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Lessons from Kallakurichi

School buses were gutted during the large-scale violence that broke out on July 17, 2022 following the death of a student at Kaniyamoor near Chinna Salem in Tamil Nadu’s Kallakurichi district on July 13, 2022.

School buses were gutted during the large-scale violence that broke out on July 17, 2022 following the death of a student at Kaniyamoor near Chinna Salem in Tamil Nadu’s Kallakurichi district on July 13, 2022. | Photo Credit: S.S. Kumar

The people of Tamil Nadu were in for a rude shock on July 17 morning as they watched on TV the scenes of a large number of youth rioting on the premises of a higher secondary school at Kaniyamoor in Kallakurichi distric.

The stated purpose of the protesters was to “secure justice” for a Class XII girl student who was found dead on July 13 in the school hostel. While officials view the death as a case of suicide, the parents of the girl are not convinced. It is this conflict over the cause of death that paved the way for the violence. 

Furniture, school buses, other vehicles, and properties associated with the school were destroyed. Ultimately, it was the police who suffered the most. Nearly 110 police personnel, including Deputy Inspector-General of Police (Villupuram range) M. Pandian, were injured. Around 60% of the nearly 100 gutted vehicles belonged to the police.

One message could be inferred from the incident, which was that the girl’s death was used a ruse to attack the school. The Kallakurichi episode caused a dent on the reputation of the State being a haven of peace.

According to estimates, nearly 3,000 people took part in the violence, many of them having travelled from other districts on two-wheelers. An official said that some of the rioters had even come from the western districts of the State to the school located in the northern region. Some political and social organisations are suspected to have played a role in mobilising the rioters. The attack could have happened in view of the perception that certain key members of the school management subscribed to a particular ideology. Technology came in handy as numerous WhatsApp groups were created. The incident is a classic example of how social media can be misused.

The episode triggered discussions about intelligence failure and why the district administration did not do anything to prevent such a large number of people from going to the school premises. One explanation offered was that the district administration was actively engaged with the parents of the girl and student associations and this could have created a “sense of complacency” among the officials. There are reports that the local police did not pay heed to intelligence inputs about protesters’ plans to obstruct traffic on the Salem-Chennai national highway.

When the demand was made for a second autopsy, the district administration was said to have advised the parents of the girl to approach the Madras High Court, which allowed the procedure to be performed. However, the Court, on Friday, dismissed a plea for conducting a third post mortem instead constituting a panel of three forensic science experts from the Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research (Jipmer), Puducherry, to analyse reports and videos of the two post mortems.

Hours after the violence, Chief Minister M.K. Stalin appealed for peace and assured people that those responsible for the girl’s death would be “definitely punished”. The government was quick to rush two senior officers to the spot on Sunday evening. The case is now being handled by the CB-CID and, that too, through a special investigation team. The government also effected a shake-up in the administration by shifting the Collector and the Superintendent of Police.

The Kallakurichi violence has underscored the need for the authorities to ensure that no such incident recurs in the State.

(Assistance for overcoming suicidal thoughts is available on the State’s health helpline 104 and Sneha’s suicide prevention helpline 044-24640050.)

ramakrishnan.t@thehindu.co.in


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Printable version | Jul 27, 2022 12:13:31 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/lessons-from-kallakurichi/article65687323.ece