Hindus and Muslims in a Perambalur village embrace harmony after decades, thanks to two officers

But will the peace last? It will, believe both the Perambalur district collector and SP, the officers who brought the communities together.

ByShilpa Nair

Published Aug 04, 2022 | 8:30 AM Updated Aug 04, 2022 | 8:56 AM

Perambalur peace

Putting behind differences and decades of bitterness, Hindus and Muslims of V.Kalathur village in Perambalur district of Tamil Nadu have embraced peace and harmony.

On 30 July, members of both faiths exchanged hugs and handshakes, and together pulled the temple chariot of the Selliyamman temple as part of the annual festival procession — an event that was one of the flashpoints between the communities in the recent years.

This bridging of differences was made possible thanks to the sustained efforts over one-and-a-half years by District Collector Venkata Priya, Superintendent of Police (SP) S Mani, and other officials to bring both communities together.

The animosity between Hindus and Muslims in the village has lasted for about a century owing to multiple reasons, officials and locals told South First. However, the temple chariot procession, a three-day affair, has been at the heart of the strained relations between the two communities in the recent past.

Perambalur temple procession

Temple chariot being pulled by members from both the Hindu and Muslim communities in the presence of the district collector and SP. (Supplied)

Over the last 10 years, tensions have erupted over the temple chariot procession being taken through two Muslim-dominated areas — Periyakadai and Pallivasal — in V.Kalathur village.

Minor clashes had broken out few years back. Muslims had waylaid the procession at one point. Several cases were registered and both parties also approached the courts multiple times.

Even though the procession was allowed permission by the administration, the fear of a breakdown in law and order meant it was conducted with many restrictions in the last few years.

Adjudicating on one of the petitions filed by the Hindus, the Madras High Court allowed the three-day chariot procession to go on, and ruled that public roads are common to everyone.

But the court order aside, it was the efforts of the district collector and the SP to bring everyone together that bore fruit.

Why did the two bureaucrats take up this issue?

S Mani, SP of Perambalur, spent anxious and sleepless nights a few days before the temple festival procession was kickstarted this year. The fear that the procession would lead to a law-and-order problem kept him awake.

Speaking to South First, he explained the reasons why he sought to sort out the issues between the communities on a priority basis.

“When I was posted to Perambalur, before taking charge as the SP, I called on the DGP, ADGP (Law and Order) and ADGP (Intelligence). All three of them told me about V.Kalathur village and briefed me about the communal problems there. They asked me to stay alert and advised me to find a solution to the issue,” the officer said.

The matter was also taken up for discussion during the law-and-order review meetings held by the chief secretary, he added.

Similarly, Perambalur District Collector Venkata Priya had also received instructions from the chief secretary to resolve the long-drawn problems of the village.

After a discussion, both the collector and the SP decided to take up the issue seriously.

The road to peace

To find a solution to the communal problems in V.Kalathur, it was important for these two officers to understand the background. They went through scores of documents, court orders from several years, and also held many meetings with representatives of both communities to understand their viewpoints.

It was equally important for the officers to build trust about the administration in both communities. This is reason why they undertook efforts to solve some of the other problems the villagers were facing.

For example, according to the officials, nine Muslim families in the village did not have sewage canal connectivity for the past 40 years. Despite funds for the construction of the sewage line being sanctioned around 10 years back, it couldn’t be built due to certain religious and caste-based tensions in the locality.

“Though there were threats of self-immolation by some people, we went ahead and constructed the sewage canal. Around 200 police personnel were deployed as part of the bandobast while the sewage line was being laid, and no untoward incident happened,” SP Mani recalled.

The “holistic approach” helped the administration to build confidence with the two communities.

“We took care of even the small problems they were facing. Some of them thought they were being deprived of basic amenities due to their religion. So, we wanted to give them confidence and, later on, they were ready to listen to what we had to say,” Venkata Priya told South First.

In addition, for the last one-and-a-half years, officials have held multiple meetings — using what they called a “systematic approach” — with members of both communities, in a bid to iron out differences.

Perambalur peace meeting

A peace meeting held by representatives of the Hindu and Muslim communities ahead of the temple festival. (Supplied)

Just ahead of the temple festival, peace meetings were held for three days at the level of the SP, collector and the RDO, which went on for long hours. Even during those meetings, representatives from both communities argued as each party interpreted the Madras High Court order differently. Eventually, however, a consensus was reached.

Both the SP and the district collector heaved a huge sigh of relief after the temple chariot procession went off smoothly on all three days.

“I believe this sets an example to show that everything is possible. It may not happen immediately, but if you work towards it, you can achieve what you want,” Mani said.

But will this peace last?

It will, believe both the officers.

“Officials like us come and go, but people have to accept these things. In this case, the villagers had the heart to resolve all the issues. There was a visible friendship when members of the Muslim community came forward to pull the temple chariot,” Venkata Priya explained.

Similarly, Mani felt what they have managed to achieve would be a durable solution as they could “eliminate the animosity to a large extent”.

“Nobody agitated or created an issue during the three days of the chariot procession. If there was any issue, at least a small problem would have erupted in these three days,” the officer added.

The efforts of the administration started showing results even before the temple festival began.

For example, when the Muslim community held the Santhana Koodu festival and Iftaar during Ramzan, the festival committee members extended invitations to Hindus, and their invitations were accepted. So, when the temple authorities invited Muslims for the chariot procession, it was the latter’s turn to reciprocate.

Villagers happy, and grateful to the officers

Speaking to South First, M Ramasamy Udaiyar, former trustee of the temple, said that he strongly believes things would go on smoothly hereafter in the village, and complimented the officers for their hard work.

“We are very happy now that the wall of animosity between the two communities has been broken. The court order aside, it was the officers who created consensus. They interacted like normal people and tried to understand us instead of showing their power as bureaucrats,” he said.

Echoing similar views, Jaffar Ali, secretary of the Sunnath Val Jamath, credited the district officers for bringing both communities together, and expressed hope that the situation would improve further in V.Kalathur village.

“The problems have been going on for years. But can the village progress if it continues like this? How long can we all run behind cases? This is a democratic land, and there should be peace,” an optimisitic Ali told South First.