Arun Prakash murder: Islamic fundamentalism or gang-related violence?

The recent murder of a young Hindu, Arun Prakash (aka Arun Kumar), in Ramanathapuram district in Tamil Nadu after he led a Vinayagar (Ganesh) Chathurthi procession, allegedly by people belonging to a radical Islamic organisation, highlights the need for crimes against followers of Hindu dharma by Break Bharat forces to be addressed  with a zero-tolerance  policy—a monumental challenge given the dominant narrative to dismiss, trivialise, erase or silence the conversations on such a pressing  human rights issue.

Ramanathapuram, also known as Ramnad, is a coastal district in South Tamil Nadu. A deceptive calm cloaks the sparse landscape dotted by palm trees , vast stretches of sand , the hardy Acacia nilotica (Babul) trees and the salty tangy smell of the  sea close by. The district has several ancient Hindu temples including the famous Rameswaram temple and the name of the district itself—Ramanathapuram—alludes  to Sri Rama offering worship to  the Shiva linga that  was later  enshrined in the temple. Incidentally, the  district also houses the Erwadi dargah,  sacred to the Muslim community and also  patronised by members of other religious faiths

However,  on August 31, 2020, the deceptive  calm in the district was yet again torn away by the brutal attack on Shri Arun Prakash 22, and his friend  Shri Yogeswaran, 23, who were reportedly standing outside an ATM that afternoon.  According to sources, a gang  of nine men on two motor bikes swooped on the unsuspecting duo, plunged knives into them, hacked them with sickles and sped away. While Arun died on the spot, Yogeswaran, said to be critical,  has been admitted in a local hospital. Arun, an engineering graduate, was the only son in his family. 4 people have been arrested by police.

Several versions are being advanced  for the murder. It is being said that both Arun and Yogeswaran were attacked for leading a Ganesh Chathurthi  procession and allegedly were murdered by operatives of the radical Islamic  fundamentalist  organisation, the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), the political arm of the radical Islamist organisation Popular Front of India (PFI).  For the past three years, Arun had been a member of the fund raising committee  that organised  the Chathurthi celebration.

The Vishwa Hindu  Parishad (VHP),  RSS,  Indu Makkal Katchi (IMK),  and netizens are justifiably outraged  at the gruesome murder that is  a frontal attack  on a  member of  the Hindu dharma community and their traditions.

In February 2019, Ramalingam, a Pattali Makkal Katchi functionary in Thirubhuvanam near Kumbakonam was murdered by Islamists belonging to PFI for resisting conversion attempts in a Dalit colony by a bunch of Muslims. The chargesheet filed by the NIA named 18 PFI and SDPI activists.

However, there  is also an alternative narrative that attributes the murder to internal squabbles and formation of rival gangs in a drug cartel operating the area, and that  the  two men were attacked in an instance of mistaken identity.  Another speculation is rife that  the deceased was a person with substance addiction—however, why a person with substance  should be murdered,  simply doesn’t add up.

According to a report, Arun was an innocent by stander, who was allegedly murdered by the relative of an SDPI leader. The murder was a fall out of internal squabbles and strife in a drug cartel in the district, which then split into two rival gangs. Two members of the gang separated to form independent units. Hence in retaliation, members of the original gang set up a nine-member gang whose members include youth from Muslim and a particular caste of the Hindu community, predominant in the area.

The nine-member gang was headed by “Left” Sheikh,  nephew of  Najimudin,  SDPI secretary in Ramanathapuram district. When the gang made an attempt on the two former  gang members, they managed to escape. However, Arun and Yogeswaran, who happened to be around, were trapped in the unintended fall out.

Understandably, the murder has evoked a flurry of social media posts, led by  organisations centred on Hindu dharma values, who  condemn the heinous crime and view it  as a religion-based hate crime. The local police, however, are quick to counter and rebuff the religious/communal angle and instead attribute it to inter gang rivalry. S.P. Varun Kumar, the Superintendent of Police, Ramanathapuram District, has appealed to people not to ‘peddle and be influenced by the  communal motive’ for the murder. According to him,  inter gang rivalry and personal enmity led to Arun’s murder. As the accused belong to different religions, they discount the religious-communal  motive for  the crime.

The Indu Makkal Katchi (IMK), however, reiterates that  such whitewashing, diversionary tactics and trivialising  of crimes against followers of Hindu dharma is becoming more the norm rather than the exception. In addition, according to them, a matter of increasing concern is that while earlier only heads of institutions of Hindu dharma were targeted, now anyone who follows Hindu dharma is increasingly vulnerable.

Shri C.T.R. Nirmal Kumar, State President, BJP (IT and Social Media), says that such a pattern of religious murder is increasingly becoming common across the state and hence the state government needs to take stringent action against radical Islamic outfits like the SDPI and PFI and impose a ban on such destabilising Break Bharat forces.  As in every instance of crime against  people of Hindu Dharma,  mainstream media in the state is silent about the issue.  According to Shri Kumar,  the complicity of mainstream media and political nexus  are strong compulsions that efficiently blank out  any  truthful, investigative analysis and  portrayal  of such issues in mainstream publications.

Religious fundamentalism, notably radical Islamic fundamentalism, is deeply entrenched in Ramanathapuram district.  Its origins can be traced to 1981 with the Meenakshipuram and Kuriyur (in Ramnad district)  conversions in which thousands of Dalits  in the district were forcibly converted to Islam. According to Shri   D. Kuppuramu, Advocate, Ramanathapuram,  Founder, Rama Sethu Protection Movement, State Spokesperson and National Council member, BJP, organisations espousing the cause of Hindu dharma like the VHP and RSS stepped in to stem the conversion tide, which increased the religious polarisation and the animosity in the  area.

“Since the 1980s, leaders, activists and workers of Hindu dharma organisations  have been regularly targeted in Ramanathapuram district and over the last 20 years, around 300 karyakarthas in the area have been murdered by Islamic  fundamentalist radicals,” says Shri D. Kuppuramu, who himself survived a murder attempt  some years back  and was in coma for over a month.

In 2014, a photo of Muslim youth wearing black T-shirts with the emblem of the ISIS terror group in front of a mosque at the coastal town of Thondi in Ramanathapuram district on Eid day, had sent shockwaves through the security establishment. Recently, at least 4 men were arrested from Ramanathapuram district for recruiting youth and raising funding for a ISIS module led by one Khaja Moideen.

Shri Kuppuramu  explains that the  fragile socio-political ecosystem in the state anchored in Dravidian ideology, has  traditionally never been supportive of Hindu dharma causes.  On the contrary, their focus has always been on minority appeasement and an openly anti nationalist, anti-Hindu dharma stance. Complemented by its unabashed minority appeasement,  this has led to gross misrepresentation, trivialisation and demonisation of Hindu dharma issues.

Shri Kuppuramu, who knew the deceased Arun Prakash, vouches for the young man’s integrity and character. “His only ‘crime’ was that he was a Hindu activist and participated in the Vinayaka Chathurthi  procession,” he says.  He also adds that  in consolidation among Muslims is  seemingly  effortless and easy.  And  given the near impossibility of consolidation among followers of Hindu dharma, it becomes easy for separatist and  fundamentalist forces to wreak damage, supported by  complicit political-media nexus.

“It is quite common to see such  crimes by religious fundamentalist groups before state elections. Given the sympathy of the Dravidian political parties to minority issues and their  appeasement, driven by vote bank politics, one sees a tendency of the state government to soft pedal the current  issue and thereby pave the way for such divisive forces to  create havoc through destabilisation,” explains Shri Kuppuramu.

Commenting on the narrative of inter gang rivalry theory and  the case of mistaken identity being currently propagated, Shri Kuppuramu wonders  how  the killing of any one, irrespective of his antecedents, can be justified.

Meanwhile, the family of Arun Prakash is distraught and traumatised by the loss of their son.

“Such incidents  are common in the district. The lack of effective action against religious fundamentalism has resulted in the death of our son, whose only crime was that he was a devout Hindu,” say the grieving family.

Meanwhile Shri Kuppuramu is not unrealistically optimistic that  the culprits would be brought under the scanner and the issue addressed pragmatically from a statal and  legal perspective. He, however, sees a sliver of hope, however, elusive it may be.

“The crime was committed by a team of radical Islamic fundamentalists. The investigation needs to be taken up by the National Investigation Agency (NIA)  and the culprits booked under the Unlawful Atrocities Prevention Act 2019,” says Shri Kuppuramu with resolute conviction.


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About the Author

Dr. Nandini Murali
Dr. Nandini Murali is a communications professional,  author and researcher in Indic Studies.  She is a Contributing Editor with the HinduPost. She loves to wander in the forests with her camera.