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mob lynching[One of the worst caste clashes in Tamil Nadu occurred in 1981 in Ramanathapuram during the chief ministership of MGR. It was initiated by the Agamudayar social group (also called Seervai) who call themselves part of the Mukkulathaar caste formation. They form the majority in Ramanathapuram town and are powerful politically. They dominate and control all political parties and keep most government offices under their control.

Beginning with the Divans and ministers of Sethupathi princely state and the reign of the Congress government and up to the present ADMK reign in the city of Ramanathapuram, Agamudayaars have been the powerful and most dominant social group. Other caste Hindus have supported and colluded with them. The group that has been at the forefront carrying out ‘violent attacks’ as per the agenda of the caste Hindus has been Maravar group. This has been the case for centuries and remains unchanged until today.

The document below provides an insight into the caste riots that took place in 1981 in Ramanathapuram. It addresses issues such as: who initiated the violence, how caste Hindus ganged up together to perpetrate violence against the Dalits, and how the state machinery and police colluded and conspire with the caste Hindus. It shows how these caste clashes have continued unabated until the recent Paramakudi murders (Sep 11, 2011). 

In Tamil Nadu, members of Schedule Caste occupy only the Group C and Group D of the central government posts. In keeping with the reservation policy, in 1980, Schedule Caste groups had gained employment in central government posts, but this was only in the railways, postal services, and harbour. In these districts, any post office was bound to have at least one member of the Scheduled Caste in their staff. The dominant caste people knew this and had directed their attacks on post offices. Moreover, they found out from caste Hindus who the schedule caste workers were and attacked them and their families. 

The post and telegraph workers, who were subjected to such attack, coordinated their efforts and produced a document entitled “Ramanathapuram riots” and presented it to the government and other organisations. We are publishing it here because of its relevance to present-day happenings.

This author of this document is Thoruvaloor Kasi (also called Mr. Hitler), who had been the president of the trade union called NFPTE. He had been the president and general secretary of NFPTE for more than 20 years. He retired in 1999. He had met with Periyar EVR during and been a disciple of his. He is the relative of Velu (45) of Thoruvaloor who died on 13.9.2011 from a fall while trying to escape from a search and kill operation by the police in Dalit villages following the Paramakudi murders during Jayalaitha’s regime. Kasi, the author of this document, was also a target for the police search. He has been a keen social activist. He is also the district vice president of Ramanathapuram Dravidar Kazhakam]

- Dalit Murasu

Ramanathapuram Riots 1981 – Document 

On the Panguni Uthiram day, a college student was seen talking with one of his female colleagues. The male student belonged to the Pallar caste; the girl was from the Servai caste. Some caste Hindu students who could not bear to see this had reprimanded him, and he withdrew from the scene. Around the same time, some unknown young men were making fun of some women from Vandikkaarar street. A student from the college hostel had been to see a friend in Vandikkaarar street.

A woman had said that the young man looked like the student who had been the one who was talking to the girl on a Panguni Uthiram day. Men belonging to Servai caste immediately seized upon the student and beat him up severely. The student who was beaten up was known to be a well-behaved young man. He went back to the hostel and told his colleagues about the beatings. Thereupon students from the hostel came to the spot and attacked the perpetrators. Later they returned to the hostel. 

A man known as Mr. Sellathurai Servai reported the incident to the police. Thereupon, the then inspector and sub-inspector of police, together with some reserve policemen, went to the hostel after 10 pm and assaulted the students severely while they were sleeping. The students were trapped in their beds and could not escape. One student had his shoulder dislocated, and another suffered head injuries and bleeding. On 23.3.81, the students held a silent protest march against this police atrocity. The police and caste Hindus of Vandikkaarar street disrupted the procession and chanted, “Pallan, Pallan” and abused the students in foul language.

When they were passing in front of the palace, a man who was waiting for the bus objected to their torments, saying, “Why are you shouting Pallan, Pallan. what do you want?” He kicked down a water bucket and hit one of them. Three other onlookers joined him and attacked the boys. The boys ran away, and the onlooker got into the bus and went way.

Students from the hostel had got hold of some sticks and chased the Vandikkaarar street men. Someone had informed the police about the incident. The police came, and while dispersing the crowd, a policeman assaulted a postal worker by the name of Chithrevel. Chithrevel was already known to the policeman who assaulted him. When Chithrevel asked him why he was attacking him, the policeman hit him again. This was around 1.30 pm (on 23.3.81). Chithrevel went to the hospital to treat the severe injuries. He had sustained to his fingers but was refused treatment. He complained about it to the RDO, and he (the RDO) said he would order the hospital to provide treatment. 

After that, the post and telecommunication union leaders spoke with the SP of police, and the situation came under control. Talks were also held between the students and Vandikkaarar street men and peace was restored. But, the men of Vandikkaarar street seemed to have taken it as an affront to their honour. They spoke to the police inspector at that time, who encouraged them to go on the offensive and promised his support. The students came to know about it. They had informed Arumugam, the owner of a timber shop, about this. With his help, they published a notice (not annexed here because a copy could not be obtained). 

When the people of Mutunaal came to know that they had the support of the police, they planned to chase out and evict the Pallars working in post and telecommunication services. Their leader was a smuggler named Selladurai. The police inspector was fully aware of the plan, and, in fact, and encouraged them. On a day after 7.4.1981, they suddenly attacked the people at a dry chilli commission shop with sticks and scythes. Two or three people, including a woman, were severely injured and were admitted to the hospital. All the victims belonged to the Pallar caste.

Around this time, porters working in lorries had been to an eatery near the bus stand. They were given Thosai and Sambar but not Chutney. When they asked for Chutney, they were told, “Sambar is enough for Pallar fellows, you do not deserve Chutney”. Infuriated by this remark, the porters had beaten the attendant and damaged the things in the shop. After that, they went and sat in the bus. Before the bus could leave, a gang headed by a man named Ravi came into the bus armed with knives and sticks. They forced all the commuters in the bus to get down except the Pallars and proceeded to assault the Pallars severely. 

When the news of the above incident reached nearby villages, on 10.4.1981, people from Peravur came to Ramanathapuram to seek justice under the leadership of one Killavan. By the time they got to Ramanathapuram, thousands of people had already gathered. They then proceeded to smash all the shops belonging to Servais in Keenikkarai. The police came to the scene immediately, and Kilavan spoke with them. The crowd felt they had been insulted by the Servais and was infuriated with the police for not taking action against those responsible for it. They advanced towards the town. The police did not know how to control the crowd, and they shot Killavan. He died on the spot, several others were injured, and the crowd dispersed. 

After that, the police took the dead person and the injured to the hospital. Meanwhile, Maravars armed with knives and scathes from a village called Rajasuriyamadai came on a procession and ransacked the office of a lawyer by the name of Govindan, who was a Pallar by caste. They threw his books, files, and other belongings on to the Madurai – Mandapam road and set fire to them. After that, they raised slogans against the Pallars and marched into the village. 

By that time, the Servai and Maravar caste people of Vandikkaratheru, Rajasooriyamadai, and Ramanathapuram North street had gathered together. On that afternoon (10.4.1981), they went around shouting abuse at the Pallars and demanding that Pallars employed in the post office be chased out of the location. They went from street to street and house to house, shouting abuse and threatening them. Some went to the houses of the post office workers shouting slogans. They went from street to street in an Ambassador car with a microphone shouting, “If you see a Pallan, assault him.” The police simply looked on and took no action.

Encouraged by the police's inaction, the Servai mob went from house to house demanding money to protect the village. They demanded that each house contribute Rs. 10 and each shop Rs.1000 or more. Another group went around demanding money from small shop keepers asking them to pay according to their means. Yet another group of people had started setting fire to the houses of Pallars and their belongings. The police took no action and were, in fact, a party to their actions. They were keener on chasing out the Pallars rather than restoring law and order. 

On 10 and 11.4.1981, the Servai crowd had sent a note to the Uchchipili area near Mandapam, asking them to send 500 people. A Maravar at the scene was reading, and a Pallar, who was his friend, noticed it. He escaped from the area as soon as he could. By 11.4.1981, all the Pallars working in the postal department had been abused and evicted. Apart from five families that took refuge in the head post office, all others had left the area for their own safety. When the crowd tried to attack the post office, the officer in charge informed the police, but the police arrested only two people. 

When the news spread to outside areas, in order to prevent outsiders who had taken part in the incidents escaping to Ramanathapuram, buses and lorries were stopped at Chandrakudi Landai village by the Pallars. The police dispersed them. Those who had sought refuge at the head post office were safely sent out with the RTO's help. An employee called Mr. Chitravel got way by being packed into a bag and taking out the help of a woman. 

Infuriated by the Servais and the police's actions, the Pallars set fire to Vella Aanaikkudy village. They assaulted only those who prevented them from setting the fire. Others were left alone, nor were their houses looted. A man by the name of Selladurai of Vella village is known to have sold several paddy bags to commission agents. A vicious rumour was spread that Pallars had battered a child to death and thrown it into the fire. This was a blatant lie, no such incident ever occurred. But in Kulathuur near Ramanathapuram, the Servais stripped naked a revenue inspector and his wife, both Dalits and chased them away.

They assaulted and brutalised the Dalits living from the east of Ramanathapuram up to Mandapam and set fire to their houses and possessions. The police provided no protection. Those who tried to get away by train were beaten up and left wounded on the railway platform. No one knows how many were injured and how many died. When the Chief Minister, MGR, came to Ramanathapuram on 16.4.1981, he went only to places that the officers took him to. He did not seem to have inquired into the loss of life of Pallars nor the damage and destruction caused to their houses and belongings. And the authorities did not seem to have drawn his attention to the loss of life and property suffered by the Pallars. The consequence of this was the following: 

As soon as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu left Ramanathapuram, the local police, with the help of reserve police, went on a rampage. Women were dishonoured; students were attacked; tiled houses were smashed; bicycles and sewing machines and other belongings were destroyed; valuables from some houses were stolen; those not involved in the violence were assaulted without mercy; apart from those who managed to escape, the Pallars were arrested and charged with murder, burglary, and arson and sent to jail. Chathrakkudy Mr. Kandan of Postal department was one such victim. In Semanoor, the police dispersed the crowd attending the funeral of an elder and allowed only those under the age of 16 to proceed with the funeral; they abused the women from Sathirakkudy area and beaten them; buses were stopped, and the Pallars in them were made to disembark and beaten up and later charged with murder, theft, and arson.

When the police's action was questioned, we came to know that this was to justify the police shooting at Sathirakkudy. People never attempted to assault the policeman or attack the police station. Yet the head constable of Sathirakkudy police had deliberately opened fire and killed people, including a woman who was selling fish and a man who was buying ropes in a shop. One of them was a Maravar and the other a Konar. We do not know who the others were. All of them were people who had come to the shops to buy things.

On that day post and telecommunications were functioning, no telegraph posts were damaged, nor were the services disrupted. There are witnesses to attest to the fact that on that day, telecommunication services were functioning correctly. This could be verified from the records in the post office and telecommunication services. Sathirakkudy, too has a post and telecommunication office. Hence there was no need for the police to open fire. To say that telecommunication services were disrupted on that day is a blatant lie. 

After 11.4.1981, all Pallars working offices other than the post and telecommunication services were evicted. The caste Hindus went from village to village by taxi and shouting, “Pallars get out, Pallars get out,” and forced them to vacate their houses. Since there were no safeguards for them, the officers had to leave their houses and go to their respective villages. Until now, no one belonging to the Pallar caste had returned to Ramanathapuram. And when one person, working in the public works department, tried to return to work after 20.4.1981, he refused entry to the office and was asked not to come back. 

After the Chief Minister’s visit to Ramanathapuram (and his stay for two days here), Pallars have been subjected to ill-treatment and abuse by people of the Servai caste. Now, they are being subjected to police tyranny. This government must wither allow the Pallar social group to live peacefully or let them die en masse. Let whatever happen, happen. Should this torture continue to be inflicted with the government's blessings, conversion of the Pallars (to other religions) is inevitable not only in Ramanathapuram but in all of Tamil Nadu. We wish to inform the government that no one can stop the conversion of us all our brethren belonging to SC and ST. 

Yours truly,

SC and ST Employees Union, Ramanathapuram

1981.

(Published in Tamil Magazine ‘Dalit Murasu’, September 2011)

Translated by M.S. Thambirajah


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