Killed on campus

Print edition : November 01, 2013

L.R.D. Suresh, the Principal who was murdered. Photo: N. RAJESH

IN a gruesome act, the principal of a private engineering college was hacked to death by three students on the campus at Vallanadu, a village in Tuticorin district in Tamil Nadu, on October 10. The Principal, L.R.D. Suresh, 53, of Infant Jesus College of Engineering, Keela Vallanadu, was accosted by the students on the college verandah at about 8.30 a.m. when he was walking towards his room. Before he could react they attacked him with sickles and knives. His cries drew the attention of other students and the staff but the attackers fled the scene.

The profusely bleeding Principal was rushed in the college bus to the Tirunelveli Government Medical College Hospital where he was pronounced “brought dead”. His body bore 12 deep cut and stab injuries. The police arrested the three students—P. Pitchaikannan (21), a final year Aeronautical Engineering student from Nazareth near Tirunelveli; G. Danish (22), a final year B.Tech (Information Technology) student from Okkur in Sivaganga district; and M. Prabakaran (21), a third year B.E. Civil Engineering student from Keelamelur Meelappadi village in Nagapattinam district.

While Danish’s parents are Sri Lankan refugees who live in the Okkur refugee camp, Prabakaran’s parents are agricultural labourers. The police told Frontline that the Principal had suspended Pitchaikannan for five days on October 7 for his involvement in activities other than academic that “were detrimental to the college’s dignity and decorum”.

The slain Principal, according to informed sources, had reprimanded Pitchaikannan on many an occasion in the past for alleged ragging and other undesirable activities on and off the campus. “The principal was a disciplinarian. He used to ask erring students to bring their parents to discuss issues,” said a senior faculty member. This had earned him many enemies among students, the sources claimed.

The motive for the murder, police believe, could have been the humiliation Pitchaikannan felt following his suspension. The other two were his roommates, said a senior police officer who is investigating the case. The accused were charged under Sections 294 (b) and 302 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The three were produced before the Srivaikundam Judicial Magistrate who remanded them to custody.

Suresh, a native of Sernthamaram village near Sankarankoil in Tirunelveli district, lived with his mother and daughter in Palayamkottai near Tirunelveli. He had worked in various colleges before he assumed charge as the principal of Infant Jesus College some seven years ago. None from the college management could be contacted for further information.

Of late, there has been a spurt in campus violence in Tamil Nadu, academics feel. “Students, especially those from arts and engineering colleges, used to indulge in sporadic violence. But this is the first time a college principal has fallen victim to such violence,” said K. Muthuchelian, former Vice-Chancellor, Periyar University, Salem.

It was very disturbing, he said, to note that the violence-prone Western culture was seeping into educational institutions in Tamil Nadu. Reports pointed out that the State had recorded some unruly incidents on campuses in the past few years. An office assistant in Annamalai University, Chidambaram, was murdered on the campus by some unknown persons on January 30, 2008. A first year MCA girl student of the National Institute of Technology, Tiruchi, was stabbed to death by a student of a nearby engineering college in front of the institute’s computer laboratory on August 5, 2004.

An engineering student from a college in Namakkal was killed in April this year when a group of students from the same college ran a car over him at a bus stop near the college. Dr Ambedkar Law College, Chennai, witnessed violent incidents between two groups of students on November 12, 2008, leading to the hospitalisation of many students.

Many colleges, especially in the southern districts, have witnessed frequent clashes among students on caste lines. Last year, a class IX student of a school in Chennai, stabbed his Hindi teacher, Uma Maheswari, to death for complaining to his parents about his poor academic performance.

“Both parents and teachers have a collective responsibility to inculcate moral ethics and cultural values in the minds of youth. Each college, especially professional ones, must have a trained counsellor,” Muthuchelian said. P. Asaithambi, Head and Professor, Department of English, Government Arts College, Nandanam, said that when academic pressure and a competitive environment exceeded the threshold, students came under strain and got stressed out. “This will lead to activities that often end in unsavoury incidents,” he added. The faculty, he suggested, should adopt a “soft but mature” approach while handing sensitive issues concerning students.

A.K. Natesan, Tamil Nadu president of the Indian Society for Technical Education and correspondent for a chain of engineering colleges in the Salem and Erode region, endorsed these views. “Parental care should be an integral part of college administration. Counselling and warm interfacing are absolutely essential today,” he said.

R. Ilangovan