Five years after his death, Veerappan’s widow is suddenly implicated in cases where her husband was the main accused. PC Vinoj Kumar reports
IN A midnight operation last November, three Karnataka police jeeps surrounded a woman’s house in Mettur, Tamil Nadu. That woman was Muthulakshmi, the widow of notorious forest brigand Veerappan. Muthulakshmi, who had turned into a human rights activist after her husband’s death, was bundled into a jeep and taken to MM Hills Police Station in the Chamrajnagar district of Karnataka. She was produced in court the next day. The police later clarified that she had been arrested in connection with some old cases against her.
Muthulakshmi has been in jail for nearly nine months now, charged under various sections of the IPC, the Explosives Act, the Arms Act and the now-repealed TADA (Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Prevention Act, 1987). She has been implicated in four cases where Veerappan is the main accused. (Veerappan was shot dead in 2004 near Dharmapuri in an alleged encounter with police.) All offences were committed between 1991 and 1993 in Karnataka.
The cases relate to deadly attacks on policemen, forest department officials and informers in which 33 people were killed. However, while Muthulakshmi was named an accused in all four cases, she was never arrested and was ‘free’ to run her small shop in Mettur, though under close police monitoring.
“The Karnataka police made no effort to make her stand trial in any of the cases. It is significant that she was arrested nearly seven years after judgements were delivered in the cases. Eight people were convicted out of the 126 who faced trial. The rest were acquitted,” says A Marx, a human rights activist who is part of a team campaigning for Muthulakshmi’s release.
Activists believe Muthulakshmi is a victim of a police witch hunt to punish her for seeking justice for victims of police atrocities committed during searches for Veerappan. They point out that the Special Task Forces (STF) of the Karnataka and Tamil Nadu police involved in the Veerappan operations faced several charges of rape, fake encounters and illegal detentions. In 1999, the National Human Rights Commission formed a panel comprising Justice AJ Sadashiva, a former judge of the Karnataka High Court, and CV Narasimhan, former CBI director, to look into the allegations. The panel confirmed the allegations of police excesses in 89 cases — which included one case of rape and 36 cases of “suspicious encounters” — and ordered compensation to the victims. But it did not penalise a single policeman. Muthulakshmi was pressing for the police involved in the atrocities to be punished.
Activists believe she is being punished for fighting for victims of police atrocities
“By jailing her, the police want to put an end to her activities,” says G Sugumaran, a Puducherrybased human rights activist. But a senior Karnataka police officer who was part of the STF in the 1990s, claims there is nothing troubling about Muthulakshmi’s arrest. “She must have been absconding all these years,” he said, adding that a proclaimed offender can be arrested anytime. Activists like Sugumaran feel Muthulakshmi recently made too many political enemies. Of the Vanniyar caste, she contested as an independent from the Vanniyar- dominated Pennagaram constituency in the 2006 assembly elections; she didn’t heed PMK leader S Ramadoss’ appeal to withdraw. In 2007, she went to court against a show on Veerappan’s life on the PMK-promoted Makkal TV.
Muthulakshmi’s elder sister Chinnaponnu is taking care of Muthulakshmi’s two daughters and says that she is struggling to support them. The family met Chief Minister M Karunanidhi recently and sought his help in securing Muthulakshmi’s release. “The CM promised to get Amma out soon,” said Muthulakshmi’s daughter, Prabha, to TEHELKA. The family’s hopes are also pinned on the Supreme Court, where a petition seeking bail for Muthulakshmi will soon be filed.