Tamil Nadu

Memorial to martyrs

Print edition : April 04, 2014

A model of the memorial.

A new memorial, unique in many ways, has come up at Keezhavenmani in Nagapattinam district dedicated to the memory of 44 Dalits, including 23 children and 16 women, burnt alive in a hut in the hamlet 45 years ago by landlords against the backdrop of landless agricultural workers, mostly in the eastern part of the then composite Thanjavur district, raising the banner of revolt against class exploitation and caste oppression. The carnage of December 25, 1968, marked a turning point in the Dalits’ battle against landlords’ terror.

The new two-storey memorial is in addition to the martyrs’ column installed at Keezhavenmani four decades ago and is located close to the site of the massacre. It was conceived seven years ago and funds were raised mainly through voluntary contributions from workers and employees of State and Central organisations.

Speaking at a function shortly after opening the memorial on March 9, CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat described it as a “standing monument” to the movement of the working people of composite Thanjavur district and the toiling masses of Tamil Nadu as a whole. “Despite this massacre and atrocity, the movement has grown from strength to strength,” he said. According to A. Soundararajan, president of the State unit of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions and coordinator of the project, the memorial has come up on a two-hectare site. “The circular-shaped structure rests on 110 reinforced cement concrete columns with piling up to 56 feet [17 metres] in view of the soil quality at the site on the Cauvery riverbed,” he said.

The monument comprises 44 polished red granite pillars installed in a circle on the periphery. The pillars, each with a clenched fist atop, symbolise the martyrs’ conviction to resist social oppression and economic exploitation. The memorial will also have a 13.4-metre-tall granite pillar with this logo. Use of granite is in tune with the ancient Tamil culture right from the days when hero stones were erected for valorous persons, Soundararajan said.

The complex has a circular pathway with seating arrangements. “On the first floor, the urn containing the ashes of the martyrs will be kept and we are planning to arrange for an eternal flame there,” Soundararajan said. A 28.5-feet-tall (8.5 metres) flag mast made of cast iron and weighing 1,044 kg has been erected in front.

Veteran CPI(M) leader N. Sankariah expressed satisfaction at the party’s decision to have a research and training centre at the memorial. Research work will be taken up on issues relating to human rights and the struggles of farm workers and peasants against exploitation and social oppression.

S. Dorairaj

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