22 years later, memories of a mass murder still haunt Melavalavu residents

Madurai, Tamil Nadu, 25/12/2019: K. Kanjivanam, resident of Melavalavus Ambedkar Colony and brother of deceased Vice President K. Mookan, recalls the 1997 murder, in Madurai. Photo: R. Ashok / The Hindu   | Photo Credit: R_ASHOK

In Melavalavu village in Madurai district, conversations about the coming rural local body election invariably bring back memories of the gruesome 1997 murders of former panchayat president K. Murugesan and a group of Scheduled Caste (SC) leaders, and the subsequent horrors unleashed on the residents.

The State government’s release — for “good conduct” — in November of 13 members convicted for the murders has created resentment and anger among the SC community, say residents of Ambedkar Colony.

“The 1997 murders caused outrage against caste-based discrimination across the country, but have not brought any systemic changes to institutionalised casteism here,” says K. Kanjivanam, 45.

His brother and then panchayat vice-president K. Mookan was among the victims.

The mere act of asserting his right to contest the poll caused his brother’s death in 1997, Mr. Kanjivanam points out.

And now, Dalits, who are a minority in terms of vote share, cannot imagine contesting in an election that is free of rigging.

A poster put up at a tea stall, discouraging discussion on the local body election, in Melavalavu village in Madurai; (right) K. Kanjivanam, resident of Ambedkar Colony and brother of a victim, recalls the incident.

A poster put up at a tea stall, discouraging discussion on the local body election, in Melavalavu village in Madurai; (right) K. Kanjivanam, resident of Ambedkar Colony and brother of a victim, recalls the incident.  

“I do not think we have the resources or the voter base to participate by ourselves. We still receive death threats [from caste Hindus]. They remind us that we too could meet with the same fate,” he says.

Although SC candidates served two terms as presidents in the villages since the murders, discrimination is rampant. One of the presidents, Chellammal, was used as a pawn by caste Hindus, the villagers claim.

Many basic amenities, including pathway to the graveyard for Dalits, pipelines for drinking water supply and bathrooms under the Swachh Bharat Scheme, that were once promised by the district administration and local panchayat leaders are barely existent.

M. Bodharaja, 40, says the Dalits struggled to carry two bodies to the graveyard last week because of the encroachments on the pathway. “For years, the Tahsildar and other local officials have said that they would remove the encroachments so that we do not have to carry the bodies through rice fields. Nothing has been done. Our dead, just as the living, get no respect,” he says.

There are only three bathrooms inside Ambedkar Colony, despite the promise that every household will have a toilet. Women like K. Chandra say they experience problems when they are menstruating. “We are forced to go out in the open,” she says.

Mr. Botharaja, a post-graduate, says if the Dalits approach police stations to lodge complaints, they are viewed as troublemakers. They are given tea in separate glasses and forced to clean septic tank clogs in caste Hindu locality.

“Ask them, they will raise the facade of a friendly village. We have, in fact, not visited their side of the town since the murders. A few go there to buy groceries. Even then, they are stared at.”

Caste Hindus such as S. Dhrivaiyaraja say: “Please, write that the village is peaceful. We have even put up posters in tea shops discouraging poll talk”.

Others agree and say they have become friendly with the Dalits.

Melavalavu panchayat has been reserved for ‘general women’ for the December 27 local body election. Two caste Hindu women are in the fray.

Madurai Collector T. G. Vinay says he will send a team to inspect the amenities in the village and ensure that they are available to the people.

“As far as the elections are concerned, we have listed Melavalavu under ‘vulnerable and sensitive polling station’. Additional police personnel and a standalone videographer will monitor the situation,” he adds.

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Apr 22, 2021 7:26:05 AM |

Next Story