A flurry of activity accompanies a reference to the ‘pujari’ case at the Palur police station, almost 50 km from Chennai.

Files are brought in and details swiftly read out. Meanwhile, a senior police officer tries to de-mystify the crime.

“The essence of it is, you don’t bark at dogs. The woman should have just ignored the behaviour of the drunken men. She argued with them when they tried to scare her niece and abused her. Had she calmly walked past, her father would have been alive today,” he said.

He is talking about Padmasree, daughter of V.T. Raman, who was murdered by a drunken gang.

“Can’t I even question somebody who is trying to trouble my niece? Couldn’t they have just pushed off? Why did they have to kill my father?” asked a tearful Padmasree. 

“We have booked them in several cases — including an attempt to murder and for harassment of women. It was an unfortunate event,” said another officer.

“The woman, Padmasree, was fair and pretty, an M.Com graduate who seemed sensible. But she did not use her common sense. She was new to this place. What was the need to argue with the men?” he asked. When asked about other harassment or abuse complaints, he said very few were reported.

Almost 25 villages come under the jurisdiction of the Palur police station of which 13 are certified as mother villages because of their size. Since the villages are quite far from the police station, most disputes are sorted out with the village head.

“The problem of history-sheeters here has increased over the last few years. Some of them go about with steel rods, in groups and everyone is scared of them,” said Thilakan, another resident of Venkatapuram.

Houses and residential colonies are interspersed with acres of paddy fields. “One has to walk for at least 3 km to reach the main road. It is very risky for women. Hardly any women walk alone on the streets. Only the women who own liquor shops work here after six,” said Saroja, another resident who works at a bank in Chengalpattu.

“Illegal country liquor is quite a problem here. People often get drunk and create a ruckus. Since there are no patrols by policemen, they never get caught,” she added.

The Palur police said they had managed to nab several history-sheeters in the last few days. T. Natarajan, a sub-inspector, said special teams have been formed to curb the menace. 

Many residents were eager to support the bereaved family. “We feel very sympathetic towards the family.  We will make sure we collect enough money to help them. I feel sorry for the young woman, as she is just 25, unmarried and has lost her father,” said R. Kumaranayagan, a shop owner in the locality.

Raman’s family says violence is endemic to the area.  “They could have even just shoved him and left it at that. They need not have killed him,” a relative said. 

The only person to remain defiant is Padmasree. “Everyone is talking to me about financial support and my marriage but not about punishing the wrong-doers. I want them to be punished for what they did to my father,” she said.

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