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Anniversary of Keezhvenmani carnage observed

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Somber moment: N.Varadharajan, State secretary, CPI (M), hoisting the party flag at Keezhvenmani in observance of the 41st anniversary of 1968 Dalit massacre in Nagapattinam on Friday.
Somber moment: N.Varadharajan, State secretary, CPI (M), hoisting the party flag at Keezhvenmani in observance of the 41st anniversary of 1968 Dalit massacre in Nagapattinam on Friday.

P.V. Srividya

KEEZHVENMANI (NAGAPATTINAM): Even as the world gears up to observe the fifth anniversary of tsunami, a day before, on December 25, another anniversary was observed some 20 km from Nagapattinam.

An arch painted in red opens the road to Keezhvenmani. The red flag of Communist Party of India (Marxist) flutters against the wind from the mounted platform of the memorial.

Names engraved

Forty-four names along with the names of 14 victims from the same family are engraved on the black granite. A plantain bud carved out of monolithic red granite mounted on a platform serves as a memory of the dead. The plantain bud was reminiscent of the ‘continuity of the revolution.’

On December 25, 1968, 44 Dalits, women, men and children, were locked in a hut and set fire in Keezhvenmani. The violence was a response to their demand for wage hike.

Keezhvenmani marked a watershed in the semantics of Dalit violence in post-Independent India and Tamil Nadu. It has since become a reference point for Left ideology in the East Thanjavur region.

Cry of salute

On Friday as khakhi-clad police littered across the mud-laden narrow stretch, and as red flags fluttered, cadres of Communist Party of India (Marxist) marched with a cry of salute for the “Venmani martyrs.” Wreaths were placed at the memorial for Venmani’s children devoured by the flames.

While Venmani became a reference point for left politics, it also marked a socio-political cry for a Gandhian struggle by ‘Sarvodaya couple’ Krishnammal Jeganathan and Jeganathan in the region. It triggered off a spate of non-violent agitations for re-distribution of temple and Trust lands in Valivalam to landless Dalits, under their leadership. The couple had since formed an organisation for land re-distribution among Dalits.

Fresh in my mind

“I could not sleep last night, and the sight of the violence feels fresh in my mind - fresh blood of a butchered child, and charred bodies of women and children, who had taken refuge in a hut,” observed Krishnammal Jeganathan over phone, on the occasion of the anniversary.

“I decided to make it my life’s mission to restore land to landless Dalit women,” she said.

According to Ms.Jeganathan, the issue that snapped the victims’ lives short was still alive, with over 49 per cent of Dalits still landless.

“We have touched just the surface, and the work remains incomplete.”

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