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TN village on the wanted list of Kerala police

By A Ganesh Nadar
Last updated on: December 14, 2009 13:26 IST
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Therkkupanaivadalichathiram village in Tirunelveli district, Tamil Nadu, is often in the news for all the wrong reasons. Its residents have the dubious distinction of being charged in over 100 criminal cases of robbery or assault in neighbouring Kerala.

Therkkupanaivadalichathiram is located near Sankarankoil, which is barely 100 km from the border in Chengottai, and it takes only three hours to cross over to neighbouring Kerala.

Whenever a robbery takes place in Kannur, Ernakulam, Thiruvananthapuram and other cities, the Kerala police regularly pick up Therkkupanaivadalichathiram villagers, sometimes crossing over the state border to do so.

Branded as regular offenders by the Kerala police, the villagers claim to be innocent, saying it is a case of "giving a dog a bad name before hanging him".

The prosperous village -- evident by the considerable number of concrete houses and cable TV antennas -- has no regular source of income except agriculture for a few months in the year.

With no industries or factories nearby, the villagers often travel to Kerala to seek work as coolies, labourers, auto drivers, mechanics and traders.

"Most of our villagers trade in old vessels. They sell new stainless steel vessels and exchange old vessels for it," says Anand Kumar, the village secretary of the Communist Party of India-Marxist.

Of the 1,500-odd residents of the village, many are now settled and working in Kerala.

 "Only 60-70 people, including approximately 10 women, are involved in petty crimes. But the whole village has been projected as a mafia gang," rues Kumar.

 "We have businessmen in Kerala and even industrialists, you media people won't write about that," says Kumar's nephew Chinnadurai.

For such an affluent village, Therkkupanaivadalichathiram has few basic amenities. The only primary school is run by the local church. Children seeking education beyond class 5 have to travel all the way to Thirumalapuram, located five kms away.

There is only one primary health care centre which has neither a doctor nor a nurse.

"A nurse used to work here, but she died of snakebite 18 months ago. Since then, there has been no one here," says the owner of a local tea shop.

When in need of medical help, the villagers have to make do with the local pharmacy.

Tirunelveli's Deputy Inspector General of Police P Kannappan and Superintendent of Police Asra Garg have visited the village and addressed a meeting of the villagers. As a result, the villagers took an oath before the local temple to abstain from criminal activities. A committee of 25 people was set up to ensure that the oath was not broken.

SP Garg wrote to every SP and police commissioner in Kerala and asked for details of the crimes committed by people from this village. He added that in case the Kerala police wanted to arrest someone in Therkkupanaivadalichathiram, they could seek the help of the local police station.

"There are no cases of theft in the village. Here, they are well behaved," claimed a constable from the local police station.

The Kerala police sent Garg the details of over 100 suspects hailing from the village. "It might go up to 200 by the time all the details are available," admits Garg.

The villagers handed over two suspects -- Ganesan and Manikandan -- accused of committing crimes in Kannur. Garg handed them over to the Kerala police. They were granted bail by the local court and have come back to the village.

Manikandan's father Shunmugavel Thevar promptly met the Tirunelveli SP and complained, "They summoned him in one case and now they are saying that six cases are pending against him".

Manikandan claimed that he has already been released in connection with four earlier cases. "They might have released him or let him out on bail, he won't know the difference," clarifies Anand Kumar.  

 "Lots of cases are foisted on our villagers. The cases started 12 years ago and now there is no stopping them. Our future is bleak," says local farmer M Vellathurai.  

Echoing his sentiment, another villager, who has four cases pending against him, says, "I have to go to the court on December 28. When I come out, they will arrest me for some other case."

But local leader Anand Kumar is ready to take on the system. "We are ready to go to court, we are ready to accept the punishment by law. Our people should not be harassed and implicated in false cases," he says.

Kumar cites instances where residents of the village have been arrested or have simply gone 'missing'.

"Krishnamurthy, who went to Kerala four months ago, has been missing since then. He has a wife and two kids languishing here," he says.

Meanwhile, Garg is planning to send another batch of accused villagers to Kerala. Each batch of suspects will be accompanied by Tamil Nadu police personnel and an advocate.

However, the state government needs to understand that the issue is merely not one of restoring law and order, but a bigger one of socio-economic empowerment of the villagers.

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A Ganesh Nadar In Tirunelveli