Tamil Nadu

Remembering Victims Of Islamist Violence — A Decisive Turn For Justice

Aravindan Neelakandan

Mar 21, 2024, 01:19 PM | Updated Mar 22, 2024, 12:32 PM IST

Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Salem rally in Tamil Nadu.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Salem rally in Tamil Nadu.
  • The assertive BJP in Tamil Nadu can now ensure that the families of Islamist terror victims get speedy justice.
  • Tamil Nadu is often eulogised in Dravidianist jargon as a 'peaceful park' of co-existence. But this hides a sinister truth. The state has been for decades now a breeding ground for Islamist radicalism and extremism.

    Well camouflaged with slogans of social justice and communal harmony, the opiate of the credulous, radical Islamist organisations have carved out a perfect niche for themselves in Tamil Nadu, and neighbouring Kerala.

    While in Kerala, at least at times, the communist party might have territorial violence with Islamists, in Tamil Nadu, the Dravidianist capitulation is complete.

    Hindu activists have faced targeted violence, with many being killed. There have been few convictions and long waits for justice, in cases stretching back decades.

    The Dravidianist polity alone is not to blame though. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and those in the top echelons of Hindu organisations, at least give a perception, that they have taken for granted the sacrifices of Hindu activists.

    For instance, a simple change in the investigation officer for the 2002 Gujarat communal riots led to significant outcry from anti-BJP and anti-Hindutva political forces and media outlets, resulting in the cases being transferred out of Gujarat.

    In contrast, in Tamil Nadu, cases against radical Islamists have reportedly weakened due to political interference, regardless of the ruling party, be it Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) or All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), with no significant protests.

    In the 1998 Coimbatore bomb blasts case, the daylight murder of Professor Paramasivam, and the killing of auditor Ramesh, while the initial arrests related to these incidents made headlines, subsequent developments in the cases rarely received much attention. The progress in these cases is often slow.

    Consider the series of events that happened in Tamil Nadu prior to 2014:

    It was a Friday in the Islamic holy month of Ramzan — 19 July 2013. 

    The night watchman said that they were three youths in their 20s. He said they calmly walked around. One held the watchman while the two others zeroed in on their target. Their target was Ramesh, a leading auditor and state general secretary of Tamil Nadu BJP.

    They twisted his hand to an acute angle, breaking it. Then they slammed his head against the wall. Then in the tradition of Islamist terror, they started to slit his throat even as they were raining cuts against the struggling body of the 53-year-old man. And when it was all over the lifeless body lay in a pool of blood with 23 cuts and a disfigured head.

    The killers did not run away. They simply walked and melted into the night in Salem. And the night was still young when the auditor was killed: 9.30 pm.

    Prior to this gruesome killing, there had been a series of similar murders of Hindu activists in Tamil Nadu. On 1 July 2013, Vellaiappan, a Hindu Front functionary, was killed at a public place in Vellore. He was active in combating proselytising and reclaiming the occupied temple lands.

    In an early morning of April 2013 in Nagercoil, Kanyakumari district, M R Gandhi, a veteran BJP leader who was respected by all communities and known for his kind nature, was attacked by a gang of radicalised Islamists. He fortunately survived and is today a legislative assembly member.

    Even after 2014, such incidents continued to occur in Tamil Nadu. These were mostly not planned attacks but accidental exposures of the stealthily functioning Islamist network in the state, such as the killing of sub-inspector Wilson in Kanyakumari district on 8 January 2020. He was shot and killed by Abdul Shameem and Thowfeek at the Kaliyakkavilai market in Kanyakumari. 

    However, in all these murders and violence acts, the killers, even if inside the jails, enjoy easy connectivity with the outside world.

    The Coimbatore bomb blasts of 1998, its pre-blast preparations, the blasts themselves, subsequent arrests, and the years-long trial that ended in the final acquittal of the main accused and most others, set a classic model for radical Islamist outfits to exploit every weakness in our political and legal system.

    It was on 14 February 1998 the bombs exploded in various parts of Coimbatore killing close to 70 innocent citizens, mostly Hindus. The bombs targeted L K Advani who was then visiting Coimbatore. An unexpected delay in air traffic saved the life of Advani that day.

    In the period of 1989 to 1997, 42 Hindus had been murdered in Coimbatore region by Islamists. Some were even random killing of Hindus to 'instil fear' like the killing of five Hindus in one day (2 September 1997).  

    In the 20 months leading up to the 14 February 1998 bomb blast, there were 21 bomb explosions. The most sophisticated bomb blasts, like the ones in the express trains at Trichy and Erode on the same day in 1997, were carried out by Al Ummah with logistics from Kerala.

    So, 'Coimbatore 1998' was not an attack out of the blue. Sufficiently enough, early warnings had been there. And more should have been there with state Intelligence Bureau.

    After the bomb blast and widespread awareness of the dangers of radical Islamism in Tamil Nadu, the Islamic forces had started working earnestly towards regrouping, realignment and restructuring their strategies. A massive outreach programme was launched.

    Former Jihadists, now aging, started becoming evangelicals for Islam. In television, print media and digital media, Islamists started a vigorous propaganda that Islam was a religion of peace and that Islamic youths were targeted by an anti-Islamic regime.

    On the other end, Tamil Nadu BJP as well as Hindu outfits seemed to have left everything in the hands of state agencies. While Islamists worked to remove the terror stigma and create a positive image in the public psyche, as well as making their terror infrastructure more robust, Hindu movements in Tamil Nadu started to become lethargic.

    Unlike the observant 1995 BJP team and later the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) which produced the detailed study of jihad terrorism in the state, the BJP of early 2000 was more worried about benefits of power than about getting justice to the victims of jihad terror in Tamil Nadu. Or at least that seems to be the case when one observes the happenings.

    It was only after 2014 that the radical Islamists cases from the state started going over to the National Investigation Agency (NIA).

    Prime Minister Narendra Modi honouring the memory of the Coimbatore blast victims and the sacrifice of Salem auditor Ramesh becomes important in this situation where justice is often delayed or denied. Clearly, the present leadership of Tamil Nadu BJP has decided to take on the radical Islamist forces head-on.

    When Modi 3.0 happens, one wishes to see the Coimbatore blast case, as well as all the cases from the 1998 murder of Prof Paramsivam of Madurai to the Salem auditor murder case to the killing of Ramalingam, transferred to central agencies (the last one already is).

    If necessary, cases like the Coimbatore blast, where the main accused was released for lack of evidence, allegedly because the case was weakened, should be reopened and handed over to central agencies.

    May the newfound decisiveness of the current Tamil Nadu BJP lead to justice for the families of Hindu activists who have been waiting for decades.

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