Screengrab from a video shot by an unidentified person at the scene
Thanjavur District, Tamil Nadu: His arms hacked off by machetes, a worker of a local political party bled to death on February 5, 2019, after an argument with Muslim preachers in the town of Kumbakonam in this eastern Tamil Nadu district.
Ramalingam Padayaachi, 42, of the Pattali Makkal Katchi party was murdered late at night, at approximately 11.30 pm. The only eyewitness was his 19-year-old son, Shyaam Sundar. The police arrested five Muslim men on 21 charges, including murder, wrongful restraint, obscenity in public place and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), used against “unlawful… terrorist activities”.
Fearing unrest over Ramalingam’s murder, 250 police personnel were deployed in and around Kumbakonam. The area does not have a history of forced religious conversions or communal violence and was peaceful when this report was filed.
This is the third religion-motivated hate crime recorded nationwide in 2019 by Hate Crime Watch, a multi-organisation effort that documents such crimes.
Hate Crime Watch has recorded 281 hate crimes since 2009–the start point of the database–leading to 100 deaths and at least 692 injuries.
Since 2009, of the 251 incidents where the victim’s religious identity was known, Muslims, accounting for 14% of the population, were the victims in 65% attacks. Christians, accounting for 2% of the population, were victims in 16% attacks, and Hindus, accounting for 80% of the population, were victims in 16% incidents.
In 30 cases (12%), the religion of the victim was not reported.
Overall, of the 196 attacks where the religion of the alleged perpetrators was known, 159 (81%) involved Hindus, and 35 attacks (18%) involved Muslims. The religion of the alleged perpetrators was not reported in 85 cases.
Ramalingam, a catering contractor, got into a heated argument with and mocked some Muslim preachers in Thirubhuvanam, a Muslim-dominated locality, soon after leaving home for work around 10 am on February 5, 2019, with his son.
The preachers stopped his auto and “aggressively” discussed “religious conversion”, which Ramalingam opposed, according to Shyaam Sundar’s statement to the police. A video shot by a bystander shows Ramalingam arguing with the preachers and abusing Islam, Muslims and Mahatma Gandhi.
When returning home that night along the same route, at approximately 11.30 pm, Ramalingam and his son were attacked near by unidentified men, whom the police suspect to be Muslims. While the area where they were attacked is generally crowded during the day, it was deserted at night.
An attacker pulled out the key of their goods auto after stopping it. When Ramalingam attempted to take the key back, an attacker chopped off his right hand with a billhook, another name for a machete.
While trying to protect his son, who sitting beside him, Ramalingam’s left hand was cut off as well. The attackers fled in a getaway car, according to Shyaam Sundar, who called for an auto rickshaw and rushed his father 10 km to a local hospital, which refused admission, contending the attack was a medico-legal case that required police investigation.
Ramalingam was then taken to the government-run Kumbakonam General Hospital where he received basic medical care and remained critical. An ambulance then moved him to Thanjavur General Hospital, 50 km from the area where he was attacked.
By then Ramalingam had lost a lot of blood and died en route. Shyaam Sundar then went to the Thiruvidaimaruthur police station to file a first information report (FIR).
Viral video reveals argument
In a video of the morning’s argument between Ramalingam and the preachers, shot by an unidentified individual and since viral in Tamil Nadu, Ramalingam and his son stop in the middle of a crowded street, where the Muslim preachers are discussing Islam and religious conversion.
This provokes Ramalingam, who argues with the preachers. In the video he calls Muslims “terrorists”, a threat to the country, blames them for secularism, and praises Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse.
Ramalingam is seen taking off a skull cap from one of them and wearing it himself. He then applies vibhuthi (sacred ash) on the forehead of a preacher.
In probable retaliation, unidentified men followed Ramalingam and his son, and as they returned from work, attacked and cut off his hands, according to Shyaam Sundar’s complaint.
Based on Shyaam Sundar’s statement, the Thanjavur police, to whom investigation was transferred, filed a murder case against the attackers. “The criminals will be caught soon and we will ensure that incidents like this will never happen again in future,” the Additional District Superintendent of Police J Loganathan said at a press conference on February 6, 2019.
Since the attack has communal overtones, three special investigation teams have been set up, Thanjavur District Superintendent of Police SS Maheshwaran said. He said Ramalingam’s body had been handed over to the family and refused further comment.
On February 6, 2019, the police arrested five suspects, identified from the video as S Nijam Ali (33), Mohamed Azarudeen (26), Mohammad Raiyaz (27), Sarbudeen (60) and Mohammad Rizwan (23). They were charged under 21 sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the UAPA.
The next day, judicial magistrate A Shanmuga Priya ordered that the suspects remain in judicial custody until February 22 in Trichy central prison.
Muhammad Abbas, lawyer for the suspects, accused the police of using “false evidence” to charge the five men. He alleged “fake information” in the FIR and accused the police of torturing his clients for two days in police custody.
The police also arrested Mohammad Ibrahim, the men who lent his Maruti Swift DZire car to the attackers. The car was found abandoned near Paalakari, Trichy, about two hours from Kumbakonam. Moreover, based on the statements given by the five accused, three more suspects were arrested by local police: Mohammed Thoufiq (29), Mohammed Parveez (26) and Thouheed Bhaasha (26). Shyaam Sundar could not identify the suspects, stating that the main market area where the attack took place, was “dark and deserted”.
The Popular Front of India (PFI), an Islamic fundamentalist organisation, is to blame for the attack, alleged H Raja, Bharatiya Janata Party national secretary. The PFI denied involvement.
“Our organisation’s members were not involved in this attack and all the arrested (men) are innocent,” said Meeran (he uses one name), the local PFI general secretary. “We are saying this because all the arrested persons were present at their own homes when they were taken into custody.”
Meeran said the PFI does not encourage forceful conversation and “strongly condemns” the police’s filing of UAPA against “innocent Muslims”.
Ramalingam was his family’s only working member. He is survived by his wife Chithra, and three sons, Shyaam Sundar, Malarmannam (13) and Ilavarasan (11).
(Dhanabalan is a freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.)
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