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On 17 July, when hundreds thronged a private international school in Kallakurichi, Tamil Nadu, breaking every glass window and setting school buses and other vehicles on fire, Chinnaselam Police, under whose jurisdiction the school fell, was not prepared to contain the violence. While it was known that a 17-year-old student of the school had died on 12 July, the police did not anticipate largescale mobilisation of youth to protest demanding “justice” for the student.
How did the protest get momentum after the teenage student’s parents accused the school of having caused her death? Sources in the Tamil Nadu Police told The Quint that two key sections – students’ groups and caste-affiliated groups – from around Kallakurichi, mobilised people to allegedly attack the school.
While the police’s preliminary probe concluded that the student had died by suicide, the parents have alleged that she was murdered. Madras High Court on 18 July demanded a fresh autopsy of the student’s body to ascertain the cause of death. Tamil Nadu’s CB-CID has taken over the case for further investigation.
Fifteen Police Personnel Against a Crowd
While the student, who according to the first post-mortem report, had suffered internal injuries after what could have been a fatal fall down the stairs, died on 12 July, the police filed a case and started probing the case, which was categorised a death under suspicious circumstances, on 13 July. From 13 July to 16 July, a group of protesters affiliated to a Thevar (OBC) caste group assembled at Kallakurichi town to protest. The deceased student, according to Tamil Nadu police, belonged to this caste group.
Each day, the handful of protesters left Kallakurichi peacefully, a resident of the town told The Quint. “The police may have expected Sunday’s protest to be small in number, similar to the protests that were held earlier,” he added.
When the protests swelled between 13 and 16 July, the local police failed to gauge the extent of mobilisation, a police official based in Kallakurichi told The Quint, even though he refused to identify the caste groups and student groups which had come together under one banner.
On Friday, 15 July, students of an Arts College located close to the deceased student’s school gave a call to protest on the school premises. Though aware of this protest call, the police did not anticipate a huge crowd to turn up at the venue. Meanwhile, four youth who are reportedly affiliated to Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI), CPI(M)'s youth outfit, were arrested in connection with the violence on 18 July.
According to Tamil Nadu Police, on Sunday, just about 15 police personnel were around when the first batch of students arrived at the school to protest.
As the protesters grew in numbers, additional force was brought to the spot. TN police refused to share the number of police personnel who were called in as reinforcement. However, by then, the school had been attacked and a number of vehicles were torched, though the police fired two aerial rounds to disperse the crowd that had turned riotous. A political blame game has followed.
AIADMK, BJP Extend Support to Family, DMK on the Defensive
“There was pent up anger that the police did not arrest anyone in connection with the case for three days after the death came to light. The main demand was to arrest two teachers who were named in the purported suicide note. The management members of the school were also not questioned before Sunday,” a local resident who had observed the protest said.
On 17 July, the police arrested the chairman and the secretary of the school. Even the principal of the school was arrested on the same day. On 18 July, the chemistry teacher named in the purported suicide note was arrested along with the hostel warden.
However, the arrests came too late, according to those residing in the now tense town, and Tamil Nadu’s opposition parties – the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIDMK) – stepped up the pressure on the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) government.
“For the AIADMK, the Thevar votes matter. As the community is believed to have supported the deceased students’ parents, it was expected that the AIADMK will issue a statement,” a Kallakurichi resident said.
AIADMK’s Edappadi K Palaniswamy did issue a statement asking the DMK to bring the law and order situation under control. The BJP’s state president Annamalai said that the state’s DGP should have brought the situation under control by urging people to wait till the investigation completes.
However, it is widely believed in Kallakurichi that the school’s owners have been close to the BJP and its parent organisation, the RSS.
A photograph of the school’s chairman with AIADMK’s Palaniswamy and some BJP leaders have been circulated on social media. The Quint has not verified the authenticity of this photograph.
“As they are business people, the owners have been close to different political outfits. However, we cannot say that the protests against the school were stepped up due to the owner’s alleged RSS affinity,” the local resident, who is also a teacher said.
Kallakurichi is the Lok Sabha constituency of Pon Gautham Sigamani of DMK. However, the Scheduled Caste Assembly constituency of Kallakurichi was won by M Senthil Kumar of AIADMK.
The DMK government, meanwhile, has transferred the case to CB-CID. “A cybercrime probe has revealed that several WhatsApp groups were created to mobilise people. Further investigation on the matter is on,” a senior police official said.
The state’s education minister Anbil Mahesh and DGP C Sylendra Babu met the parents of the deceased student on 18 July. Prohibitory orders under section 144 of CrPC are imposed in the area.