The Tamil Nadu state government has been directed to pay a compensation of Rs 25,00,000 to the family of a Dalit man who was hacked to death by a gang in Thoothukudi district in 2015. Noting that the state had been willfully negligent, Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court also slammed the government and the police for inaction. Arumugaraja, a 45-year-old Dalit farmer from Srivaikuntam, had repeatedly complained about threats to his life from some dominant caste members of his village. However, despite an incident of Arumugaraja’s crops being set on fire, the police had not arrested the main accused.
Justice SS Sundar observed that despite claims to the contrary, the state government and police department “have not explained to the acceptance of this Court that they have strictly followed the procedure prescribed in law to its logical end to bring the peace and normalcy in the locality.”
“Hence, the murder was on account of recalcitrant attitude and the improper way of handling a serious complaint without considering the tension prevailed in the area by the police officials. The peace committee meeting was again an eye wash as it is stated by the petitioner.” said the court. It added, “A widow has lost her son, when she was 43 years and when she was in need of him for her protection and solace after the death of her husband. She had lost her hope in the State, who failed to give protection and she has to remain with a fear, which is painful.”
The court also found that Arumugaraja was targeted not due to personal reasons but communal ones, for the dominant caste group to 'send a message.'
Even as no protection was provided to Arumugaraja despite multiple requests, he was hacked to death in close proximity to the Srivaikuntam police station. Arumugaraja’s murder had caused tensions in the Navaladiar village at the time between the Dalits and the Maravar community.
As far back as 2013, K Rukmani, Arumugaraja's mother, had alleged that the persons, who were posing a potential threat to her and her son, were neither summoned nor directed to appear before a court-ordered peace meeting. Moreover, the meeting itself was only an eyewash not to take action against the accused, the mother stated.
Rukmini stated before the court that “due to the wilful inaction on the part of the Government, particularly, the District Administration and the Superintendent of Police, Tuticorin emboldened the criminal elements to carry out their objectives.”
Upholding this, the court said, “Mishandling of the criminal complaint in 2013 has also paved way for the accused repeatedly threatening the life of [Rukmini] and her second son. The petitioner realised the seriousness of the situation prevailed not only at the time of giving complaint in 2013, but also subsequently.”
Speaking to TNM, Robert Chandra Kumar, the lawyer for the family says that the verdict is a lesson to the state to not take complaints lightly.
“This is among the highest compensation awarded for the state’s negligence. This is in addition to and above the amount awarded for violation of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. The crucial aspect is the court noting that the state is liable — that responsibility to provide protection has been emphasised,” says Robert.