MADRAS, INDIA -- At least 1 million mourners wailed and beat their chests in sorrow yesterday at the funeral of India's top Tamil leader, and at least four were killed when police opened fire to control the frenzied crowd.
Area police chief Irudaya Das said 47 policemen were wounded during the service for Marudur Gopalan Ramachandran, the former movie actor who became chief minister of southern Tamil Nadu State.
Ramachandran died Thursday of cardiac arrest at age 70. Ten grieving followers have committed suicide since then. Yesterday, witnesses said, police fired at the mourners when some of them began pressing frantically for a last look before the sandalwood casket was lowered into the ground. Fifty mourners were reported wounded. According to some accounts, the crowd was closer to 2 million.
Ramachandran was buried on a beach of the Bay of Bengal, a break in the Hindu custom of cremation. "We believe that immortal leaders should be buried and not cremated so that people can feel their presence," explained a Tamil scholar.
Tamil Nadu is home to about 50 million of India's Tamil minority. Suicide by hanging or immolation is a common method to demonstrate grief.
About 20 people committed suicide when Ramachandran suffered a stroke in 1984. Born in Sri Lanka and long a supporter of Tamil rebels there and their cause of an independent state, he gave refuge to the guerrillas and allowed them to train at camps in Tamil Nadu.