Violence erupts over student’s death in Tamil Nadu, school buses torched

Jul 18, 2022 12:44 AM IST

Police arrested the school’s principal, correspondent and secretary along with 70 protesters for vandalism.

Chennai: Following the violence on Sunday in a private residential school in Tamil Nadu’s Kallakurichi district over a girl student’s death, police arrested the school’s principal, correspondent and secretary. Seventy protesters were arrested for vandalism and the investigation into the Class 12 girl’s death at the hostel was handed over to the CB-CID, state’s director general of police (DGP) Sylendra Babu said.

Angered over the girl’s death, the protesters stormed into the school premises in Tamil Nadu’s Kallakurichi and set fire to school buses and property. (Reuters)
Angered over the girl’s death, the protesters stormed into the school premises in Tamil Nadu’s Kallakurichi and set fire to school buses and property. (Reuters)

Angered over the child’s suspicious death on the campus, protesters stormed into the school premises in Kaniyamoor near Chinna Salem in Kallakurichi around 10am after which a riot erupted. School buses were burnt, property and trees were damaged, police said.

About 500 police personnel were deployed to quell the mob. As many as 52 police personnel, including police women, Kallakurichi’s superintendent of police Selvakumar and deputy inspector general (DIG) M Pandian, were injured, Tamil Nadu DGP Babu said at a press conference.

The protesters were seen hurling stones at the police force who protected themselves using shields. Police fired gunshots into the air and brought the situation under control. “Even when police were injured, they did not react,” Babu said. “Those responsible for the girl student’s death and for not ensuring enough security in the hostel will be brought to book. We have arrested the school’s correspondent Ravikumar, secretary Shanti, principal Sivasankaran. For further investigation the case has been shifted to the CB-CID,” the DGP said.

The 17-year-old girl student of the private residential school was found dead in her hostel on July 13. Her family and relatives have been protesting every day since then seeking justice. But the protest, reportedly infiltrated by workers of local political outfits, turned violent on Sunday morning.

Speaking to the media, the girl’s mother had appealed to protestors to not indulge in violence. “My daughter has to get justice but only in a peaceful manner without any violence. The accused behind my daughter’s death should not get away.” the girl’s mother said. “We were peacefully protesting for four days. Even the police know that. Every day we went, protested and came back peacefully.”

She added that people thought of her daughter as their own and began protesting but none of them are aware about how this turned into a riot. The parents had filed a plea in the Madras high court seeking shifting of the the case to CB-CID. The plea is likely to be heard on Monday. Kasi Viswanathan, counsel for the parents, told reporters that the girl’s parents had no role in Sunday’s violence. “If the police had acted against the school management, protests wouldn’t have happened. Police are responsible for the violence,” he said.

The protesters included youth groups who had mobilised on WhatsApp and social media, and local villagers. According to estimates, there were at least 2,000 protesters. Kallakurichi district collector P N Sridhar had issued prohibitory orders under section 144 till July 31 in some parts of Kallakurichi. “Additional police forces were called in from Villupuram, Cuddalore, and Salem districts to bring the situation under control,” the district collector told reporters.

Protesters stood atop the school building holding up posters of the girl. Young men sat on yellow metal barricades placed by the police. Inside the school campus, according to reports, at least a dozen buses were set on fire. School furniture was set ablaze on the roads. Heavy black smoke billowed out of the spot. Protesters also blocked a fire service vehicle which had reached the spot. Many trees were broken. Protestors damaged vehicles belonging to the school and the police. Trucks were seen ramming on the school’s buses. “We had taken precautions. Police force was present. But suddenly the crowd increased and some of the protestors told us that there are some mischievous persons who aren’t listening. We will probe this too,” a police official said.

Condemning the government over the attack on the school, the Tamil Nadu Matriculation and CBSE Schools Association announced that teachers will wear black badges and come to schools but will not take classes.

Also Read | Tamil Nadu: Private schools shut tomorrow after violent stir in Kallakurichi over girl’s death on campus

Chief minister M K Stalin who is undergoing treatment for Covid-19 in a private Chennai hospital had earlier in the day ordered home secretary Phanindra Reddy and DGP Babu to visit the spot. “The situation in Kallakurichi is saddening. I request the public to remain calm and trust the government. When the on-going police investigations conclude, the culprits will definitely be punished,” the chief minister said.

AIADMK’s interim general secretary and the leader of the opposition Edappadi Palaniswami pinned the blame on the state government. “The intelligence (wing of the police) failed to assess the situation even three days after the girls’ death. The government failed to take action within an appropriate time,” he said. TN BJP chief K Annamalai said the protests reflected “people’s lack of confidence against the DMK government.”

Police also arrested two IT wing functionaries belonging to the AIADMK. “The arrest of Perambalur district IT-wing Deepak and Surya for posting about the Kallakurichi incident on Facebook shows the cowardice of M K Stalin,” tweeted the secretary of AIADMK’s IT Wing, Singai G Ramachandran.

A version of local reports says that the girl jumped to the ground from the third floor of the hostel building while her parents allege that she was tortured by teachers.

Her postmortem conducted on July 14 says that she appears to have died of haemorrhage and shock due to multiple injuries sustained. HT has seen the post mortem report. “All the abrasions are dark red in colour….injuries are ante-mortem and fresh in nature,” the report stated. Multiple dark red abrasions were found in various parts of her body such as her nose, right shoulder, right arm, right breast, back right side of chest, abdomen, right leg and back side of left chest. A laceration measuring 3x1 cm deep on the left region of her scalp was also noted.

Police registered a case of suspicious death and began a probe. A suicide note was purpotedly found in the child’s room naming two teachers but her mother has said that its not her daughter’s handwriting.

Home secretary Phanindra Reddy, who visited the spot on the orders of the chief minister, held a press conference to say that the government is firm to clear all suspicions that have been raised in the case. “We will investigate from all angles and come to the right conclusion. We request you not to believe rumours and maintain public peace,” Reddy said.

The girl’s mother in a recorded video said that the suicide note is planted.

She said that her daughter has been studying in this school from class 6 and they requested a transfer certificate (TC) when she was in Class 11. “They refused to give us a TC. So on July 1, I enrolled her in the school hostel when she entered Class 12. On the 13th at 6.30am, I got a call to come to Kallakurichi hospital saying my daughter is alive. In half-an hour they called again to say she was dead,” the mother said. “The doctors in the hospital said that she was brought dead. We saw her. Her hands and legs and face are fine but there was blood only on her head. How could she have bled so much falling from the third flood? The warden, principal, nobody came to meet us.” The mother added they have not shown them CCTV footage as requested. “This school should be shut,” she said appealing to parents not to admit their children to the school.

The school’s secretary Shanthi Ravikumar, who is now arrested, had earlier in the day uploaded a video on the school’s Facebook page blaming the mother for the riots on Sunday. “We have cooperated with the police. We have also given the video footage of the day when the incident happened. We were in police custody so we couldn’t meet her (mother),” the correspondent said. She blamed the mother for spreading fake news leading to the violence and said that the school has been functioning since 1998 and their students have gone on to become doctors and government officials. She insisted that the school had no role in the child’s death. “The mother is responsible for this violence. So much of property and papers related to students were damaged. She has spoiled the lives of 3500 students.”

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    Divya Chandrababu is an award-winning political and human rights journalist based in Chennai, India. Divya is presently Assistant Editor of the Hindustan Times where she covers Tamil Nadu & Puducherry. She started her career as a broadcast journalist at NDTV-Hindu where she anchored and wrote prime time news bulletins. Later, she covered politics, development, mental health, child and disability rights for The Times of India. Divya has been a journalism fellow for several programs including the Asia Journalism Fellowship at Singapore and the KAS Media Asia- The Caravan for narrative journalism. Divya has a master's in politics and international studies from the University of Warwick, UK. As an independent journalist Divya has written for Indian and foreign publications on domestic and international affairs.

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