“When we analyse the Ambur violence … we can clearly discern that extremists have been emboldened by the vote bank chasing and minority appeasing attitude of political parties. They have developed a mindset of showing numerical strength … to intimidate the police and government. … The state government—whether DMK or AIADMK—doesn’t give enough freedom to the police to crackdown on extremist elements. … Even if some officers take or attempt to take legal actions against fundamentalist organisations and activists, they are either transferred or subjected to enquiry or arrested.” – B. R. Haran
On the night of Saturday, 27 June 2015, organised violence was unleashed on the Chennai-Bengaluru highway and connected roads by a mob from Ambur, a town in Vellore district of Tamil Nadu. The violence targetted the police force and caused serious injuries to over 50 personnel and an equal number of members of the general public (mainly bus passengers), some of them severely. Public property worth over Rs 10 crores was destroyed.
The violence erupted after the death of 26-year old Shameel Ahmed, allegedly due to torture by police, while in illegal custody. Shameel Ahmed, a native of Pallikonda, worked in a leather manufacturing company in Ambur. There, he allegedly developed a relationship with 23-year old Pavitra, wife of Palani; the couple has one child.
Fearing social unrest on account of caste and communal sensitivities (Pavitra is a Hindu dalit), the management dismissed both from service on getting wind of their illicit relationship.
Later, Shameel Ahmed managed to get a job in Erode. He allegedly asked Pavitra to come and stay with him. At any rate, she seems to have joined him on 13 June.
Finding his wife missing, Palani filed a complaint in Pallikonda Police Station alleging that Shameel Ahmed had kidnapped Pavitra. But Shameel Ahmed claimed he had sent Pavitra back to Pallikonda and had conveyed the same to her family. As Pavitra had not returned, acting on Palani’s complaint, the Pallikonda police took Shameel Ahmed for interrogation on 15 June.
After the police sent him back home after questioning, Shameel Ahmed developed some ailments and was admitted to government hospital in Ambur. Later he was shifted to Vellore government hospital, but as his condition worsened, he was shifted to Government Rajiv Gandhi General Hospital, Chennai, where he died on 26 June.
The victim’s family claims that Shameel Ahmed was illegally detained by the police for four days from 15 to 19 June in a private place and tortured brutally; he subsequently developed complications and finally died without responding to treatment. The police have refuted this.
As news of the death of Shameel Ahmed spread, the community reportedly got permission from the police to take his body in a procession for burial. But more than 500 persons gathered in strength and stormed the Ambur Police Station, demanding immediate arrest of the Inspector and constables involved in the alleged torturing of Shameel Ahmed. They demanded that a murder case be filed against those police personnel.
At the complaint by Shameel Ahmed’s family, the police registered cases against Inspector Martin Premraj, Special Sub-Inspector Sabarathnam, Constables Nagaraj, Aiyappan, Murali, Suresh and Muniyan under Section 176(1) of the Cr. P.C. and placed them under suspension. First Divisional Magistrate Justice Sivakadatcham also ordered a judicial enquiry. Despite this prompt action by the Police and Judiciary, the Muslim organisations persisted with the demand of arresting the concerned police personnel, slapping a murder case on them, and resorted to violence.
The violence wreaked on Chennai-Bengaluru Highway brought traffic to a standstill. Buses, trucks, cars and even two wheelers were stoned and nearby buildings damaged. Even as police reinforcements brought in, the mob swelled (to more than 3000 as per media reports) and indulged in violence and arson. They burnt down one van, one mini bus, four two wheelers, two police jeeps and a TASMAC wine shop. They ransacked nearby buildings, including two private clinics and Ambur Town police station. Nearby places like Nellikollai also witnessed violence.
The Police force led by Deputy Inspector General Thamizhchandran, Superintendent of Police Senthilkumari, Deputy Superintendents of Police Ganesan and Vijayakumar tried to control the mob, activists belonging to Islamic fundamentalist organisations began to target the police; more than 50 police personnel including Superintendent of Police Senthilkumari and 15 other policewomen were gravely injured and later hospitalised. Hundreds of police personnel were seen running for cover as they were attacked by sharp stones, blades, surgical blades and knifes.
The local MLA, Aslam Basha, belongs to Manithaneya Makkal Katchi (MMK), the political face of the fundamentalist organisation Tamilnadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam (TMMK). He allegedly instigated the mob and though he refuted the allegations, reports indicate that Muslims traders had been asked to down their shutters as early as 7.30 pm.
Sources say that youth from outside were brought in a day earlier and accommodated by the local fundamentalist organisations. Hence, the police are investigating whether the violence was pre-planned. The Bharatiya Janata Party and other organisations have demanded the arrest of MLA Aslam Basha under the National Security Act.
The local people and Hindu organisations suspect that the episode is an instance of “Love Jihad, the enticing and trapping non-Muslim girls into love, marriage and conversion. In Tamil Nadu this is said to be quite prevalent in districts like Vellore, Dindukkal, Nagapatinam, etc., and has embroiled both unmarried and young married girls. In this instance, Pavitra, the mother of a child, went all the way to Erode. The fact that her lover had the audacity to call her family and tell he had sent her back to Pallikonda, suggests he had strong organisational backing. He was also the local head of the Indian Tauheed Jamath.
It is pertinent that Pavitra has still not reached her home and her whereabouts are unknown. It is therefore important to investigate whether Pavitra is alive or dead, and if dead, how, and where her body is.
The police could identify and arrest only 95 persons from the thousands who indulged in the mayhem. Although nearly 200 people were arrested initially, Aslam Basha’s interference and influence led to the release of many; finally the police detained only 95 persons, who have been sent to Vellore, Cuddalore and Salem prisons.
The police have formed two separate squads to find out the whereabouts of Pavitra. The Revenue Department has formed four teams of officials to investigate the loss caused by destruction of public properties.
Meanwhile a fanatic group called ‘Facebook Muslim Media’ has reported in its timeline that:
A conglomeration of 24 Muslim political parties and organisations have met the Director General of Police in Chennai and submitted a memorandum listing their various demands. The team included its convener Mohammed Hanifa, K.K.S.M. Thekalan Bhagavi – State President of SDPI (Social Democratic Party of India), Mohammed Ismail – State President of Popular Front of India, S.N Sikkandar – State President of Welfare Party and Dharvesh Rashadhi – Chennai District President of Jamath-ul-Ulema. Apart from Director General of Police Ashok Kumar, Inspector General (Intelligence) Kannan, Deputy Inspector General Ishvaran and Superintendent of Police Arularasu also took part in the meeting.
The Muslim leaders submitted a memorandum with the following demands:
- Inspector Martin and other police personnel of Pallikonda Police station who have tortured Shameel Ahmed and caused his death must be arrested under Section 302 and a murder case must be slapped on them.
- The family of Shameel Ahmed must be given a solatium of Rs 20 lakhs.
- Departmental action must be taken against those police officers who lathi-charged the general public in Ambur.
- All those general public who were arrested must be released immediately
- Above actions must be taken immediately so as to remove the fear from the minds of the general public and prevalence of peace in Ambur.
In fairness, one may point out that in the demands submitted by the Muslim organisations, the term “General Public” alludes to one community only but has been used as a ploy to suggest that the general public supported them and joined in the violence, and thus escape from the law in the name of the general public.
Hindu Munnani founder president, Sri Ramagopalan, issued a statement warning, “If people are driven to a situation of protecting themselves, if police themselves do not have security and protection, then the consequences would be disastrous”. He demanded that, “those who have instigated the violence, those who have spread it, those who have led the violence and those who have indulged in it must all be brought to book and the government must initiate severe actions against them.”
The BJP, Hindu Makkal Katchi and other Hindu organisations have demanded the arrest of Aslam Basha, MLA from Ambur, under the National Security Act.
Islamic fundamentalists attacking the police and security forces is not new Tamil Nadu and it has been going on for years. To cite a few instances, on 29 November 1997, traffic constable Selvaraj was murdered by three Al Umma activists in broad daylight, for charging them for driving without a driving license.
Eighteen months before this, four policemen were murdered by fundamentalists in Coimbatore and Madurai, including Jailer S. Jayaprakash of Central Jail, Madurai and Warder G. Boopalan of Central Prison Coimbatore.
Support from successive Governments and Political Parties
Since independence, almost all political parties have been following Nehruvian Secularism, an euphemism for pandering to minorities at the cost of the rest of society. The desire of political parties to secure vote banks has encouraged audacious elements to exploit the weakness of politicians in various ways, a practice that has become pervasive across the nation in all states. This has naturally had a deleterious impact on law and order.
One consequence, especially in Tamil Nadu, is that religious conversions, encroachment of lands, and terrorist activities have increased in leaps and bounds. In Tamil Nadu, the deliberate anti-Hindu politics of the Dravidian parties have made matters worse. As a result, there has been an alarming and steadfast increase in Christian conversions and Islamic fundamentalism over the past five decades, with no relief in sight.
The Ambur violence must be seen in this background only. – Vijayvaani, 5 July 2015
There has been a surge in the growth of jihadi elements in Tamil Nadu in the last two decades. When a countrywide ban was enforced on the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), the Tamil Nadu unit took on the avatars of “Al Umma” and “Jihad Committee”; Al Umma made its first major strike at the RSS Hqrs in Chennai in November 1993, killing 11 swayamsevaks.
The Jihad Committee, which has been regularly indulging in communal riots in the state, disintegrated when its leader, Palani Baba, was murdered. Thereafter the Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazagham (TMMK) was launched in 1995 by Hyder Ali, a SIMI activist and former associate of Palani Baba in the Jihad Committee, who left Al Umma after a tiff with its president Basha. He was joined by Jawahirullah, another SIMI activist.
When Al Umma was banned for the Coimbatore blasts in February 1998, it changed colour as “Manitha Neethi Pasrai” (MNP). Thus, neither the banning of SIMI and Al Umma, nor disintegration of the Jihad Committee, reduced Islamic fundamentalism in the state. In fact, it started growing in different avatars with the support of the Dravidian parties, which go to any extent for the sake of vote banks. At present, the state has as many as 24 extremist organisations including recent additions such as the Popular Front of India (PFI), Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), Tamil Nadu Tauheed Jamath and Indian Tauheed Jamath, etc. Their aggressiveness has increased manifold over the last two years, with the state government turning a blind eye in order to protect its vote banks.
• 28 October 2011: A pipe bomb was planted en route BJP leader L. K. Advani’s yatra between Thirumangalam and Srivilliputhur; investigation has been slow and tardy.
• 25 June 2012: State Intelligence and local police busted a training camp secretly conducted in Ramanathapuram; 30 youths from Assam, Bihar, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu were detained but left off later. The name of the organization and the reasons for youths coming from far off places and the secret nature of the camp were kept secret by the police for reasons best known to them.
• 14-18 September 2012: Muslim outfits mobilized thousands of people including women and children and hit the arterial roads (Mount Road and Cathedral Road) close to the American Consulate, to protest against the movie Innocence of Muslims. The crowd indulged in violence and American Consulate was attacked; vehicles were stoned and police were not spared. The entire stretch of Mount Road was used for namaaz and the violent protests continued for four days. For the first time in the history of this country, the American Consulate remained closed for four days. The AIADMK government did not take any action against the marauders, but made a scapegoat in the Chennai Commissioner of Police and transferred him out.
• 23 October 2012: Dr. Aravind Reddy, secretary BJP Medical Wing was murdered in Vellore. Though initial arrests were made by police citing enmity due to real estate businesses, it has now come out that he was murdered by jihadis (Al Umma).
• 26 October 2012: BJP National Executive Committee member H. Raja attacked in Illayangudi.
• 6 November 2012: RSS Tiruppur district secretary Anandan severely assaulted in Mettupalayam, near Coimbatore.
• 19-22 December 2012: Tamil Nadu Touheed Jamath issued handbills in Triplicane area with irreverent comments on saint, Ramalinga Vallalar. Members of Hindu organisations lodged a complaint with Zambazar police and the police booked a case against the complainant under non-bailable sections, while the accused was booked under bailable section after a mob besieged the police station. A police officer justified this action by saying that if a Muslim is arrested they would mob the station in hundreds!
• January 2013: Vishwaroopam, a Tamil movie produced by actor Kamal Hassan, faced the ire of Islamists. Though the movie talked only about Taliban terror, 24 Islamic outfits hit the streets and protested against the release of the film. In an act of appeasement, the government imposed a temporary ban. The Chief Minister conceded through a special press meet that she couldn’t provide security to all 524 cinema theatres and that the government would facilitate the negotiation between Kamal Hassan and the Islamic outfits. She made a special mention about “Tamil Nadu Tauheed Jamath”, saying that with 7.5 lakh members it is a pan-Indian organisation. Islamists welcomed her statement by pelting stones and throwing petrol bombs at some theatres in the state. No arrests were made, possibly under government orders.
• 19 March 2013: BJP functionary, Murugan, murdered in Paramakudi.
• 15 April 2013: Hindu Munnani functionary, Manjunath, grievously attacked in Coonoor; five TMMK cadres arrested.
• 17 April 2013: Hindu Munnani functionaries Hariharan, Venkatraj and Jayakumar attacked while pasting posters condemning the attack on Manjunath in Coonoor; 10 TMMK cadres arrested.
• 21 April 2013: Senior BJP leader M.R. Gandhi attacked in Nagercoil.
• 15 May 2013: The state government announced that Memorials for Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan would be constructed to commemorate their fight against the British.
• May 2013: Seeman, president of Tamil separatist outfit, “Nam Thamizhar,” brought Kashmir separatist leader Yasin Malik to Chennai to deliver a special address during a public meeting in Cuddalore, in memory of LTTE’s defeat. He even approached the Chennai High Court and obtained permission for the event, and until then the state government was not even aware of the visit of Yasin Malik. Waking up at the eleventh hour, the state government banned the public meeting. But, the event was held inside a marriage hall and Yasin Malik and Seeman addressed the gathering and were allowed to leave. No case was registered against either, despite their anti-national ranting.
• 1 July 2013: Hindu Munnani state secretary, S. Vellaiyappan, hacked to death by terrorists in broad daylight in Vellore.
• 6 July 2013: Muslims assembled in thousands and went on a rally without permission to the Secretariat violating the ban order, demanding enhancement of reservation from 3.5% to 7.5%., exemption for Muslims from Tamilnadu Marriage Registration Act 2009 and release of Muslim prisoners who have served more than 10 years in jail. The city came to a standstill for a few hours and even though the police stalled their march and dispersed them, no legal action was taken against them.
• 19 July 2013: BJP state general secretary, auditor Ramesh, murdered in Salem.
• After an uproar from Hindus across the state in the aftermath of several murders of Hindu activists and leaders, the AIADMK government was forced to speed up the investigation and finally the police apprehended Police Fakrudhin, Panna Ismail and Bilal Malik who were involved in many terror acts and murders. However, other activists who aided them have not been apprehended so far. Those absconding are also suspected for involvement in the bomb blast at the BJP office in Bengaluru.
• 19 June 2014: Hindu Munnani president (North Chennai), Suresh, hacked to death by jihadis.
• October 2014, at S.P. Pattinam in Ramanathapuram district, local sub-inspector Kalidas was attacked with a knife by an extremist named Saiyed. He fired in self-defence resulting in Saiyed’s death. But under pressure from Islamic organisations, the AIADMK government slapped a murder case on sub-inspector Kalidas and sanctioned a solatium of Rs 5 lakh to the extremist’s family.
When we analyse the Ambur violence in the backdrop of these incidents, we can clearly discern that extremists have been emboldened by the vote bank chasing and minority appeasing mentality and lackadaisical attitude of political parties. They have developed a mindset of showing numerical strength even for petty issues and indulging in huge protests to intimidate the police and government.
The state government (whether DMK or AIADMK) doesn’t give enough freedom to the police to crackdown on extremist elements. They give oral orders to police and pressurise them not to take any legal actions against Islamic fundamentalists. Even if some officers take or attempt to take legal actions against fundamentalist organisations and activists, they are either transferred or subjected to enquiry or arrested. As a result, the police force has become weak and spineless.
As a corollary, Muslim protests have acquired a new dimension over time. The Ambur violence shows how they have evolved, using teenagers to indulge in stone-pelting police and public property, a practice normally seen in Kashmir where the separatists involve teenagers in stone-pelting. Yet, for the first time in Tamil Nadu, such a strategy was employed in Ambur, along with blades, surgical blades, knifes and wooden logs. Surgical blades are normally used by jihadis in Kerala, but have now come to Tamil Nadu.
Employing jihadis from outside the area or the state to execute crimes (either violence or murder) is the latest strategy being adopted in Tamil Nadu. In Ambur too, jihadis from outside were deployed, a large many of them teenagers (youth not more than 17 years old). Thousands of members of various organisations were gathered through Facebook and Whatsapp messages. Sources say activists from other states and even foreign countries are seen across the state in various towns; they are mainly housed in mosques and jamaths. It is imperative that the police investigate their identities and antecedents, especially why they have entered the state, and whether they carry valid travel permits and visas.
Although it is almost a week since the Ambur violence occurred, barring the BJP, no other political party has had the courage to condemn the violence, only because it was perpetrated by one community!
Self-styled Dalit champions like Thirumavalavan and Krishnasami, who run the so-called Dalit parties and join hands with minorities to separate Dalits from the Hindu mainstream, have not had the guts to protest against the disappearance of Pavitra. They have not even cared to meet her husband, Palani.
Some junior police personnel, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Tamil daily Dinamalar (30 June 2015) that:
“On 27th night we were only 800 personnel on duty. But those [who] indulged in violence were not less than 6000 people. When Superintendent of Police Senthilkumari was attacked, we acted in defence and tried to stop it. The violent people pelted stones on us and attacked us with wooden logs. As we were less in number, we simply couldn’t do anything. We were forced to run for life. Many police women wept and cried out while they were running for cover and security. The Muslims burnt down buses and other vehicles which came that way. They attacked the bus passengers. We had to remain as mute spectators for two reasons.
“Firstly, we were instructed not to ‘lathi charge’ the violent men as the RK Nagar by-election (where Ms Jayalalithaa was contesting) was going on, not to shoot down the perpetrators and to talk to them and pacify them. The higher authorities have told us, ‘You must take the blows but should not return them or retaliate’. So, we had to withdraw.
“Secondly, we were very less in number. This must be the first instance in Tamil Nadu in which 54 police personnel have run away from the scene of violence after getting severely assaulted. We are ashamed of it. There was no mistake on our part; we had to abide by the orders of our superiors. After getting assaulted by the violent men, we had to take treatment at hospitals. Our superior officers came and met us at the hospital and consoled us. But they didn’t even enquire what happened and how we got hurt.”
The Crime Branch CID (CB-CID) has taken over the investigation and has taken Inspector Martin Premraj into custody at an undisclosed place for interrogation. They have taken the investigation into four directions namely, Ambur violence, Pavitra’s abduction, interrogation of Pallikonda police and death of Shameel Ahmed.
Meanwhile TMMK branch secretary Sikkandar (32), TMMK town secretary Imran (26), Iqbal (34) of Reddi Thoppu, Muneer (24) of Gaspah and Thauhath (24) were arrested. With this the number of arrested persons has gone up to only 118.
Union Home Ministry’s move
The Union Home Ministry has asked the Intelligence Bureau to investigate the violence. Sleuths from IB have met the injured police personnel recuperating at Vellore and Ambur government hospitals. They have gathered some vital information such as (i) the attack was pre-planned by a fundamentalist outfit (ii) they conducted 12 secret meetings in this connection which were funded by a few industrialists of Ambur and Vaniyambadi and (iii) the names of the important persons who instigated the activists to indulge in violence.
When the state fails to protect the police and security forces doing their duty, the latter naturally refrain from taking action against fundamentalists and start fearing them. This does not augur well for the security of the state and the consequences can be disastrous.
During the Vishwaroopam episode the Chief Minister admitted: “Tamil Nadu Touheed Jamath is a huge organisation with more than 7 lakh members; it must be taken into confidence and the issue must be negotiated with them, for it is also a pan-Indian organisation. The government cannot afford to provide security for 524 cinema theatres, as we do not have enough strength in the police force.”
Then, when the jihadis indulged in mayhem, killing half dozen people and maiming scores of Hindu activists and leaders, the then Director General of Police met the Chief Minister at her Kodanadu (Ooty) office-cum-residence and presumably as per her instructions came out with a detailed press statement. It said, “The Hindu activists were murdered due to money laundering, real estate issues and illicit relationships. This has got nothing to do with jihadis.”
Later in the assembly, the Chief Minister stated, “Most of the criminals are first time offenders. Hence it would not be possible to gather intelligence inputs about them. Crimes cannot be eradicated totally, but could only be controlled”.
The Chief Minister has till date not said a word about the unprecedented violence at Ambur. Is it not the duty of her government to clear the atmosphere of fear which has engulfed the state, especially since the formation of her government in 2011? The Chief Minister owes an explanation to the people about the increasing Islamist aggression, and also immediate and necessary action to restore peace and harmony. – Vijayvaani, 5 July 2015
» B. R. Haran is a senior journalist in Chennai.