It was close to 7pm on Wednesday night when 26-year-old Suriya, a Dalit resident of Sembedu in Ranipet district, received an alarming call from his 17-year-old brother. Aiyappan, who had just passed out of school this year was in tears as he allegedly told his elder brother that he had been assaulted by members of the dominant Vanniyar community. According to Suriya's mother-in-law Lalitha, the incident took place at a pani puri stall in Guruvarajapet, near Sembedu, which was frequented by members of both communities. Aiyappan had gone there to eat when he was allegedly harassed by members of the Vanniyar community from Perumalrajapet. "Suriya immediately left to help his brother. He only intended to settle whatever dispute was happening and went alone," says his tearful 36-year-old mother-in-law. "But when he got there, the Vanniyar men stabbed him and hit him with a bottle. They killed him, leaving my pregnant daughter widowed," she laments. Three kilometres away, another Dalit resident Arjunan from Soghanur village heard of the attack at close to 7.10 pm and immediately rushed with his younger brother and friends to the spot. "We had just come back from another funeral, taken a bath and eaten when Arjun rushed out," says his mother 40-year-old Valli. "Suddenly he heard that the Vanniyar men had attacked one of us and rushed with other boys to go help him. He said he will come back soon but when we saw him next, he was covered in blood. He had left us," she adds, shock leaving her voice emotionless. This double murder that took place on the night of April 7 has left Dalit residents of Sembedu and Soganour near Arakkonam furious. Protests have rocked the area since Wednesday as families and other members of the Dalit community allege that these were pre-meditated murders. Three others who had rushed to the spot to help too were injured and admitted to a local government hospital. Friends of the victims and political parties including the VCK say that at least 20 men from the Vanniyar community were involved. The police, however, offer a different version. Speaking to TNM, Ranipet district Superintendent of police Sivakumar, claims that the murders were merely the result of a petty quarrel and that there was no previous enmity between the two groups. Are the police doing enough? "This was just a sudden provocation. The Dalit men were going by bike when they waved their hand at a member of the Vanniyar community thinking it was one of their friends. The dominant community member got offended by this and thought they were being arrogant. A scuffle broke out and both sides called their friends. Members of the Vanniyar community then came with weapons to the spot," he alleges. The police insist the two Dalit men died in the violence that ensued and have arrested six persons in connection to the murders. This includes - Sathya (son of an AIADMK secretary), Karthi Sounder, Nandakumar, Ajith and Madan. "There were at least 20 men from the Vanniyar community involved in the violence and they were all inebriated," alleges Ranjith*, a relative of Arjunan who has spoken to the injured men in the hospital. "Suriya's murder was not just on some kind of whim. These dominant community men have been getting angry for a while now over Dalits riding bikes, going to school and talking back to them when discriminated against. They were just waiting for the elections to end to attack our men," he adds. Constant discrimination According to Suriya's mother-in-law Lalitha, the victim had been in several altercations with members of the Vanniyar community over the last few years. Most of the arguments, says Ranjith, were due to caste discrimination. "These Vanniyar men used to insult us constantly and use caste slurs on us. Aiyappan in particular has been facing a lot of ragging on the roads and in school. So Suriya would go and fight for him," says Ranjith. "We didn't ask for any trouble, we just stood up for ourselves," he adds. According to their families, both Suriya and Arjunan were friendly but soft men who only got angry in the face of constant discrimination. While Suriya was a 'DJ' who handled the music consoles for any events in the village and district, Arjunan was a daily wage labourer. "The police cannot make this look like some kind of accident," says Ranjith. "They purposely made these men come there to attack them. And because of their monstrous caste dominance, two young women and their families have been left without breadwinner," he adds. Fighting back tears, Lalitha tells TNM that her daughter had married Suriya only a month ago and was pregnant. Arjunan meanwhile had a six-month-old child. "Both the women are inconsolable," says Ranjith. "Arjunan's wife held on to his body and refused to let them cremate it. The police have to ensure that those involved in the murders are all properly punished and stay in jail. If they don't, these men will come back and attack all of us," he warns. Political tensions And while the families deal with shock and senselessness of these deaths, the VCK held state-wide protests on Saturday condemning the murders. They have alleged that there are also political motives to the crimes. Party chief Thol Thirumavalavan even held a demonstration at Valluvar Kottam in Chennai demanding a fair probe and arrest of the perpetrators under the Goondas Act. The party alleges that the murders were a result of rising tensions in the constituency where the election was fought out closely between S. Ravi of the AIADMK (which is allied with the PMK) and Gauthama Sanna of the VCK.