Tension prevailed in the districts of Sivaganga, Ramanathapuram and Madurai in southern Tamil Nadu a day after six Dalit protesters died in police firing. Five persons had died by Sunday evening in Ramanathapuram and on Monday, another succumbed to injuries at a government hospital in Madurai.
On Monday, accepting the opposition's demand, chief minister J Jayalalithaa ordered a probe into the firing and set up a commission headed by a retired high court judge for the purpose. She, however, maintained the police had opened fire in self defence.
Clashes between protesters and the police had broken out after a Dalit party, Tamizhaga Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam, blocked roads outside Paramakudi in Ramanathapuram, 530 from Chennai, to express their anger against detention of their leader John Pandian. Pandian meant to attend a function to commemorate the death anniversary of Dalit leader Immanuel Sekaran at Paramakudi and the police feared that his presence would incite caste tensions.
Almost 3,000 protestors had gone on a rampage at Paramakudi, and additional director general of police (law and order) S George, reiterated on Monday that the situation could not have been brought under control without firing.
"The police first advised the protestors to disperse," Jayalalithaa, too, said on Monday. "Disregarding the advice, the protesters pelted stones at the police. They indulged in arson and set fire to a fire engine and a police vehicle and the police resorted to firing in self defence and to protect public property as the protestors threw stones and petrol bombs."
While visiting the police officers, George told reporters the "situation was tense but under control".