History & Culture

Namma Madurai - Massacre in a village

MEMORIES AND A MEMORIAL: The pillar at Perungamanallur. Photo: S.S.Kavitha  

Anyone familiar with the history of modern India is likely to be aware of April 13, 1919; of General Dyer and of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to call the Perungamanallur killings, which took place on April 3, 1920, as the south Indian Jallianwala.

The black pillar with a burning torch on top in Perungamanallur tells the heartrending story of villagers who fought for their rights against an Act.

Before getting into the history of the pillar, it would be right to understand the Criminal Tribes Act that triggered the carnage. The British Government introduced the Act in 1870 and implemented it in 1914 on communities like Keezhakudi Kallar and Thogamalai Kuravar. The Act was first implemented on Keezhakudi.

In 1919, the whole of Piramalai Kallar community came under the scan of Criminal Tribes Act. According to the Act, the members of Kallar community had to register themselves by submitting their thumb impression at the respective police stations. In addition, male members above 16 years had to spend their nights in police stations and get police permission to visit their relatives.

As a result, villagers who resented being labelled as criminals, disobeyed the order. Residents of Perungamanallur were the first to oppose registration. Residents of Kaalappanpatti and Kaniyampatti joined them in the protest, which resulted in the firing. Soon the resistance spread to nearby villages like Melaurappanur, Poosalapuram and Sorikampatti. In the melee, scores of protestors were killed. “As per Government record, only 12 persons including one woman named Mayakkal were killed,” says Su.Venkatesan, who has authored a 1300-page novel, ‘Kaaval Kottam', dealing with life in Madurai region.

But the pillar has 16 names engraved on it. Probably many who got shot might were killed while fleeing, he says, adding that 63 people were subsequently arrested and tortured.

After realising that it was impossible to subjugate the people with force, the Government decided to implement welfare measures. It established schools, and introduced the Kallar Common Fund and the Kallar Panchayat System.

As expected, the memory of the massacre has now faded.

Recognising the importance of the village and massacre in the history of south India, Narayanaswamy Naidu of Tamil Nadu Farmers Association, in 1984, took out a farmers rally from the village. Only after that Perungamanallur came under the spotlight, remembers Venkatesan.

In 1991, Muthu Karrupa Thevar paid homage to martyrs and took the initiative of constructing a pillar in their memory, says Venkatesan.

Lawyer Sundara Vandhiya Thevan, who is carrying out research on Piramalaikallars, says the massacre victims were mass-buried at Punnaipatti near Usilampatti. “Now there is no trace of the mass burial, though some people claim to have installed a memory stone”, he adds.

Kasi Mayan, a villager, says: “The incident took place in the interior part of the village. For the sake of visibility, the villagers have constructed the pillar on the main road.” The old police stations still stand at Sindhupatti and Poosalapuram, telling the tales of a tragedy.

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Printable version | Apr 7, 2021 12:45:38 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/history-and-culture/namma-madurai-massacre-in-a-village/article2319054.ece

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