:01 PM

    All Indian news papers are hindu toilet papers which was run by Hindus to protect hindu interest in india.one million dalits gathered at Chitya bhoomi but Hindu medias do not give any space to dalits news but same thing when 5000 hindu dips in dirty ganga it become big news for Hindus news papers and electronic medias.Same Hindu medias are opposing the Financial Times,Wall street Journal , new york times, Sunday times in india on ground that they would not give proper news but I think 120 million muslims and 166 million dalits should press the Hindu led government at centre to allow foreign Print and electronic medias to publish from delhi. even they are not allowing AL jajeera to telecast from India.

  10. V. Geetha permalink
    September 27, 2011 8:56 PM

    Thanks Kartikeyan for sending me these links – I have seen all of them, except for the ones that appeared only in The HIndu Madurai edition.But it is interesting that most readers appear to have missed my point – I have noted that the fact-finding reports were not carried in the press, which reported on the incident but did not think it important to carry news of reports that have since been made available. – apart from the report put out by People’s Watch which to my knowledge did not appear in the national edition, but only in the Madurai edition. The Tamil press has been very dodgy on this issue.

  11. V. Geetha permalink
    September 28, 2011 12:19 PM

    Since my post appeared, a detailed report has been filed for the latest issue of Frontline by S. Doraisamy. An excellent piece by Karthik Navyan is also circulating in the blogosphere.

    • Mangala R Sekaran permalink
      October 1, 2011 1:41 PM

      Don’t write us Dalits, please write us Devendra Kula Velalars.

      Go through Tamil old history and tell us who we are, because we people were lived like dominant caste in olden days. If you are really interested to write the truth, please collect all the details of our community and write. How they lived and what condition they came under Scheduled Caste like all the things shoud be brought to the knowledge of all people living in Tamilnadu.

  12. shanan permalink
    September 30, 2011 1:11 AM

    Parama kudi firing is complete nonscense one . I am totally hate that and i have one request to tamil nadu goverment please appointe one group of human rights commision and inverstigate about that firing

  13. Kumar permalink
    February 9, 2012 3:09 PM

    Why did Jayalalitha’S govt protect the downtrodden people ? He ruling is biased ,protecting only a group that she favours and discriminating the other and calling names such as “Dalits” which is not found in hindu religious text ! Actual Hindu Vedas never taught to discriminate anybody/race/group. it clearly upholds “humanity”..The Vedas was written by one named Veda Vyasa who was a son of a fisher-woman, hence his name it has been known as “VEDAS”. Luk into the Vedas (original) ,does it teach u the barbaric practice to use the Police force to shoot or massacre the unarmed poor citizens ? The so called “Thevars” were the Offsprings of Devadasis clan., find out who were Devadasis, what were they ,their status and so on etc., etc. The “Devendras” were of ruler clan- the Chera,Chola n Paandya Kings. Also luk into fact what happened in 14 C.E. when Vijayanagar Empire(Telegus) invaded The Paandya Kingdom(Devendras) – that’s where the revolution began ! Check who was where at that ,so don’t give out ungrateful,ill-knowledeged or distorted facts of religious basis .Lastly “one becomes a bahmana not born “, even one who is/was born in a Sudra family also can become abrahmana if he Exihibits the qualities ,and he should be honoured as a “Brahmana”And if one was born into a brahmana family but is attracted to Sudra job then he is aSudra- Not a Brahmana ..Tat’s the Vedic Injunction. Theres no discrimination

  14. Kumar permalink
    February 9, 2012 3:17 PM

    Jayalalalithas govt did NOT protect The Down-trodden people !

  15. Kumar permalink
    February 9, 2012 3:20 PM

    The Chera, Chola n Pandiyas were Devendras – MaLLA Race NOT TAMIL!

  16. Kumar permalink
    February 9, 2012 3:39 PM

    Anyone who works for wages is a Sudra! Bengali proverb says ;a branmana is a poorman even if u give him 10,000 rupees a day bcoz he shud giv away the rest to others (No Saving) after using for the need of tat day! In this material world there’s no Brahmana but all Sudras !

Trackbacks

  1. the police are everywhere «
  2. Paramakudi – Six Poems: Ravikumar « Kafila
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  4. Paramakudi – Six Poems: Ravikumar | LSR Political Science
  5. Desecrating Memory – The Paramakudi Police Shootings: V Geetha | The Social Science Collective
  6. Protest Policing from London to Paramakudi: From Containment to Dialogue in the UK | Routes

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