Love and violence in Dharmapuri
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While Ramadoss has rubbished allegations that his party orchestrated the incident, many Dalits believe otherwise. J Gurunathan, senior PMK leader and state president of Vanniyar Sangam, a community organisation, is said to have fomented tension between Vanniyars and Dalits by publicly condemning marriages between the two. However, there is no evidence that the PMK played any role in the attack.
Many blame the fecklessness of the police and the district administration. "This was a planned incident where a caste mob had been mobilised from 22 neighbouring villages. The mob rampaged for four hours and the 19 policemen stationed in the area did nothing," says P Dillibabu, CPI(M) MLA from neighbouring Harur taluk and vice-president, Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front.
The DSP, incidentally a Vanniyar, and the constables responsible for maintaining peace in the area have since been transferred or suspended. "We have made 142 arrests. FIRs have been filed against 500 people. The case is now in the hands of the crime branch, CID," says SP Asra Garg.
The people of Anna Nagar, a colony of about 50 houses built on government-allotted land, say the mob laid siege not just to Dalit villages, but also to their progress in society. "The men who stormed into the village shouted obscenities. One said, 'We are burning the books of your children. This should set you back by a generation'," says Santosh Kumar, whose house was among the 36 that were set ablaze. "'Today is our Deepavali,' shouted another," says Shanthi, who lost her house worth Rs 25 lakh and 480 gm of gold.
Despite being unrelated to Ilavarasan and Divya, this hamlet suffered the same fate as Natham, 1.5 km away. Kondampatti, nestled in the midst of tapioca and turmeric plantations, was slightly luckier. The mob's last stop, it lost 14 houses to the riot before the vandals fled in fear of an approaching police team. "I am scared to think about what could have happened to us," says Sarala, 25, whose brother Netaji married Muthulakshmi, a Vanniyar girl, in Chennai last year. Deemed guilty by association, Sarala and her parents came home the next morning to find their home ripped apart. Ever since Netaji eloped 14 months ago, the family has lived in fear of a group of Vanniyar thugs who had threatened them and broken the windows of the house.