Rising tension in TN villages family members deny victims were wood-cutters
news Thursday, April 09, 2015 - 05:30
Thiruvannamalai About 25kms from Arani Town in Tiruvannamalai district of Tamil Nadu, at Vettaigiripalayam village, the mutilated and rotting bodies of Murugan and Sasikumar are kept across the main road in protest. Members of their families are distraught and seeking justice, and refuse to cremate the body till their bodies are probed again for cause of death. Anger is rising across Tamil Nadu. Murugan and Sasikumar were among the 20 killed by the Andhra Pradesh police on 7th April in an alleged encounter while they are reportedly attempting to smuggle Red Sanders out of the forests. Anticipating trouble, the district authorities in Thiruvannamalai have stopped public transport vehicles from plying on the roads leading to the village. Buses are stranded at Santhavasal, about 10kms from Vettagiripalayam. Shops have shut down. Reserves police forces have been called in and are keeping a vigil. Meanwhile, the state government has agreed to conduct another post-mortem on the bodies following a petition filed at the Madras High Court by family members of the victim. "Even if they had gone for felling trees, how is fair to torture and kill them? Why such a treatment to us Tamils from the Andhra Police?" asks Elumalai, Sasikumar's cousin. But serious doubts are now being raised over whether some among the 20 killed, like Sasikumar and Murugan, really knew what they were being taken to cut trees. 'They were only painters' On Monday, at about 1pm, Murugan told his mother Valliammal that he was heading out of town for work. "We are very poor, there is no water here, no gruel at home. Wherever he gets work, he goes. He is just a painter, he does not know how to cut wood," says Valliammal, wailing over the death of her son. Valliammal Sasikumar's family claims that both him and Murugan were thick friends and took up painting jobs together. What exactly happened in the forests across the state border in Andhra Pradesh is still a mystery, but there are several gaping holes in the version given by AP Police. Activists claim that seven of those killed were forced to step out of a bus across the Andhra border, taken to the forests, tortured, shot dead, and the crime scene dressed up to make it look like an 'encounter'. Shekar, a resident of Gandhi Nagar village near Vettaigiripalayam, is reportedly one of the survivors of the encounter. He told Indian Express that he was with one of the victims, Mahendran. He says that the police stopped the bus and picked up Mahendran for 'questioning'. However, Shekar maintains that they were headed only for construction work. Unemployment, poverty drove them to odd-jobs The tragedy seems to have born out of chronic unemployment, out of desperation. Locals claim that most men in the village work as daily wage labourers. Agriculture has gone bust for the want of water. Even government schemes like NREGA have not been able to help them. So men take any and all odd jobs available to earn. "Some brokers come here to take them to different places in Andhra for work, probably they just went along thinking they could make some money," says Jayakumar, a village resident. But other families and village elders say that no one from the village cuts wood anymore. Murugan is married with 2 children. His father is a priest at a small village temple. Their family belongs to the Vanniyar caste, which dominates in the region. The Pattali Makkal Katchi, a Vanniyar-based political party, is now out on the streets. Parochialism on the rise "When Andhra labourers were killed at a construction site in Chennai, they paid them Rs. 5 lakh as compensation. And our Tamil brothers are tortured and killed by the police, and Rs. 3 lakh is all the families will get?" asks Palanisamy, a local PMK leader.  The Tamil Nadu government had earlier announced a compensation of Rs. 3 lakh for the families of those killed. Palanisamy is referring to an incident in Moulivakkom in Chennai when 61 were killed after a building collapse, several among the dead being those from Andhra. Several political parties have raised their voice against the Andhra police, trying to make it a Tamil Nadu Vs Andhra Pradesh issue. There has also been violence against Andra state buses entering Tamil Nadu. At the protest in Vettaigiripalayam, cries against Andhra Pradesh CM Chandrababu Naidu and people of the state were raised.  

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