Who Killed Ragu? The Cut-out Culture of Tamil Nadu 

Software engineer Raghupati and (inset) the author TS Sudhir - Sakshi Post

By TS Sudhir

'Who killed Ragu?' is a question that has been painted on the stretch of the road in Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu where Raghupati, a 30-year-old software engineer was killed early on Friday morning. Two boys in sheer anger and frustration, took the initiative to paint it. The attempt, importantly enough, was to spark much-needed civil society outrage and ensure Coimbatore and Tamil Nadu did not forget the tragedy.

The incident first. It was much before dawn when Ragu who was on a visit from the US to meet his prospective bride, was riding his bike to the bus stop. He planned to board a bus to travel to the pilgrim town of Palani, 120 km from Coimbatore, for darshan. His friends say, a lorry was driving towards Ragu in the wrong direction and to avoid it, Ragu swerved to the left. What he did not notice in the darkness was the wooden hoarding structure that had been erected on orders from the AIADMK more than a week ahead of a December 3 event. The AIADMK has been going overboard celebrating the centenary of its party founder MG Ramachandran.

Two boys in sheer anger and frustration, took the initiative to paint the site of the accident.

The rickety wooden structure had occupied 40 per cent of road space, had no reflectors to alert approaching bikers and motorists. Ragu crashed against the structure, fell on the road and was run over by the lorry.

If the illegality of the hoarding was not bad enough, it is the manner in which AIADMK reacted that made it worse. Supporters of the ruling party tried to suggest that Ragu was drunk while riding the bike. Others suggested that he died because he was run over by the lorry and the hoarding had no role to play.

What they conveniently missed is that it is a 6 lane road and if not for the structure, Ragu would have had enough space to swerve to the left and avoid a collision. The question of being inebriated did not arise because Ragu was on his way to the temple. Another group pointed out that Ragu was not wearing a helmet. A valid point but it only pointed to the AIADMK ploy to blame anyone but themselves for the tragedy.

The wooden hoarding structure against which Ragu collided before being run over by a lorry.

What's worse is that the corporation, which also should be booked for negligence on duty, went ahead to erase the grafiti. The police picked up the boys for questioning to find out if they had any political backing. A typical reaction but the boys were completely apolitical.

This is not the first time the AIADMK has arrogantly occupied public spaces, almost as if to suggest they own Tamilnadu. In December 2015, the party had erected hoardings all over Chennai during their general council meeting and in the process, occupied all pavements in the city. Activists of Arappor Iyakam, an anti-corruption NGO, objected arguing no pedestrian had any right of way and attempted to tear down a couple of hoardings. AIADMK cadre rushed and assaulted the activists. And what was more farcical was that the three activists were arrested and thrown into Chennai central prison while the partymen were not touched.

Another social activist Traffic Ramaswamy was also booked for removing hoardings from footpath space when Jayalalithaa was in power. AIADMK in that sense, has been a serial offender and the administration - both bureaucracy and police - look the other way. In Coimbatore, no permission was sought from the city municipal corporation. And the AIADMK leader flouting the rule was none other than the municipal administration minister SP Velumani himself, the party strongman in Coimbatore.

No action has yet been taken against those who ordered the erection of the structure. Only the opposition DMK has been making a noise about it. Parties cannot be allowed to get away with behaving like royalty. Worse is the fact that neither chief minister Edappadi Palaniswami nor his deputy O Panneerselvam have spoken about it.

Incidentally just a month ago, the Madras High court had ordered that there will be bo cutouts of living personalities. While that put an end to competitive larger than life cutouts of Palaniswami and Panneerselvam, to curcumvent the order, now large balloons with their pictures are floated in the sky.

No lessons have been learnt. Just days after Ragu's death, similar hoardings were seen put up in Theni district.

Ragu is a test case. Petitions have been filed on change.org for signatures to highlight the tragedy and stress the need to take action.

This manmade tragedy needs to be pursued to its logical conclusion so that the high and mighty get the message loud and clear that Tamilnadu is not willing to sacrifice any more Ragu.

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