COIMBATORE: Fifty years after the anti-Hindi imposition agitations in Tamil Nadu, while the world remembers the incident of a policeman being set on fire by protestors, not many are aware that a uniformed man in Coimbatore had actually quit his job regretting his official role as an oppressor.
The conscience-stricken policeman Kalimuthu had in fact closed his eyes before firing at the protesting students. “He was a secret supporter of the students’ movement against imposition of Hindi. After the incident, the apologetic Kalimuthu resigned his policeman’s job and eked out a living as a bus conductor in a private transport company,” recalls Elangeeran, a well-known student leader of the anti-Hindi movement in Coimbatore. He was pursuing his Tamil Vidwan course in Thavathiru Santhalinga Adigalar Tamil College, Perur then. “As the town was in an extremely disturbed state, the administration hardly kept tabs on the number of deaths,” he says. Elankeeran poignantly recalls that ‘Poolaimedu’ Dhandapani, a student of the PSG College of Technology, ended his life by consuming poison, disturbed by the death of innumerable students in the language war. A Duraikannu, a student leader of the Government Arts College was the secretary of Coimbatore Students Anti-Hindi Agitation Council and Elangeeran was its chairman. “As the police were on the lookout for the absconding students, we went underground in the police quarters itself at Uppilipalayam, since Kalimuthu, the constable, provided us a secret shelter in his house,” says Elangeeran.
Recollecting the road blockade staged near the Head Post office, Elangeeran informs: “One of the cops from the armed reserve police from Mysore held me by my hair and thrashed me asking whether I was a ‘ring leader’. It meant a ‘gang leader’ those days.” Elangeeran points out that the students were not cowed down even by the threat of the military which arrived in Coimbatore. He shares how a Tamil daily, in its news headline, parodied the army soldiers: “As the word ‘Suduthal’ is applied to shooting with a gun or making chappathis in a different sense, a Tamil daily headlined its report as ‘Suttu Thallinaarakal… Chapaathiyai! (The army did not shoot anyone, but made only chappathis!).
Elangeeran displays a booklet, which contains poems by students from different colleges against the anti-Hindi imposition. The booklet, which was priced at 25 paise, was titled ‘Janavary 26il Maanam Kedum Thamizharkku (To the Tamils, whose dignity will decline on January 26, Republic Day).
Duraikannu, who edited the booklet, writes in his foreword thus: “26.1.65 - The ancient Tamil language, whose origin cannot be traced, will die on this date. The booklet of poems is just a joint attempt by the college students of Coimbatore. We are not against Hindi language, but only against the imposition of it as the official language.”
A Ramasamy, who took active part in the anti-Hindi agitation, writes in his comprehensive book Struggle for Freedom of Languages in India thus: “In a protest presided over by Duraikannu in Coimbatore, police lathi-charged the mob, in which four students were seriously injured. At 6 pm the same day, the angry students set the movie hall Naaz in fire, for it was exhibiting the Hindi film Aya Toofan (Storm Strikes). The police rushed to the spot and opened fire, in which four people died.”