'One-Man Army' & Strong Dalit Voice: Why TN BSP Chief Armstrong Was Murdered

According to the police, the accused purportedly used Zomato T-shirts to hide their identities.

8 min read

A six-member gang posing as food delivery agents in three motorcycles, seven weapons, including sickles and machetes, and a well-planned attack from behind — Tamil Nadu Bahujan Samaj Party's (BSP's) president K Armstrong was hacked to death in less than 5 minutes in North Chennai's Perambur on Friday, 5 July, police officials told The Quint.

The 52-year-old advocate and well-known Dalit leader in the capital city was allegedly killed while he was talking to his friends and supporters near his under-construction house on Venugopal Swamy Kovil Street.

As of Monday, 8 July, the Chennai Police arrested a total of 11 persons in connection with the murder, with officials maintaining that the killing did not have a "political motive" and was done as "revenge" in retaliation for the broad daylight murder of Arcot Suresh, a notorious gangster, in August 2023.

Speaking at his funeral on 7 July, BSP chief Mayawati called for a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe in the murder, claiming that the "real culprits" were not arrested. Meanwhile, Tamil Nadu CM MK Stalin on Tuesday, 9 July visited Armstrong's family in Perambur.

With the Opposition stepping up its attack on the MK Stalin-led DMK over the deteriorating law and order situation in Tamil Nadu, the state government on Monday shunted out Sandeep Rai Rathore as Chennai Police Commissioner and replaced him with senior IPS officer A Arun. 

Who Was K Armstrong?

An advocate by profession, K Armstrong, a Dalit, first served as a Chennai corporation councillor in 2006. A year later, he was appointed as the president of the BSP's Tamil Nadu unit.

During the initial stages of his career, Armstrong rose to prominence by coordinating rallies in Chennai for former Uttar Pradesh CM Mayawati and becoming a recognised Dalit leader in the city. In the 2011 Tamil Nadu Assembly election, he contested from the Kolathur constituency against MK Stalin.

Although the BSP is a non-player in Tamil Nadu, Armstrong was an influential figure within the judiciary, and also a well-known personality in North Chennai. He was a staunch Ambedkarite and was known for advocating for the rights of Dalits.
According to the police, the accused purportedly used Zomato T-shirts to hide their identities.

BSP chief Mayawati addressing the crowd at K Armstrong's funeral on Sunday, 7 July.

(Photo: PTI) 

Shalin Maria Lawrence, a writer and Dalit rights activists based out of Chennai, said:

"He was born and brought up in Perambur and has lived here all his life. He was a guardian of sorts for the people of North Chennai, a volatile area with poor socio-economic conditions. He was well-known and greatly admired particularly in the areas of Jamalia, Sembiam, and Perambur. More than a politician, he was a simple, grassroots leader. He was known for supporting youngsters in their educational and professional pursuits."
Shalin Maria Lawrence

Meanwhile, Siva, state secretary of the BSP's Tamil Nadu unit, told The Quint that Armstrong had dedicated his life to the cause of spreading BR Ambedkar's ideology and played an active role in propagating Buddhism.

"He was one of the few Dalit leaders who converted to Buddhism early on. He even established a Buddhist Vihara near his residence in Perambur. He was also an avid reader and had immense knowledge on various subjects. Every time you visited him, you would learn something. His house would be filled with minimum 10-15 people – most of whom would have come to ask for help," Siva said.

Both Shalin and Siva believed that not only was Armstrong a "one-man army," his commitment to Buddhism and his belief in it as an alternative cultural path were deeply rooted in his activism.

Armstrong was not just an advocate, but also someone who ensured that youngsters took up the law profession in droves. According to Siva, the Dalit leader made a significant impact on producing young lawyers and educating children from poor families.

"His death is not just a loss for his family, but for all the people of North Chennai. With him gone, we have lost the fierce protector of our rights," they told The Quint.

What Happened on 5 July?

On 5 July, it was business as usual for Armstrong who would visit his under-construction house in the narrow lanes of Venugopal Swamy Kovil Street in Perambur every day. Armstrong visited the site, located 100 metres from the local police station, to oversee the building’s progress.

The incident took place at around 7:15 pm on 5 July, when Armstrong was with his brother Veeramani, and friends Balaji and Abdul Ghani, police said.

Speaking to the media, Veeramani, who was 50 metres from the spot of the incident, said:

"When I heard the commotion, I ran towards the spot, screaming. But I saw three men coming towards me with sickles. Two of them tried to attack me but missed and I tripped. When I fell on the road, one of the attackers hit on my head and another on my back. Despite the pain, I kept running towards my brother. I saw Armstrong in a pool of blood. I tried to lift him up, but as I too had lost blood, I felt dizzy."
Veeramani to media persons

"I didn't see the culprits. It was just 10 seconds. All I could see was the men with sickles running towards me," Veeramani, who has a head injury, said.

According to police officials, Armstrong was rushed to a nearby private hospital in the city, where doctors pronounced him dead.

Within an hour of the incident, as many as 10 special teams had been formed under Additional Commissioner of Police (North) Asra Garg to investigate the murder.

Speaking to The Quint, Garg said:

"Preliminary investigation shows that the primary motive to murder Armstrong was to avenge the killing of Arcot Suresh last year. The family and associates of Suresh believed that Armstrong was behind the murder, and hence the retaliation."
Asra Garg to The Quint

Police tracked down the assailants through mobile phone locations and bike registration numbers, following a review of CCTV footage.

"We analysed the CCTV footage and nabbed eight suspects immediately. We have seized 7 blood-stained weapons, 1 Zomato T-shirt, Zomato bags, and 3 bikes which were used for the crime. It looks like the accused used Zomato T-shirts to hide their identities," Garg said.

The accused were identified as Ponnai Bala (33), Thiruvengatam (33), Santosh (22), Arul (33), Manivannan (25), Ramu (38), Thirumalai (45), and Selvaraj (48). Ponnai Bala, the main accused, is the brother of Arcot Suresh.

On 18 August 2023, Arcot Suresh was killed by a five-member gang in Chennai. The Indian Express reported that the connection between Armstrong and Suresh is an alleged financial scam. Suresh allegedly supported a gold trading company involved in a financial scam that defrauded over one lakh depositors of Rs 2,438 crore between 2020 and 2022.

Armstrong had supported some of the people who lost money in the scam, and promised to retrieve their investments, leading to tension between the two, police officials told IE.

BSP leader Siva, however, told The Quint, "They are saying that the murder was due to his involvement in Arcot Suresh's murder. But Armstrong's name did not even come up once in the investigation of the killing of Suresh. It doesn't make sense. There is more than what we are being told."

Meanwhile, the Chennai Police disclosed that Armstrong's early life was marked by seven criminal cases. However, he has been acquitted in all of them, officials confirmed.

Further, dismissing allegations of an intelligence failure, former commissioner Sandeep Rai Rathore said there was no information available regarding any past threats to Armstrong.

When asked about the financial scam and past threats against Armstrong, Garg declined to divulge further details to The Quint, citing ongoing investigation.


'A Larger Conspiracy at Play': DMK Govt Under Attack

Soon after the incident, Tamil Nadu CM MK Stalin, in a post on X said:

"BSP president Mr. Armstrong's assassination is shocking and deeply saddening. The police arrested those involved in the murder overnight. I would like to convey my deepest condolences to his family, friends and party members."

Despite the police stating that there is no political motive to the murder, BSP and Dalit activists claim that there is a deeper conspiracy at play. Addressing a gathering at Armstrong's funeral on 7 July, Mayawati said:

“I urge the Tamil Nadu chief minister to ensure law and order…in the state. Particularly, the weaker sections of the society should feel safe. Had the government been serious about this issue, they would have arrested the real accused. But now it is not the case, we urge the state government to hand over the case to the CBI.”
BSP chief Mayawati
According to the police, the accused purportedly used Zomato T-shirts to hide their identities.

BSP chief Mayawati has demanded a CBI investigation into the murder of Tamil Nadu party chief K Armstrong

(Photo: PTI)

Hours after she left, DMK allies Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) and Congress, too, echoed similar sentiments.

Thol Thirumavalavan, VCK leader and Chidambaram MP, said, “We cannot ignore Mayawati’s statement. She believes that those who surrendered before the police are not the real accused. That’s why she is asking for a CBI probe. I am also saying that the arrested people are not the real culprits. The Tamil Nadu government should initiate action to arrest the real culprits."

Leaders also raised questions about how safe Dalit leaders were in Tamil Nadu.

In a tweet, Congress MP Karti Chidambaram said, "To treat the murder of a political functionary in North Madras as a one-off event due to personal enmity would be erroneous and a total misreading of the ground reality."

This incident comes days after an AIADMK functionary was murdered in Salem allegedly for objecting to the sale of Ganja and illicit liquor in the area, The Hindu reported. Earlier, a Tirunelveli Congress leader was likewise brutally murdered.


'Do You Care About Dalits?'

Speaking about the deteriorating law and order situation in Tamil Nadu, Shalin said, "This will affect the people of the state, but the first to face the consequences would be us Dalits, because we belong to a vulnerable section of society."

"Armstrong was a safe haven for people. But now that he himself was attacked, no individual is safe here. His murder shows a larger picture of how Dalits are treated in the state. We all feel that it is a symbolism of saying that he was your stronghold, and we are destroying him. It is a clear message of how you can't talk about Dalit politics, and can't speak against Dravidian parties."
Shalin Maria Lawrence

The Madras High Court also denied a petition filed by Armstrong's wife to grant permission for burying the body in the premises of the BSP's office in Chennai and allowed for the burial to take place on a private land in Thiruvallur. Several Dalit activists, including Shalin, condemned this.

Filmmaker and Armstrong's friend PA Ranjith said the DMK committed a huge act of "deceit" by not allowing the BSP chief's body to be buried in Perambur. It must be noted that the DMK government did not object to the burial of DMDK leader Vijayakanth at the party office in Koyambedu in December 2023.

 “Do you really care about Dalit people and Dalit leaders?”
PA Ranjith
"What happened to him was not because of what he did, but for what he was because of his identity. No Dalit is safe in this state," Shalin concluded.

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