22-year-old Malathi can still hear the hoarse cries for help from her brothers as they were being dragged down the road to their death.
The family, which belongs to Puliyarampakkam in Tiruvannamalai district, had just returned from a temple when three men from the neighbouring village attacked her siblings. 34-year-old Venkatesh and 21-year-old Adi Kesavan were forced out of their homes at 6.30pm on Sunday and beaten mercilessly.
"When Venkatesh held on to the gate to fight against the attack, they almost broke his hand. They were thrashing him like an animal. My father who tried to stop them was also beaten up. We had no idea why they were taking my brothers," says Malathi angrily.
The assaulters, who were residents of Chellaperumpulimedu, then took the siblings in a vehicle and drove away. Three hours later, they were found grievously injured in the Mankkal Junction and rushed to a Government Hospital. While Adi survived the torture, Venkatesh succumbed to head injuries.
He was the eldest son of a Dalit family and had worked at Chennai's Panimalar University as an electrician for over a decade.
"He had just come home for the weekend because my parents insisted and never gets into any trouble." cries Malathi.
Why was Venkatesh murdered?
"Vanniyars killed him," Malathi says angrily. "His murder was fueled by caste discrimination," she alleges.
Earlier on Sunday, two youth from the dominant Vanniyar caste (Vanniyars are OBCs) from the village of Chellaperumpulimedu located 7 km away from Puliyarampakkam, followed a Dalit girl into the colony .
Residents, who noticed them, caught hold of the two men and began questioning them. According to the police, one of these youths ran away when confronted and informed members of his village that they-- two upper caste members--had been 'attacked'. Rajesh, who was still in the custody of the residents of Puliyarampakkam, was taken to the police at around 4 pm and was let off without filing an FIR, alleges Malathi. The police, however, claim that the youth was asked to appear for an inquiry the next day.
Less than three hours later, 36 residents of Chellaperumpulimedu allegedly came heavily armed in vehicles and began attacking everyone in sight at the Dalit colony.
"They picked up a baby from its cradle in the opposite house and threw it on the floor. They broke another man's hand because he tried to stop them from destroying his bike. They were even stabbing him," recalls Malathi in horror. "When they saw my brother coming into the house, they pulled him out and began to attack him," she adds.
When Adi and his father attempted to stop them, they were subjected to heavy blows as well. Malathi alleges that the assaulters proclaimed that this was vengeance for attacking members of their community.
"They did not even care about who had caught hold of Rajesh. They wanted a Dalit life to compensate for it. That is all," she says. "My brother cried that he did not do it but they wouldn't stop," she sobs.
Both Venkatesh and Adi were then taken to a waiting vehicle and abducted. The family immediately complained to the police at around 7.30pm but there was allegedly no effort taken to find the culprits till 8.10pm.
"This time was crucial and the police failed to act. We could have saved my brother if not for this delay," says Malathi.
The two Dalit men were beaten with wooden sticks before their bodies were dumped. Local shopkeepers reportedly saw these bleeding victims and raised an alarm. But it was already too late for Venkatesh.
Where are the culprits?
"My brother was always so quiet and would not even respond if you made fun of him. We were, in fact, looking for a girl to get him married to," cries Malathi. "How can they do this to him just because he is a Dalit?" she asks.
According to the police, 36 members of the Vanniyar community have been named in the complaint. "We have arrested 11 people so far and booked them for murder, atrocities against SC/ST and rioting," an investigating officer told TNM. But what about the others? "They are absconding, including the youth who ran back to the village," he claims. The officer denies that the attackers damaged any vehicles in the village.
Residents of Venkatesh's village, however, held a blockade on the Cheyyar-Kancheepuram Road demanding immediate arrest of his murderers and also alleged that their property has been vandalised.