Thursday, December 22, 2005

Kizhavenmani - a forgotten village

I first came to know about Kizhavenmani incident through the novel Kurudhippunal written by Indira Parthasarathy. I read the novel when I was 20 and was shocked. In the introduction there was this information that the novel was based on the Kizhavenmani incident. If you are a Tamil who reads only Vikatan/Kumudam/Kalki you would have hardly heard about this.

In 1967, the agricultural labourers of Tanjore (Thanjavur) District formed a union in order to get better working conditions. Communist leaders Maniammai and Srinivasa Rao were instrumental in this. They raised the red flags in the villages. The landlords formed their separate union with yellow flags.. The negotiations broke because the landlords refused to accept the labour's requirement of additonal half a portion of rice. In the meanwhile two labourers from Kizhavenmani were whipped by the landlords and that led to the final incident.

On Dec 25, 1967 the landlords army entered the village and started firing. The labourers retaliated. A riot was on. Women and children ran helter skelter and took shelter in Ramiah's hut at the end of the village. 48 people in a hut of 8ft x 5 ft. The door was locked from outside and the hut set on fire. 6 people rushed out, of which two were thrown back into the fire. A mother threw her child out, but the killers threw the child back in. By the time Police came and opened the hut 44 people were burnt. 14 women and 22 children included. The doctor from Nagapattinam said he couldn't identify who was who.

(Facts from Sep 2004 issue of Pudhiya Parvai, link via Boston Bala, Tamil Blog).

Newspapers wrote it is a Shame to the Nation. The same headlines that were written for 1984 massacres and Godhra massacres. We are probably a nation of shameless people. 106 people were arrested and after 7 years the Supreme Court released them, I think due to lack of evidence.

When I first learnt about this I was shocked to say the least. I enquired my dad and he said he had some vague recollections, my mother didn't remember it at all. Out of the bloggers I have asked about this, only Lazy Geek had heard about this. This is one of those incidents that has been forgotten collectively by majority of Tamilnadu.

But there are people who haven't forgotten. Last week a documentary of this incident named "Ramaiaah's hut" was released by an organisation called The Roots. I read about it today from Madhumithaa's Tamil blog. The DVD/VCD versions are available with them.

DVD Rs. 350.00
CD Rs. 250.00
Rs. 30.00 for postage within India.
The Roots
4/17, I floor,
Navalar Street,
Devarajan Nagar,
Dasarathapuram,
Saligramam, Chennai 600 093

15 comments:

Nilu said...

So?

You are now accusing people of not caring a damn? Why should they - except making the rare interesting read, please tell how this somehow should be etched into my psyche.

Bart said...

Chenthil, though not completely in track, there does exist some instrument which has tried to file this event..
The tamil movie "Citizen" starring Ajit (flop movie though), was inspired by this incident. In the movie a village is shown washed off by sea and off the record books.. The director, Saravana Subbaiah, who has recently directed "ABCD", mentioned this recently in his interview to KTV. He also mentioned there is a tombstone in the village listing all the names of people who got burned in this heinous act.

Chenthil said...

Bharat, the incident is remembered by the communist parties in Tamilnadu every year. Jothi Basu laid the foundation for the memorial in that village in 1970 and if I am right the memorial is built upon the hut that was burnt.

My angst is most of us don't know the contemporary history. Except for pockets of activists, this incident is collectively forgotten.

Citizen was a crass attempt. The idea was good but goofed up badly to accommodate the hero.

Zero said...

This place is referred to in "Virumaandi" when the sub-jailor Peikkaman asks Angela Kathamuthu (Rohini) where she is from and she says she is frm Keezhvenmani (Is it pronounced this way?). That was probably to suggest that she is a Dalit.

Chenthil said...

Zero, I too heard about that. Kamalhassan has consistently hinting about this incident in his movies. He was one of the chief guests in the Documentary release function

Anonymous said...

Chenthil,

Citizen might have been the usual masala mix - But when I was watching it on TV, I somehow couldn't tear myself away from the screen. It was strangely attractive and eerie. I was wondering at that time "Engirundhu daa suttanga kadhaiya ?" - Now I know.

Breaking News Balaraman (BNB)

The Talkative Man said...

Dozens of incidents like this happened in the tamil colonies of Colombo in the mid-80s and 90s. But for successive Indian govts, the flashpoints in Sri Lanka are just opportunities for playing Big Brother

Premalatha said...

I have featured you in Desipundit

Partisan said...

There was a feature film based on this incident, adapted from Indira Parthasarathy's Kurudippunal, which was made by Sreedhar Rajan (husband to Dr. Jaya Sreedhar) in 1983, called "Kan Sivandhal Man Sivakkum". It was a debut film for the director but a very good attempt. It left the theatres within a week.

Thangavel said...

Nice summary of that fateful tragedy. Though I've read about this incident many times already, reading it in your blog made me to symphathise of those people who were burnt alive in that incident. The magnitude of that incident is still strong even after almost 30 years. Some Dalit litretures claim that the incident happened because dalits were agitating against the uppercastes and not because of the commonly beleived labour unrest.

s v veugopalan said...

ur work deserves appreciation. a small correction - the attack was launched on 25 12 1968 and not in 1967.

u could have also provided a small backdrop of the whole episode. those days, why even today, the quantum of social discrimination and humiliation undergone by dalit people is inexplainable.

a dalit is forbidden from

* walking with chappals in streets where upper caste people dwell.
* wearing a towel/cloth around the shoulders, but should tie it around the waist while standing before upper caste landlords

the punishment ranged from beating with lashes to forced drinking of cowdung solution.

even today by a moderate estimate, untouchability is practised in as many as 3000 villages in the State of Tamilnadu alone.

our media is biased socially politically and on economic lines, too. it has time to rush to a village on selective choice only. an accident of huge proportion must occur, a very big tussel shall have brewn up, religious conversion must have happened....

our curriculum seldom admits social discrimination or economic inequality.

little wonder, your reporting does not make dent with youth from a urban elite background.

s v venugopalan

selva said...

to know more abt the Kizhavenmani incident visit this page

http://dalitsvoice.blogspot.com/2008/09/keezhavenmani-revisited.html

viji said...

the novel "sennel" explains the whole thing about kizhavenmani . it tells the story by true character names.

Sundar said...

Kudos to chenthil. You did a great job by reminding us of the national shame. Let the message pass on to the next generation and lets hope something like this or for that matter any form of violence against oppressed class never happens again. Thank you.

Unceasing Waves said...

The Gypsy Goddess by Meena Kandasamy has heart wrenchingly depicted the backdrop, the massacre and after. A must read.