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Biological and Symbolical Killing of Dalits with Reference to Paramakudi Firing

Biological and Symbolical Killing of Dalits with Reference to Paramakudi Firing



V. Ratnamala

Abstract: The present paper aims to study the representation of biological and symbolical killing of Dalits with reference to Paramakudi Firing in the Print media. Space allotted for Dalits in print media will be analyzed. Six Dalits were shot dead at the Police firing on Sep 11, 2011 in Paramakudi. The Dalits were assembled to pay homage to Immanuel Sekaran, a Dalit leader on his death anniversary which turned violent following the arrest of their leader John Pandian. Content analysis will be the primary research method for this study. To study the inclusion and exclusion of Dalits in Print media, both the English and Tamil dailies will be selected including one week samples from September 11-17, 2011 of Dinamalar, Dina Thanthi, Dinamani, DinakaranThe Hindu, The Times of India and The New Indian Express (Madurai editions) will be used for the content analysis. All the articles, editorials, photographs, letters to the editor regarding the Paramakudi incident will be the unit of analysis. The variables of the study will be the sources in the article, the news language, the frequency of news occurrence and the themes.

Background of the study

The present paper aims to study the representation of the biological and symbolical killing of Dalits with reference to Paramakudi firing in the Print media. The space allotted for Dalits in print media will be analyzed. Six Dalits were shot dead in the Police firing on Sep 11, 2011 in Paramakudi. The Dalits were assembled to pay homage to Immanuel Sekaran[1], a Dalit leader on his death anniversary which turned violent following the arrest of their leader John Pandian[2].

The observers on the media coverage of the Dalits argue that minimal space is devoted to Dalits’ issues. Even that coverage of the Dalit issues is uniform, similar and stereotyped. The other side of the Dalits is not discussed in the media. The positive qualities, their demands and the background of the Dalits’ problems are often absent in the media ((Prasad, 2005)[3] (Thankappan 2007)[4] (Gorringe, 2005))[5].

The previous studies concerning the violence on Dalits say it was mostly underrepresented or else misrepresented. Regarding the media coverage of Tirunelveli massacre[6] Gorringe stated that, “Media reports struggled to rationalize the events and painted harrowing portraits of protestors being truncheoned as they cowered in the water”.

Khairlanji[7] issue was not given due importance in Indian media. Even The Hindu reader’s editor justified that it was very distant from Tamil Nadu and ‘so we did not cover’. Proximity plays a major role for the coverage of Dalit issues and violence against Dalits. It was published very late in the media.

Gorringe also quoted a study by Corbridge and Harriss. Corbridge and Harriss[8] highlighted the partiality of the press in their discussion of the Tsunduru[9] massacre in Andhra Pradesh. They note that the media downplayed upper-caste violence and exaggerated the violence of the Dalits.

Several researchers exposed that the media repeated the police version of the Paramakudi firing. Parthasarathi stated that the media reports have mostly reproduced the police statements justifying police action. He also mentioned that the Paramakudi violence was not accidental nor was it due to efforts at restoring law and order by the police, as the media reported (Parthasarathi, 2011)[10]. Anand Teldumde indicted that the media reports, which rarely take pains to unearth the truth in cases where Dalits are involved and unquestioningly portray the police version (Teldumbde, 2011)[11]. Kuffir in his article emphasised that the media was trying to whitewash the Paramakudi massacre. The media wished to play down the enormity of the bloodbath from the beginning (Kuffir, 2011)[12]. Geetha revealed that the Tamil weeklies which gloat over every minor political event until they can render it sensational have shut up after making initial noises about the Paramkudi firings (Geetha, 2011)[13].

The coverage of Dalit issues could be compared with the coverage of minorities. We could get inputs from more international studies on the media coverage of minorities. Wolfsfeld[12] & et al. study on the Hebrew media coverage of the Arab minority reveal that cultural and political assumptions are translated into the routine production of negative news about disadvantaged challengers. The lower the political, social, and media status of the challenger, the more difficult they find it to overcome these journalistic routines. While protests by more “acceptable” groups can sometimes lead to a public debate about injustices, Land Day coverage inevitably centers on how to deal with “troublemakers.” (Wolfsfeld &, 2000)

Islamophobia is a current phenomenon discussed worldwide. The Muslims are the religious minorities in the western countries. Anti-Muslim discourse is evident in western press. The fear or fright of Islam and/or Muslims is described as Islamophobia. Sands[15] examination of newspaper headlines on the reporting of Islam in The New York Times after post 9/11 found that the news media are placing a greater emphasis on the religion, of the threats to American safety instead of the people themselves. The New York Times often portrays Islam as a militia and as a political force, but what seems to be forgotten in the headlines is that Islam is a religion (Sands, 2003).

In Britain too, there is a negative view of Islam. Abbas’s[16] study on the representation of South Asian Muslims in the British press confirms the above statement. The Muslims are categorically regarded as threats to society, as ‘fundamentalists’, as aliens, rarely, if at all, highlighting real and distinct patterns of racial and ethnic disadvantage. The press seeks to portray incidences of ‘black crime’ and ‘Islamic political militancy’ rather than the economic, social, and educational deprivation experienced by the vast majority of British South Asian Muslims (Abbas, 2001).

Purpose of the study

1. What is the extent of the coverage of Paramakudi firing in newspapers?

2. What are the various types of the Dalit news being covered and neglected?

3. What are the various themes of the news reported on the Paramakudi firing?

4. How are the vocabulary and lexical choice used in the text?


Content analysis will be the primary research method for this study. Both qualitative and quantitative data was collected through content analysis technique.

Universe of the Study

The print medium was chosen for the study. It was decided to study the content of the Tamil and English dailies. These media remain the permanent distributors of information. The Madurai editions were selected since they would give a full picture of the media framing of the Paramakudi firings.

Sample selection for content analysis

According to Wimmer & Dominick[17] (2003), most content analysis in mass media involves multistage sampling. This process consists of three stages: sampling of content sources, selection of dates and selection of content.

Sampling stage 1: Selection of newspapers

The Tamil dailies namely Dinamalar, Dina Thanthi, Dinakaran and the English dailies namely The Hindu, The Times of India and The New Indian Express were chosen for the study.

Sampling Stage 2: Selection of Dates

In many studies, the time period from which the issues are to be selected is determined by the goal of the project. The goal of the present study is to examine the print media coverage of Paramakudi firings. The one week samples of the selected dailies from September 11-17, 2011 were selected for the study.

Sampling Stage 3: Selection of Content

The content regarding the Paramakudi firing and the Dalits were selected for the study.

Units of Analysis

All the articles, editorials, photographs, letters to the editor regarding the Paramakudi incident were the units of analysis. The variables of the study were the sources in the article, the news language, the frequency of news occurrence and the themes. The coding schedule was prepared and finalised after a fine review of literature.

Data Collection

Data collection for the content analysis was achieved by coding each item within a sample newspaper directly into a Microsoft excel sheet across each of the categories of the content analysis. The direct application of coding into a computer would limit errors in transferring data for analysis.

Data Analysis

Descriptive statistics were used to analyse the data collected from the newspapers employing content analysis. Descriptive statistics such as frequency distributions, percentage distributions, percentages, graphs, were used.


Table 1: Frequency of the news occurrence


The data shows that all the newspapers gave more coverage to Paramakudi firing. Dinakaran and Dinamalar published more news on Paramakudi firing. Among the English dailies, The New Indian Express had covered more news articles.

Table 2: Frequency of the themes of the news items


The data shows that all the dailies published more news on the violence of Dalits. Dinakaran and Dinamalar had covered more news on the violence of Dalits. The New Indian Express and The Times of India had also published some special articles on the related issues of Paramakudi firing. The Tamil dailies rarely published special articles. Dinamalar and Dinakaran with the first day report on the Paramakudi firing, had emphasised the injury of a policewoman.

Table 3: Frequency of photographs published in the sample newspapers


Table 4: Frequency of the themes of the Photographs published in the sample newspapers


The data shows that more photographs on the violence of Dalits were published in the sample newspapers. Only photographs on the violence of the police were published in the newspapers. The photographs of the injuries of the police officials, particularly a policewoman, were published more in the Tamil dailies. The New Indian Express, Dinakaran, Dina Thanthi published even photo essays on Paramakudi firing.


The qualitative content analysis revealed that all the reports filed by the sample newspapers quoted only the official sources. The first report was published on September 12, after the incident, and the sources were mostly the police officials and the statements of the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. The news reports disclosed that the reporters depended mostly on the official views. It also showed that the reporters had undertaken secondary sourcing. The reporters were not present when the incident happened. They had not taken the views and opinions of the people who were present during the incident.

The newspapers had published only the statements of the Dalit politicians and the NGOs. But when reporting on the incident they had not included the views and opinions of the so called mobs or protesters. Only two stories on the views of the victims got published. One story titled, “Dalits resolve not to accept compensation” was published in The Times of India. In that story also, they did not include the bytes of the so called Dalits or the common man. They interviewed only the human rights activists and a lawyer. In another story in Dina Thanthi, there was a report on the meeting of Stalin, from Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam party, with the families of the persons who were killed in the police firing.

Personal communication with the Principal correspondent[18] of The Times of India, Madurai, shows the limitations of the reporters. He said that although the firing happened in the day time, he could not get the details till the late evening. He added that he could not contact any official sources. The senior police officials and the District collector were not answering his calls. He also could not travel since all the routes were almost closed due to tight security.

Words used

The terminologies the reporters used in the news reports showed the nature of the report– whether it is balanced or biased. The reports have very normally used adjectives for describing the Dalits. In The New Indian Express they used Rampaging mob, violent mob to refer to the Dalits. In The Hindu they were called stone pelting mob. The caption of the photograph repeated the official version. The caption said that “Police resort to lathicharge to disperse a mob in Paramakudi on Sunday”. In The Times of India they identified them as angry Dalit mobs. In Dinakaran and Dina Thanthi, they called them as supporters until the violence started. After that they called them as mob. They had branded the Dalits as mob but there was no such branding for the police force.


The quantitative data of content analysis revealed that more space and more news reports were filed on the Paramakudi violence. Although more space was allotted for Paramakudi violence in the print media, it did not give the full picture of the issue. The newspapers echoed the views and opinions of the official sources. The news language and the news selection showed that the news reports were not written sensitively. The newspapers had stereotyped the Dalits as violent and immoral like in other previous conflicts coverage. They had not followed the two source rule like the British Broadcasting Corporation[19]. They had taken only the official views. They had not taken any views from the witnesses or the victims.

The newspapers filed more reports describing the violence of the Dalits. The violence of police was not reported by the newspapers. The newspapers had not directly written about the violence of police. Only through the statements of NGOs and the politicians, they had given news about the violence of police.

The vocabulary and lexical choice of the newspapers shows bias against the Dalits. They had described the Dalits with negative words and adjectives. But they had not given any description of the police force.

The Times of India and Dina Thanthi had published special articles regarding the Paramakudi firing. The Times of India discussed the relevant social, economic and political reasons for the Paramakudi firing. It also published feature articles on Immanuel Sekaran and John Pandian. Dina Thanthi gave full details of the persons killed in Paramakudi firing. The New Indian Express had published more news reports on the fact finding reports of Non-governmental organizations.

The photographs also reflected the police version. They published the photographs of the violence of Dalits, the burning government vehicles and the buses hit by stone pelting. The photographs tried to show how the mob indulged in violence and damaged the government buses. They also justified the police attack as a defence mechanism to stop the violence of the mob. The violence of police was not exposed in the photographs.

Dinamalar and Dinakaran even tried to represent Dalits as chauvinistic. They emphasised the injuries of a policewoman with the headline ‘Harassment against a policewoman’.


As in previous incidents, in this coverage of Paramakudi firing also, the Dalits are identified and stereotyped as violent and immoral. The data of content analysis shows that the themes of the news, the photographs and the news language is biased and one sided. The voice of the victims was absent in the news items. Like in the Indian social set up, the Dalits’ views were excluded from the news reports. This is also a form of social exclusion. The photographs portrayed Dalits as violent. Though the photographs showed the inhumane violence of police on Dalits, it was not correlated in the news items. The words used to describe Dalits in the news items were discriminatory. The violence of Dalits was highlighted and the violence of police was downplayed in the newspaper coverage. The police justified Tirunelveli massacre by blaming the agitators for misbehaving with the policewomen. In the Paramakudi firing also the police and part of the media glorified the attack on the policewoman and tried to depict the Dalits as chauvinistic and immoral.

The coverage of Paramakudi firing could be compared with the coverage of Islam in western media. The post 9/11 coverage in American media leads to Islamophobia. The post 9/11 coverage i.e. the Paramakudi firing in Tamil Nadu media leads to Dalitophobia. The coverage leads to the fear or dread of Dalits in Tamil Nadu. So it could be also termed as Dalitophobia.


I thank Gautam for helping me to get the photocopies of newspapers.



Dr. V Ratnamala ( Assistant Professor in the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, Mizoram University, Mizoram.


[1] Immanuel sekaran is a Dalit leader who laid his life in the struggle against caste depression in Tamil Nadu after Independence.

[2] John Pandian is the leader of the TMMK which represents an assertive leadership against the inequalities of caste. His rise as a Dalit leader in the 1980s coincides with the rise of Dalit assertion in southern districts.

[3] Prasad, C. B. (2004). Dalit diary: 1999 -2003. Reflections on Apartheid in India. Pondicherry, Navayana.

[4] Thankappan, R. (2006). Invisible Dalits, The Hoot.> Accessed 20 November 2006.

[5] Gorringe, H. (2005). Untouchable Citizens: Dalit movements and Democratisation in Tamil Nadu. New Delhi: Sage Publications.

[6] Manjolai tea estate workers demonstrated before the Tirunelveli district Collectorate on the banks of the river Thamirabarani with the support of political parties on July 23, 1999 which ended with the loss of 17 lives.

[7] The Khairlanji massacre refers to the 2006 lynching-style murders of a Dalit family by members of Kunbi OBC caste. The killings took place in a small village in India named Khairlanji, located in the Bhandara district of the state of Maharashtra. On September 29, 2006, four members of the Bhotmange family belonging to the Dalit underclass were slaughtered in Kherlanji, a small village in Bhandara district of Maharashtra. The women of the family, Surekha and Priyanka, were paraded naked in public, before being murdered. The criminal act was allegedly carried out by assailants from the Kunbi for “opposing” the requisition of their field to have a road built over it. Initial reports suggested that the women were allegedly gang-raped before being murdered.

[8] Corbridge, S. & Harriss, J. (2000). Reinventing India. New Delhi, Oxford. Quoted in: Gorringe, H. (2005) Untouchable Citizens: Dalit movements and Democratisation in Tamil Nadu. New Delhi:Sage Publications.

[9] On August 6, 1991, the Dalit men of Tsunduru were chased out of their colony in the village by the police to nearby paddy fields and eight Dalits were massacred by the high-caste Hindus. The bodies were stuffed in gunny sacks and thrown in a canal. Tsuduru is a village in Guntur district, Andhra Pradesh state.

[10] Parthasarathi, M. (2011). Paramakudi violence: Against Dalits, against politics. Economic & Political weekly, vol XLVI Noa 44& 45, 14-17.

[11] Teltumbde, A. (2011). Jayalalitha’s sacrificial lambs. Economic & Political weekly, vol XLVI No 46, 10-11.

[12] Kuffir. (2011). Manufacturing complicity: Paramakudi Killings, Round Table India. Accessed 13 September, 2011.

[13] Geetha, V. (2011). Desecrating memory – The Paramakudi Police shootings, Guest post, Kafilamedia. Accessed 15 October, 2011.

[14] Wolsfeld, G., Avraham, E. & Aburaiya, I. (2000). When Prophesy Always Fails: Israeli Press Coverage of the Arab Minority’s Land day Protests. Political Communication, 17, pp.115-131.

[15] Sands, George A., Sanchez, John (2003) An Examination of Newspaper Headlines on the Reporting of Islam in The New York Times between September 11, 2001 and June 11, 2002

[16] Abbas, T. (2001). Media Capital and the Representation of South Asian Muslims in the British Press: An Ideological Analysis. Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs. Vol. 21, No.2.

[17] Wimmer, R. D.& Dominick ,J. R. (2003). Mass Media Research: An Introduction. Singapore: Wadsworth.


[18] V Mayilvaganan, the Principal correspondent of Times of India, Madurai.

[19] Bhaumik, S. (2008). Soldiers, Scribes, Spies & Rebels: The uneasy quadrangle in a troubled region. In Tekwani, S. (Ed.), Media & conflict reporting in Asia (pp. 82-97). Singapore: Asian Media Information and Communication centre.


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