The murder of K. Rathinasamy, a panchayat president in Tamil Nadu, is the latest in attacks on CPI(M) leaders and activists in the State.
THE murder of 38-year-old K. Rathinasamy, a selfless worker of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), on March 13 in Iduvai village, some 10 km from the industrial town of Tirupur in Tamil Nadu, was marked by shades of medieval barbarity. Rathinasamy, the president of the Iduvai village panchayat, suffered multiple stab injuries on his chest, neck and stomach. He was attacked with a sickle, repeatedly stabbed and then, with hands tied, was hanged from a tree, about 200 metres from his home.
His spectacles, wristwatch, handkerchief and so on lay about the place. The murderers had left a bloodstained knife, an iron rod, a log of wood and a piece of wire. On the tree was stuck a handwritten, bloodstained note, entitled "the mistakes that Rathinasamy made". The mistakes, the note went on to say, were that he removed encroachments, supported Dalits, escaped death on an earlier occasion (when he was attacked in 1998), supported Christians, did not respect a particular caste, opposed Hindus, got re-elected as village panchayat president, and was a communist. The note was signed "Anti-Communist Front."
As N. Varadarajan, State secretary of the CPI(M), pointed out, Rathinasamy's murder was only the latest in a series of wanton killings of CPI(M) workers in Tamil Nadu, especially in Tirupur. Those killed included Eechampalayam Panneer-selvam, Seeranpalayam Palanichamy and Asher Mill Palanichamy. In April 1997, Madurai City Corporation councillor Leelavathi, a member of the CPI(M), was murdered in Madurai because she had taken steps to regularise water supply, which hit at the root of a water distribution racket. In Cuddalore, Anand and Kumar were murdered because they opposed the sale of illicit arrack. According to Varadarajan, "Rathinasamy's was a political murder... He died because he engaged himself in the work of the people. It is extremely painful that he was murdered because he fought for the working class and the oppressed people."
G. Ramakrishnan, member, State secretariat of the CPI(M), said that Rathinasamy was able to mobilise villagers because of his record of prolonged fight for their cause. When the district unit of the party decided to fight untouchability, it was he who took the lead in ensuring that the two-tumbler system in tea stalls in Iduvai was abolished. (In this system, separate tumblers are kept at tea stalls to serve tea to members of the lower castes.) He organised Dalits, the poor and farm workers. He was also popular among construction workers and daily wage labourers who travelled from surrounding villages to Tirupur in search of work. "He was an energetic leader who grew from the grassroots level," Ramakrishnan said.
On March 14, the hosiery town of Tirupur and several surrounding villages observed a spontaneous bandh to protest against the murder. The bandh was backed by all political parties. There were protest demonstrations by CPI(M) cadres, including women, in Coimbatore, Madurai, Chennai and other places.
In the 1996 panchayat elections, Rathinasamy was elected panchayat president by 143 votes in a six-cornered contest. Although he was brutally attacked and thrown into a maize field in 1998, he survived. In the panchayat elections held in 2001, he was re-elected president, by 93 votes, although other parties had fielded a common candidate against him.
At his funeral on March 14, hundreds of ordinary people as well as leaders cutting across political lines were present. He was buried at a spot close to the village panchayat office. Speaking on a call-attention motion in the Assembly on March 14, CPI(M) legislator K.C. Karunakaran pointed out that if the police had taken proper action in 1998, his murder could perhaps have been avoided.
In her reply, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa said that special police parties had been formed to arrest those who were behind the crime. The Coimbatore rural district police were interrogating six people. The investigation would probe all angles, the Chief Minister said. Rathinasamy is survived by his mother, wife, and daughters Geethanjali (nine) and Nandalala (seven).