A Million Mourners Attend Tamil Leader’s Funeral; Two Shot Dead
MADRAS, India (AP) _ A million mourners, wailing and beating their chests in sorrow, today attended the tumultous funeral of Marudur Gopalan Ramachandran, India’s top Tamil leader.
At least two were killed and 16 injured when police opened fire at some who went into a frenzy trying for a last glimpse of the Ramachandran, police and witnesses said, bringing to at least 16 the number of people who have died in mob violence, police shootings and suicides connected with the death.
″Long live MGR 3/8″ mourners chanted as Ramachandran’s body was lowered into a grave by the Bay of Bengal in a sandalwood coffin.
Police fired tear gas and clubbed some people to control the crowd. After the burieal, a granite block was placed on the grave where a memorial will be built.
The 70-year-old former movie actor, popularly known as ″MGR,″ died Thursday of cardiac arrest. Ramachandran was the chief minister of southern Tamil Nadu state, home to about 50 million of India’s minority Tamils.
Ramachandran, like most Tamils, was a Hindu. Hindus customarily cremate their dead, but Tamil Hindus bury ″immortal leaders.″
″We believe that immortal leaders should be buried and not cremated so that people can feel their presence,″ said Ananta Swaminathan, a Tamil scholar.
More than 3,500 paramilitary troops were brought into Madras, the state capital, to prevent violence, a police officer said.
Two people were killed in mob violence Thursday when supporters of Ramachandran went on a rampage in Madras, police said. One person died when police opened fire to control rioters, and another person injured in the shooting died at hospital.
Four people were hospitalized with bullet wounds.
At least 10 grieving supporters of Ramachandran committed suicide in Tamil Nadu.
Suicide by hanging or self-immolation is a common way of showing grief in the state. About 20 people committed suicide when Ramachandran suffered a stroke in 1984.
He was later treated in a New York hospital, but the stroke impaired his speech and most of his public addressed were delivered by colleagues.
Ramachandran was a popular movie actor before entering politics. His Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam party is closely aligned with Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s Congress Party.
Gandhi and President Ramaswamy Venkataraman went to Madras Thursday to offer condolences.
Ramachandran, who was born in 1917 on a tea plantation in Sri Lanka, was a central figure in mediations between India and Colombo on measures to end the civil war on the island waged by Tamil rebels.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the largest rebel group in Sri Lanka, and Sri Lanka’s President Junius R. Jayewardene, both were in mourning for his death.
India sponsored a peace accord between the Sri Lankan government and the rebels mainly because of sympathies in Tamil Nadu for the rebel cause.