Six people, including three Muslims and three members of a Hindu organisation, were killed in a clash in Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu Tuesday in what police described as "revenge killings". Shops in the area downed their shutters soon after.
The incident in Tenkasi in Tirunelveli district, 600 km south of here, took place when relatives of local Hindu leader Kumar Pandiyan, who was killed by Muslims earlier, attacked the accused when they were leaving a police station.
Deputy Inspector General of Police P Kannappan told IANS on phone from Tirunelveli that the killings were retaliatory in nature.
"They are purely revenge killings, the repercussions of an eight-month-old enmity between the relatives of Kumar Pandiyan and Muslims who were responsible for his death," the police official said.
"Supporters of Pandiyan, including his brothers Senthil (40) and Ravi (28), all members of the Hindu Munnani (Front), attacked accused Nagore Meeran (41) and seven others who had been released on conditional bail in the case.
"The men were returning after signing for the day in a local police station to fulfil the conditions of the bail when they were attacked. In the fight, Ravi died on the spot, Senthil and one of his supporters as well as Meeran and two other Muslims died of injuries later.
"The bodies have been sent for post mortem examination. Six others from the two communities were injured and have been admitted to the Palayamkottai government hospital," Kannappan said.
"We totally rule out any inter-religious angle to the incident. However, we have posted police pickets at all vulnerable areas in the district."
Kannappan refused to answer how both groups suffered casualties, especially when one group was returning from a police station.
Sources at the Hindu Front office in Chennai were noncommittal about the matter.
"Some of our ardent supporters have been killed. However, as our leader Rama Gopalan is away, we cannot say anything now," a Hindu Front spokesman said.
Significantly, the regional headquarters of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh here also downplayed the incident.
"Our workers have informed us that three members of the Hindu Munnani (Front) died in the skirmishes. Beyond that, we have no comments," RSS sources added.
The state's Additional Director General of Police (Law and Order) K. Vijay Kumar is scheduled to visit the incident spot.
"The situation is under control, but we are not taking any chances. I have ordered reinforcements from all the neighbouring districts' armed reserve forces to converge at Tirunelveli as a preventive measure. We will maintain a tight vigil over the next few days," Kumar said.
All commercial establishments in Tenkasi and nearby areas have downed their shutters.
Tourists who had gathered in large numbers to bathe in the Courtallam Falls, 10 km away, are reported to be finding it difficult to buy food. Vehicles carrying sightseers are being diverted away from Tenkasi.