On 12 February, R Sathyapandi, 31, was attacked by an armed gang, shot twice, and knifed in Pappanaickenpalayam, Coimbatore. Sathyapandi was accused of murder and was out on bail.
A day later, on 13 February, a five-member gang hacked a 24-year-old G Gokul to death near the District Court Complex near Gopalapuram in Coimbatore. Gokul was one among those accused of murdering a 22-year-old youth near Saravanampatti in Coimbatore in December 2021.
These two back-to-back Coimbatore killings in broad daylight have raised questions concerning crime and safety.
What are the reasons behind these cold-blooded murders? How do these gangs function? Are these organised crimes? Are they caste-driven or cases of pure revenge?
Do these criminals have political affiliations? What empowers such gangs to execute brutal murders without fear in public view. How do they operate?
The Quint spoke to police officials, advocates, and locals to understand the triggers behind the gang-related crimes in Coimbatore.
How Do the Criminal Gangs in Coimbatore Function?
The notorious gang leaders frequently use social media to their advantage. They operate a group of youths as their gang members and instruct them to execute assaults for money.
The police have found that several youths from Saravanampatti, Rathinapuri, and Kannapa Nagar post controversial videos posing with deadly weapons.
Led by criminals like Gowtham Kamarajapuram, who is one of the primary accused in the Gokul murder case, the youngsters challenge one another, threatening to kill those who stand in their way.
Kamarajapuram's Instagram page has over 7,000 followers and he often makes video calls to instruct others to execute murders. The youngsters who refuse to execute such murders are threatened and forced to engage in related criminal activities.
Coimbatore Commissioner V Balakrishnan highlighted that many of these criminals do not have traceable phone numbers and they choose to use their social media accounts, like Instagram or Facebook, with the help of public WiFi facilities.
The Coimbatore City Police are planning to trace the group of youths who use social media to promote rowdyism and violence. However, their initiatives can come to fruition only with the support of the special department – Organised Crime Intelligence Unit – which focuses on tackling and controlling extremist-related crimes, said Advocate S Balamurugan.
He added that this intelligence unit currently has very few officers, and it has to be strengthened so that the government can efficiently monitor such criminal gangs and avert serious crimes, especially those that create hindrance and fear for the public.
Caste, Politics, or Money: What Fuels Gang Conflicts in Coimbatore?
Speaking to The Quint, Coimbatore Commissioner V Balakrishnan said that vulnerable youngsters from downtrodden areas of the city and migrants who are working for meagre daily wages are predominantly targeted by gangsters. The victims themselves are then misled to engage in such criminal activities for money.
Balakrishnan added that though such criminals are prone to have political affiliations, the recent broad daylight murders were often not politically driven.
The rowdies are mostly backed by wealthy businessmen and are hired as hitmen.
They operate as separate gangs and compete with each other. Such fights occur as a result of gang rivalry.
In most such cases of conflcit, the primary goal is to display the respective gang's muscle power and dominance in their respective localities.
Balakrishnan quoted the example of the Pappanaickenpalayam murder. "Sathyapandi was a repeat offender. He was involved in the murder of Hindu Munnani supporter C Biju in Coimbatore in September 2020. His team had been working for a theatre owner who had leased the facility to a businessman. When the theatre owner and the businessman were embroiled in a fight, Sathyapandi and the hitmen of the opposite faction locked horns to support their respective bosses and establish themselves as undisputed rowdies in the city." Sathyapandi was then killed in retaliatory murder.
Is Coimbatore Safe for Civilians?
A local from Coimbatore, who wished to remain anonymous told The Quint, "I live near the Combined Court Complex where the gang fight happened on 13 February. I was on a walk with my 4-year-old daughter to buy groceries. All of a sudden, I heard people screaming and running. I quickly held my child and hid near a tree near the court complex. It is concerning that such murders are happening right in front of the court and in the presence of so many police personnel. How can the general public feel safe when we cannot be sure of who could attack us in the midst of a random gang fight?"
The police, however, had a different take.
"Such incidents happen once in a while. It became sensational since they occurred just a day apart and because one of the murders was near the courthouse."Coimbatore Commissioner of Police V Balakrishnan told The Quint
The Coimbatore Commissioner said that gangsters do not care about arrest or subsequent legal consequences.
"Gangsters do not fear engaging in such heinous crimes in public because it is a matter of pride for them. They are the least bothered about getting arrested and hence they flout all rules to show their power."Coimbatore Commissioner of Police V Balakrishnan told The Quint