Chief minister MK Stalin stated in the Tamil Nadu parliament on Thursday that a memorial will be built in Villupuram district to commemorate the 21 persons were killed during police gunfire during a Vanniyar community movement for quota in 1987.
‘I made this commitment to honour the sacrifice of those who struggled for social justice during the by-elections for Vikravandi (an assembly constituency in Villupuram in 2019),’ Stalin said, adding that his family is also from a socially backward background and Tamil Nadu has always been in the forefront of social justice issues.
According to Stalin, the memorial will be built at a cost of Rs. 4 crore. In July, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) government issued an order to implement the 10.5 percent reservation for the Vanniyar community. The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) government proposed the reservation Bill in February this year to placate its ally, the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), a Vanniyar caste-based party whose founder, 81-year-old S Ramadoss, was at the forefront of the movement in the 1980s.
Ramadoss formed a coalition of Vanniyar community organisations in the late 1970s, which subsequently merged under the banner of the Vanniyar Sangam (Federation of Vanniyars). It is still the PMK’s parent organisation. The Sangam staged protests in the 1980s, demanding MBC status for Vanniyars. During one such movement in 1987, while AIADMK’s MG Ramachandran (MGR) was chief minister, 21 persons were murdered by police gunfire. For at least a week, the unrest and following violence had paralysed the whole state.
MGR was hospitalised in the United States at the time. When he returned to Tamil Nadu, he met with the group to discuss things, but he died later that year before the negotiations could be completed.
When the DMK regained power in 1989, then-chief minister M Karunanidhi announced a 20% reservation for MBCs, the agitations were put to an end. The reservation includes 108 caste groups, with Vanniyars being one of them. However, the community claimed that its representation and opportunity were still inadequate.
The PMK resurrected this decades-old demand ahead of the April assembly elections, threatening to leave the AIADMK-led alliance if its reservation demands were not satisfied.
In December 2020, PMK cadres protesting for reservation across the state threw stones at a train, bringing traffic to a halt as the Chennai Police blocked the city’s boundaries to prevent them from entering. Following that, then-chief minister Edappadi Palaniswami declared that state-wide caste-based data would be collected and the 10.5 percent quota bill in jobs and education for Vanniyars was approved before the model code of conduct came into force.