A PALL of gloom has descended over Pacheri, a Dalit village in Ramanathapuram district. All its residents are in agony over the gruesome murder of T. Palanikumar, a Standard XI student, allegedly by upper-caste persons on September 9.
The green-and-red flag of the Devendrakula Vellalar (Pallar) community flies at half mast on a pedestal bearing the portrait of Dalit leader Immanuel Sekaran at the entrance of the village. Women sit in groups and mourn the cold-blooded murder of the 16-year-old boy. Men have not been attending their routine work, not being able to come to terms with the murder.
Pacheri can be called a village of woodcutters. Most of the residents cut wood on daily wages ranging from Rs.150 to Rs.220 for charcoal-making units in the industrially backward area. The Dalits have to pass through the Mukkulathor-dominated Mandalamanickam village to reach the main road leading to Kamudhi and Virudhunagar. Pacheri is the only Dalit village under the Mandalamanickam panchayat, and it is surrounded by upper-caste villages. Access to the road is often denied to the Dalits.
The government has moved heaven and earth to link the murder of the boy to defamatory graffiti against Pasumpon Muthuramalinga Thevar, the undisputed leader of the Mukkulathor community, on the wall of an old building in Mandalamanickam. But local people deny the involvement of Palanikumar or any other resident of Pacheri in the act. As the upper-caste people have denied access to the pathway, it is impossible for Dalits even to enter Mandalamanickam, one of them said.
I. Thangavel, father of Palanikumar, said his son was an intelligent boy who had won the appreciation of his teachers for maintaining good conduct and discipline in school. After completing Standard V in the local panchayat union school, he moved to the government higher secondary school at Anaikulam in Virudhunagar district, six kilometres from Pacheri.
On the day of his murder, Palanikumar and some of his friends had gone to Muthuramalingapuram, an adjacent Dalit village in Virudhunagar district, to watch a play staged in connection with the annual congregation of the local temple.
While he was returning home past midnight along Gundaru, a jungle stream, a gang waylaid the Dalit boys. Palanikumar was hacked to death.
Thangavel could not control his tears when he asked, Tell me please, what amount of solatium would compensate the loss? Can they bring my son back? He was firm in his demand that those who had committed the crime should be punished.
A. Marimuthu, community leader of Pacheri, accused the authorities of not responding positively to the long-standing demand of the local residents for laying alternative roads to reach the highway and ensuring adequate supply of drinking water. A well in the village, which is the only source of drinking water, was contaminated recently, he said, adding that it could be the handiwork of some miscreants in the neighbourhood. However, the apprehensions of the local residents were allayed by District Collector V. Arun Roy, who visited the village on September 14. He drank the water drawn from the well in their presence.
K. Muthukaruppan, a villager, said that until last year, 60 children of Pacheri were studying in the higher secondary school in the neighbourhood. Most of them had shifted to the school at Anaikulam this year because of alleged discriminatory practices.
For the past four years, we have been participating in the guru puja' of martyr Immanuel Sekaran, but this time we were prevented by the authorities from going to Paramakudi, M. Sekar, another villager said.
The district authorities have told the villagers that steps will be taken for laying a new road for the residents of Pacheri. They have also promised to ensure the supply of drinking water through tankers.
Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa announced in the Assembly on September 12 that five persons had already been arrested in connection with the murder of Palanikumar and that she had directed the police to take stringent action to bring them to book.
For Palanikumar's parents, Thangavel and Bhuvaneswari, and his siblings, T. Munusamy, T. Vigneswaran, T. Soorya and T. Maheswari, the road to recovery is long and painful. The Collector had to work hard to make Palanikumar's parents accept the solatium of Rs.1 lakh announced by the government. They refused the gesture, saying that it would not bring back their son. The Collector promised them that all the accused would be brought to justice.S. Dorairaj