For over a decade, whenever J Parasmal entered a government building in Chennai, warnings of his arrival were whispered among government officials.
On Tuesday, Parasmal was on his way to his office on Narayanamurthy street when assailants struck on Baker Street in Choolai.
He jumped off his bike and began running, but a group of men cornered him near a cowshed and brutally hacked him to death with sickles. Police have not yet ascertained who the killers are.
Parasmalâs reputation for an uncompromising attitude towards corruption preceded him wherever he went, especially in government offices, says Senthil (name changed).
Senthil said that Parasmal had antagonized powerful builders and terrified government functionaries with RTI applications that exposed alleged bureaucratic complicity in building irregularities in Sowcarpet.
Electricity, sewage and drinking water connections were provided in violation of rules to allegedly illegal five-storey buildings constructed in the area.
"He was a lawyer by general knowledge. When the RTI act was passed, he meticulously spent hours and hours studying cases, looking out for violations," Senthil says.
A friend of over 10 years, Senthil recalled Parasmal as a jovial man with an upright gait, walking into his lawyer's office with paper clippings and fresh RTIs to file.
Parasmal regularly apprised the Chennai Corporation about buildings that hadn't paid their property taxes. As a result, the Corporation raked in around 70 lakh rupees in revenue. "He was invited to be a part of a Corporation committee for his efforts," Senthil said.
As threats and intimidation began to increase, Parasmal set up CCTV cameras in his office but continued to unearth more irregularities.
Over the years, the activist was attacked 3-4 times. A week before his murder, an auto had forced him to ride his bike onto the edge of Choolai bridge. Parasmal parked next to a police van and the auto disappeared.
Murugan (name changed), a grieving relative, said that Parasmal was often followed on his way to the office. âHe refused security. Somewhere, I saw it coming.
I was very keen that he didn't pursue all this. I would tell him to take care of his wife. I told him take a car, use a driver, and he would say, âNo it's very easy for me to pursue these things on a bike, so I don't need a carâ. I wouldn't have that courage honestly. He had a lion's spirit. I am scared they will come for us," Murugan said.
Senthil too says Parasmal was persistent. "He'd see a pothole on the road and say âI am going to file an RTI.â I'd ask always him why he was so relentless. He would reply, âYou should just do what is right.â I think he's paid the price for it.â
At his newly purchased home, his family members pace up and down, remembering his kindness as a landlord. But an air of hopelessness lingers. "As you dig deeper, you will find that nobody is by your side. When the need arises nobody will be there for you. The only ones who lose out are your near and dear ones,â Murugan says.
Parasmal took legal battles all the way to Delhi to the secondary appellate court, using his own money.
âHe didn't have to do all this. But he did. Our setup is such, that if you stand up (for what is right), you will pay a hefty price,â Murugan said, breaking down.
Prancing across the hallway, Parasmalâs grandchildren keep asking for their thatha (grandfather). âWe've told them he's a star up there,â Murugan says.