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The strange deaths in Tamil Nadu

According to the AIADMK, 947 people died of grief after J Jayalalithaa’s death on December 5.
Her party announced a compensation of Rs 3 lakh per death and published the list of the deceased in the party newspaper.
But when‘s A Ganesh Nadar visited 17 of these families, randomly selected from a list provided by the AIADMK, he discovered that not everyone had received the ex-gratia.
But that is not all.
Illustration: Dominic Xavier/

For the poor in Tamil Nadu, she was their saviour.

They may not have understood, or cared for, J Jayalalithaa’s politics, but there is no denying that some of the decisions she took made their lives easier.

These included, among other things, low-priced Amma canteens, Amma salt, Amma seeds, Amma pharmacies, Amma cement, Amma drinking water…

When the state was grappling with female foeticide in the early 1990s, she introduced the ‘cradle baby’ scheme (where parents could drop off their unwanted baby instead of killing the child).

She launched a low-cost health check-up scheme and a low cost health care plan.

She provided free laptops to students.

Last year, she announced the state would soon have Amma gyms and parks in rural areas.

Eleven low-cost wedding halls, equipped with all the necessary facilities, would be built across Tamil Nadu.

She had planned low-cost short stay homes near government hospitals that could be used by a family member looking after a patient.

She announced the building of over 90,000 lavatories and bank loans for women self-help groups.

She had planned to improve the lighting on rural roads.

No wonder then, Jayalalithaa had been accepted by much of the state as Amma (mother).

When she passed away on December 5, 2016, after 75 days of hospitalisation, the state did not erupt in flames as expected.

But underneath the seeming calm was a tremendous overflow of grief. Not everyone was able to accept the death of their beloved Amma.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi consoles a distraught O Panneerselvam as V K Sasikala looks on

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Modi consoles a distraught Chief Minister O Panneerselvam as V K Sasikala looks on.

Her party, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazagham, released an initial list of 108 people who, they said, had died of shock after her death.

As the days passed, names on that list increased — to 300, to 600…

Now, according to the AIADMK list, the grief at her loss has resulted in 947 deaths.

The AIADMK announced that Rs 300,000 would be given as compensation to the families of those who had died in grief after Amma’s untimely death.

To qualify for this compensation, a party spokesperson said, the deceased had to have been a member of the party; or a family member had to be a party member; or they had to have been known supporters of the party.

Death due to health, age-related or other natural causes do not seem to have been considered as reasons while compiling this list.

Party spokesperson Dheeran told on January 2 that Rs 3 lakhs had been given to each of the families of the 947 people who had passed away in Amma’s wake; the list, he said, had been published in the latest edition of the party newspaper, Namadhu MGR.

The AIADMK provided with about 600 names and addresses of families who, it said, had received this compensation.

However, none of the families that this correspondent visited — randomly picked out 17 families — had received the promised Rs 3 lakhs.

When pointed this out, Dheeran said, “It is the responsibility of the district secretary, local MLA and other party functionaries to collect the cheque and give it to the affected families.”

“If you bring it to the notice of the party headquarters,” Dheeran added, “they will make sure the compensation reaches them immediately. All payments are made by cheque so there is no chance of anyone being missed out or the money going to the wrong person.”

E ChellamalOne of the affected homes we visited was in Chinnapanicheri, Kundrathur, in Kancheepuram district.

A family elder, E Chellammal, left, had passed away the day after Amma died.

The two bikes parked outside the house bore the two-leaf AIADMK symbol and Jayalalithaa’s image.

“We all belong to the AIADMK,” says her grandson Muthu. “We were leaving to attend Amma’s funeral and Granny asked us where we were going. We were at the Marina (beach) watching the burial when we got a call from home saying Granny had died of a heart attack.”

Though Chellammal was over 70 years old, her family says she was healthy. She had two sons, but was staying with her daughter Kumari.

Kumari says they have not received any money from the party, though the party cadre had come home and taken down their details.

KanniammalIn Konnam village, Kancheepuram, a bedridden 82 year old was shocked to hear of Jayalalithaa’s demise.

While watching the funeral on television, Kanniammal, left, started crying, recalls her granddaughter Kavitha.

Though there was no evidence that they were AIADMK supporters — unlike most of the other homes we visited, there were no posters or photographs of M G Ramachandran or J Jayalalithaa or the party symbol anywhere — their name was on the list.

Kanniammal, who lived in a small hut, received a monthly old age pension from the government, a sum of Rs 1,000 that goes a long way in a village.

Her death shocked the family, says Kavitha, because Kanniammal was in relatively good health.

She is survived by her sons Sekar, Selvam, Manikkam and daughters Mughili and Anjali. They are yet to receive the promised Rs 3 lakhs.

“Now who will give me my monthly pension?” wails Kavitha.

Another name on the list is that of N Ramesh, who reportedly lived in Moluchur village, Sriperumbudur taluka, Kancheepuram district, and passed away on December 6.

According to the address given to us, he lived on Ambedkar road.

We searched the entire street but could not find an N Ramesh or his family staying there.

There was another Ramesh — a T S Ramesh Babu — who resided on this road; he looked more than a little stunned at our query.

P RaghavanAt Povarasan Street, Arani, Sriperumbudur, Kanchipuram district, P Raghavan, left, of indeterminate age, passed away on December 6 as he was watching Amma’s funeral on television.

When we reached his home, his aged-looking widow Vembuli was weaving a mat from dried coconut leaves. She did not know her age either.

“The doctor said he died of a heart attack,” she told Her husband, she says, was too old to work.

Like she did before her husband’s death, Vembuli survives by taking up MGNREGA work whenever it is available.

“When I don’t have work, my children give me food,” she says.

Her children too work as daily labourers.

“When will I get the money?” she asks, looking sadly at her husband’s photograph which, for some strange reason, has a now defunct Rs 1,000 note pasted under it.

N LakshmananN Lakshmanan, left, was only 58 years old when he collapsed from a heart attack.

Like P Raghavan, and most of the people we met, his family said he was at home watching Jayalalithaa’s funeral on December 6.

“He was a primary member of the AIADMK and has been in the party since J Jayalalithaa took over,” says his grieving wife.

It was only recently that the couple celebrated the joy of becoming grandparents when their only daughter became a mother for the first time.

Lakshmanan, who worked as a clerk in a private transport company, was being treated for high blood pressure, and was overweight, his wife adds.

Though she says he had been upset after Amma passed away, his wife is shocked by his demise. “I did not expect this,” she says.

The party members have submitted his details, but the family is yet to receive any compensation, she says.

Locating the family of Jaffar Hussain — another name we randomly chose from the list provided by the AIADMK — proved impossible.

His address was listed as hutments, Pudupettai Link Road, Chennai.

There are more than 1,000 hutments along the Coovum river.

Finding the family of B Devendiran in Masoodi colony, Maduvai, Guindy, Chennai, proved equally impossible.

Masoodi colony has 14 streets and each street has more than 2,000 houses.

Our random sampling now took us from north Tamil Nadu to Tirunelveli district in south Tamil Nadu.

Here too, the people we contacted seemed to have passed away from a heart attack after watching the late Puratchi Thalaivi’s funeral on television.

And yes, none of them had received any compensation from the AIADMK.

Supporters of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa cry in front of Apollo hospital in Chennai

IMAGE: Jayalalithaa’s supporters in tears outside the Apollo hospital in Chennai. Photograph: R Senthil Kumar/PTI Photo

Grief-stricken V Issakithai of Pillayar Koil street, Indira Nagar, Palayancottai, Tirunelveli, watched Jayalalithaa’s funeral on television on December 6.

At 10.30 pm, the 51 year old complained of chest pain.

She was rushed to Bell Hospital, where she was given an injection. Her family was advised to immediately move her to the Medical College Hospital, where she passed away a few hours later.

Issakithai, a priest, performed the pooja at the local Mariamman temple every morning and evening.

Her family says she did not have any major health issues and did not suffer from diabetes or high blood pressure.

Issakithai, who was an AIADMK member, is survived by a son and two daughters.

Like Issakithai, S Govindarajan, who lived on Pillayar Koil Street, Ariyakulam, Palayancottai, Tirunelveli, had no history of diabetes, blood pressure or epilepsy, says his family.

The 53 year old was watching Jayalalithaa’s funeral on television when he had an epileptic attack.

He was rushed to the local hospital, where was he was declared dead on arrival.

He too was a temple priest. But, unlike Issakithai, he was a party supporter, not a party member.

A bachelor, he lived with his elder brother. His sister-in-law explains, “We liked Jayalalithaa because, like us, she was an Iyengar.”

Supporters of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa mourn in front of a banner bearing her photograph during a procession in Ahmedabad, on December 6, 2016.

IMAGE: Jayalalithaa’s supporters mourn in Ahmedabad. Photograph: Amit Dave/Reuters

S Murugan, a carpenter who lived on Pandarakudi street, Rettiarpatti, Palayancottai, Tirunelveli, also passed away a day after Jayalalithaa’s death was announced.

He was watching the television the next morning when he complained of breathlessness, says his family.

The doctor took an ECG and diagnosed a heart attack. Murugan was admitted to the Government Medical College hospital at 9 am and passed away two-and-a-half hours later.

An AIADMK party member, he too had no history of diabetes or pressure. His son and daughter are yet to receive any compensation, though they say party members had made some inquiries.

S Sankaran, who was also known as Sakkarai Chettiar, lived on Bajanai Koil street, Nettur, Alangulam, Tirunelveli.

“He had dinner the previous night (December 5, the day Jayalalithaa passed away) and slept well,” says his daughter.

The next morning, while he was watching television at 7 am, he collapsed and passed away immediately.

The 85 year old was in good health, says his family; they believe he died of shock at the news of Jayalalithaa’s demise.

Sankaran, who used to run a restaurant before he retired, has six children, all of whom are AIADMK party members. However, they are yet to receive any compensation, they say.

A woman walks past a Jayalalithaa poster

IMAGE: A woman walks past a Jayalalithaa poster. Photograph: Babu/Reuters

We decided to check out a few more addresses. Krishna Pillai is said to have lived at Kurinchi Street, Courtallam, where the waterfalls of Tirunelveli are located. However, there is no Kurinchi Street in Courtallam.

Neither is there a Nalla Mada Natanur in Shivanattanur, where R Thirumalaikolundhu is supposed to have lived according to the AIADMK list.

Mariappan lived on North Street, Mannarkoil, Ambasamudram, Tirunelveli.

A labourer, he too died of a heart attack as he watched Jayalalithaa’s funeral.

At the hospital, the otherwise healthy 43 year old was declared dead on arrival, says his family.

An AIADMK party member, he leaves behind a son and a daughter.

S Balamurugan

S Balamurugan, (above, a family member shows his photograph), who lived on North Kaladi street, Valasai, Kadyanallur, Tirunelveli, was a mirror case.

The 32 year old collapsed while watching Jayalalithaa’s funeral and was declared dead on arrival at the hospital, says his family.

A driver, Balamurugan leaves behind three sons.

M Mariselvam, who worked at the TTV brick kiln, North Pudur, Sankarankoil, Tirunelveli, too died of a heart attack.

After Jayalalithaa’s demise, the workers from the kiln decided to pay her homage.

The next day, they took out a silent march and garlanded Jayalalithaa’s photograph at the town’s main street.

Then, they returned to the kiln. “He came back with us, sat down here,” points a worker, “and passed away.”

The local doctor declared the 42 year old, who has three daughters — one of whom is married — dead, they say.

Thirty-year-old K Murugan — who lived on Arunthiyar street, Peranur Vallam, Tenkasi, Tirunelveli — was shocked to hear about his beloved Amma’s demise.

He complained of chest pain and was taken to Tenkasi Hospital, where the doctors recommended moving him to the Medical College Hospital in Tirunelveli, says his wife Maheshwari.

The next day, at 8.30 pm, he passed away, leaving behind a son and daughter.

Maheshwari says she is still waiting for the promised Rs 3 lakhs.

Jayalalithaa's supporters pay tribute at her burial site in Chennai, December 7, 2016

IMAGE: Jayalalithaa’s supporters pay tribute at her burial site in Chennai. Photograph: R Senthil Kumar/PTI Photo

Solomon George, a longtime member of the AIADMK, told, “All party members, their family or their relatives who died at that time have been presumed to have died of shock after hearing about Amma’s death.”

No other cause of death, clearly, has been considered by the party.

What is equally strange is that almost every death seems to have occurred due to a heart attack while watching the late Tamil Nadu chief minister’s funeral on television.

Equally strange is the fact that none of the randomly picked families visited had received the promised money from the AIADMK, though party spokesperson Dheeran insists 947 families have been paid compensation.

AIADMK Treasurer O Panneerselvam clearly has bigger responsibilities in his latest role as the chief minister of the state.

Source: Rediff