TamilWeek, Oct 24, 2004
Troubling questions
about the killing of Veerappan

By D. B. S. Jeyaraj  

He died as he had lived - by the gun. Koose Munusamy Veerappan alias "Santhanak kad-
athal (sandalwood- smuggler) Veerappan" was shot dead amid controversial circumstances in
Dharmapuri District of Tamil Nadu by the Special Task Force (STF) of Tamil Nadu state police
on October 18.

According to the often contradictory official version strutted out by the police, Veerappan and
three accomplices Govindan, Sethu and Chandragowda were travelling clandestinely in an
ambulance on the Hogenekkal-Dharmapuri road towards Dharmapuri town.

A meticulously planned ambush was laid for him at a selected point between the villages of
Paadi and Paappaarappatti by the STF. 35 STF personnel in three squads codenamed
Angel, Rocky and Cobra were stationed at strategic points. Two squads operated out of  
heavily fortified trucks while the third was atop the roof of a school building.

Asked to surrender

The police claim that the ambulance was craftily blocked on the road and surrounded.
Veerappan was then asked to surrender through hailers. The four member gang had -
according to the police -  retaliated instead of complying. A 20 minute shoot-out from 10.50
p.m. to 11. 10 p.m. had taken place.

The police say that Veerappan and Govindan were killed on the spot while the other two died
on the way to hospital. Veerappan had three wounds. Govindan had 15 wounds. The others
had six each. Interestingly, not a single cop was injured. "The injuries we got are not worthy of
being shown to you" boasted the police to journalists.

According to police, the gang had among themselves a 12 bore remington pump gun, two AK
47s and a 7.62 SLR. There were two grenades also. The media personnel were only offered
a quick glimpse of the ambulance vehicle in which Veerappan was allegedly travelling. A
tarpaulin covered it.

Only pockmarks

No examination was possible of the vehicle to ascertain how the bullet marks were inflicted.
Journalists saw the pockmarks of gunfire but could not determine which of them were made by
outward or inward firing. One thing however was that the exterior marks on the vehicle did not
indicate in volume the fall out of a prolonged 20 minute shoot out. The journalists were not
allowed entry into the vehicle either.

There are no living witnesses to the shoot out apart from of course, the police. The spot
selected for the ambush was lonely. No civilian was in sight when the shooting allegedly
began. People only heard reports of gunfire but were literally in the dark about what was
actually happening. So we have only self-serving police versions .

Nevertheless the perceptible contradictions and quick pace of events raise disturbing
questions about the real truth behind Veerappan's death. The only people who have
ventured to voice those doubts are the much misunderstood and much maligned human
rights fraternity. These voices - however just they may be - are hardly audible in the
deafeningly euphoric cacophony enveloping Veerappan's death.

Notorious criminal

Veerappan after all is no innocent civilian. Whatever the romanticism and mystique about the
man there is, no doubt that he was a terrible criminal and in recent times India's most
notorious  killer bandit . He is supposedly responsible for more than 120 murders.  His life of
crime began as a poacher, particularly of elephants.

The 59-year old Veerappan had been virtually the overlord of jungle territory of nearly 7000
square kilometres in two states for more than 25 years. The police forces of Tamil Nadu and
Karnataka and also the Border Security Forces had been deployed to catch or kill him, but
failed miserably for so many years.

His criminal acts include killing around 2000 tuskers and illegal trade of ivory,illicit felling and
smuggling of sandalwood trees, extortion from rich businessmen particularly those in the
quarrying industry, abducting people for ransom, killing policemen, forestry and wildlife
department officials, people suspected of collaborating with policemen and some abducted
persons including a former Karnataka state minister, Nagappa.

Mainstream rejoicing

Given the sheer scale and scope of his villainy there is much rejoicing in the mainstream.
There seems to be an unwritten consensus among political parties and the media not to raise
embarrassing questions about the circumstances of his death. There is much skepticism
about the police version but except for the human rights lobby no one seems keen to take up
the issue. 'All's well that ends well' seems to be the accepted wisdom. So 'hear, speak and
see no evil' as far as Veerappan's killing is concerned, is the credo.

The truth however is that despite the triumphal declarations in the media by  Additional
Director General of Tamil Nadu Police, Vijay Kumar, the mastermind behind "Operation
Cocoon" that ensnared Veerappan, there are few takers for it. People are no doubt relieved
that the Veerappan menace is now eliminated, but have serious doubts about how he was
killed. While patting the police on the back, the Indian media in general entertains an
unarticulated disbelief about the act.

Discrepancies

The police say that they managed to infiltrate Veerappan's gang and lured him away from his
jungle strongholds in an ambulance to get medical treatment. There are different
contradictory versions about how the fighting began. Vijay Kumar said initially that the driver
of the vehicle ran away while Veerappan and co. began firing on them . His Karnataka
counterpart, Prakash Mirzi contradicts this and says that the STF fired stun grenades and
opened fire on the vehicle prompting Veerappan to retaliate. Vijay Kumar later produced two
officials, Vellanthurai and Saravanan and claimed that they had infiltrated Veerappan's gang
and were in fact driving and occupying the ambulance front seat.

The police claim that Veerappan's gang had been reduced to four. It seems strange that all
four travelled in one vehicle. It is also perplexing as to why all four were travelling in the
vehicle if it was only Veerappan who needed medical treatment. Veerappan also did not have
his famous "handlebar" moustache. He was also not in his jungle fatigues and was instead
attired, uncharacteristically in white. It is also puzzling as to why the four were carrying AK 47s
while in disguise.

Even more mysterious is the alleged shootout and killing of all four. "Dead men tell no tales" is
an old adage. Given the manner in which the police claim to have trapped Veerappan, why
did they not try to capture him alive. Had that been done, the cause of justice could have
been served better. Veerappan made millions through crime but only a small percentage went
to him. Who were the people he enriched? Who were the politicians and officials who
supported him in the past? Was it to prevent these secrets being revealed that Veerappan
was silenced?

The bullet marks on Veerappan indicate that he was killed in close range and not in a shoot
out. The vehicle too displays no telling evidence of a prolonged gun battle. It is doubtful about
even skilled police marksmen penetrating an ambulance accurately and hitting bulls eye on
target. There is strong reason to suspect therefore that Veerappan and co. had been
deceived into capture and then summarily executed amid a stage managed fake encounter.

On the other hand it may very well be that Veerappan knowing he was surrounded preferred
to fight and die than be captured alive. So he could have retaliated knowing fully well that he
and the rest would be wiped out. A fluke shot hitting his forehead may have been fatal. It is
also possible that the gang themselves killed each other to avoid the ignominy of capture.
Another possibility is that Veerappan could only have been wounded and that the cops
finished him off to avoid protracted legal action.

This 'disconnect' in official claim and public belief is somewhat symptomatic of the increasing
credibility gap between the state and people and media and people in general. It is widely
believed that Veerappan and co. were not killed in the way that they were supposedly killed
by the police. These types of killings are "officially sanctioned, unofficial executions" and are
generally described as "encounter killings" in India.

Blind eye

In instances of this type the police or army kill suspected criminals or terrorists in cold blood
and then 'fake' an encounter and claim to have killed them in a firefight. The superiors and
those in power are fully aware of the real nature of these killings, but generally turn a blind
eye or provide an encouraging wink. Unless the victim is of some standing and politicians and
mainstream media create a stir, no one is bothered except of course the miniscule and
pathetically ineffective human rights lobby.

Vijay Kumar who is basking in the bright glory of having exterminated the Veerappan menace
has an infamous reputation for these types of 'encounter' killings. When he was in charge of
border security in Kashmir from 1998 to 2000,  Vijay Kumar was responsible for 188 deaths of
militants in 'encounters.' Only 10 were captured alive and 47 injured in his period.

When Vijayakumar was  Commissioner of Police, Chennai, four cases of 'encounter' death
took place;

i. Murugan, Krishnan and Govindan were shot dead on 21.11.2002 near Neelangarai,
Chennai.

ii. Rajaram and Kumar Saravanan were shot dead on 25.3.2003 near Kotturpuram, Chennai.

iii. Veeramani was shot dead on 27.7.2003 near Marina Beach, Chennai.

iv. Venkatesa Panna- iyar was shot dead in his apartment near Loyola College, Chennai.

Special assignment

The Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha Jayaram is now boasting that she assigned Vijay
Kumar specifically to the STF to apprehend Veerappan. The truth is somewhat different. Vijay
Kumar as Chennai Police Commissioner, botched up the Jayalalitha directed "mission" to
arrest five journalists of the prestigious Indian Chennai based daily The Hindu. Among these
five were Executive Editor, Malini Parthasarathy against whom Jayalalitha held a grudge for
some critical editorials.The Hindu episode blew up in Jayalalitha's face and Vijay Kumar
became the fall guy. The transfer to the STF therefore was a demotion. The cop however has
now redeemed himself in Amma's eye by killing Veerappan.

Encounter killings

It is a person  with such a fearsome reputation in 'encounter' killings who is being glorified now
as a hero. The phenomenon of encounter killings is not something restricted to Tamil Nadu
alone. Given the range of insurgencies and banditry prevailing in several parts of India, such
killings are widely prevalent. In a bid to bring some accountability and justice, the Indian
National Human Rights Commission has laid down a set of seven guidelines to be followed in
encounter deaths.

Chief among these are an immediate magisterial inquiry with relatives of the victim being
represented and the staying of all awards or promotions to official personnel involved until
their names are exonerated after inquiry. Despite these guidelines, officialdom manages to
get its own way with the connivance of politicians and media. In Veerappan's case these
guidelines have been brazenly flouted.

No magisterial inquiry was held in terms of the NHRC guidelines. The post mortem was hastily
conducted in the presence of the STF men who claimed to have killed him. Hundreds of
policemen also invaded the hospital while the post mortem was in progress to view the
legendary brigand. If a magisterial inquiry was conducted, much of the doubts concerning
Veerappan's death could have been clarified.

Flagrant violation

Such clarification may have vindicated the STF or led to a severe indictment. The attitude of
the police suggests that the latter was more likely. The Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalitha
Jayaram in a flagrant violation of the NHRC guidelines has announced promotions, allocation
of land for a house and Indian Rs. 300,000 to each of the 722 members of the STF involved
in tracking Veerappan.

What is worse is that the conduct of the STF has been horrible in the past. Human Rights
Organisations such as Amnesty International as well as the Sathasivam Commission of Inquiry
have documented several incidents of torture, rape, assault and even death in custody by
STF personnel of innocent civilians suspected of having links to Veerappan. Incidentally, the
Sathasivam Commission was set up after a specific demand by Veerappan to release
Kannada cine idol, Raj Kumar.

Recommendations ignored

The Commission recommended among other things the immediate compensation of Indian
Rs. 10, 000 each to 19 women raped by STF personnel. Jayalalitha is yet to honour that. But
the perpetrators of these brutal human rights violations are being rewarded immediately. The
victims are yet to receive compensation. In the media hype about the end of a criminal, the
plight of living victims of his killers are being ignored. If Jayalalitha goes through with
rewarding the 722 STF men as intended on October 27,  it would amount to a grave
miscarriage of justice, both in letter and spirit.

Urgent representations

Executive Director of a Tamil Nadu based human rights organisation called People's Watch,
Henry Tiphagnehas made urgent representations on the matter to the National Human Rights
Commission of India. He points out that Jayalalithas's executive act patently contravenes
Section (g) of the judicial guidelines which specify in full "No out-of-turn promotion or instant
gallantry rewards shall be bestowed on the concerned officers soon after the occurrence. It
must be ensured at all costs that such rewards are given/recommended only when the
gallantry of the concerned officer is established beyond doubt." He also states that " The
depravity of Veerapan's crimes does not by itself make his executioners into gallant heroes.
As agents of the state, the rule of law must be the standard by which we judge their conduct.
And the record of these officers, collectively and individually, exhibits an impulse to behave
contrary to the standards of humanity, justice, and due process that they are charged to
protect".

The ball is now in the NHRC court!  Will the truth behind Veerappan's killing be revealed and
the troubling questions answered?
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