PUCL Bulletin, Oct. 2000

Reel life in real life

-- By K G Kanabiran

06 September 2000

Veerappan and the Film actor Raj Kumar must have by now learned to live together. The two of them must have, by now, exchanged notes about their lives and would have discovered the similarities in their humble beginnings, the difficult periods these two went through their lives on their respective roads to prosperity and fame. One became forest depredator, lording the forests spanning the states of Karnataka and Tamilnadu. Rajkumar attained prosperity and fame by enacting make believe for popular consumption and of course for consideration. If the biographer of Veerappan is to be believed his life provides an excellent theme for a film where Rajkumar plays the role of Veerappan. When these instances occur and recur, the analytical fall back on the Robinhood syndrome with a vague kind of left analysis thrown in and inform the world that he is what he is because of circumstances and the exploitative society in which he is living. People like Veerappan, though they operate outside the legal framework is very much a part of the exploitative order and they never had anything to complain so long as the government connived at their flouting law and its institutions at will. He can never argue for the overthrow of the system for the latter provided him the space for his phenomenal rise. If you interview him he will tell you that we should not vote for the corrupt and that we must opt for clean politics. He will even give you acceptable reasons for some of the crimes he committed. If you listen to what is written about him you will not grudge this subaltern his rise to fortune and fame. For just a few this system even permits mobility from the log cabin to the White House politically, from a street vendor to capitalist controlling governance or allow a mere rowdy sheeter to become a don. In this country and in USA there is a distinguished tradition of hagiolatry of these scoundrels. All these are great supporters of democracy and the status quo. Joan Robinson in her Freedom and Necessity quotes an interview, which Claud Cockburn had with Al Capone, the millionaire murderer. When Claud Cockburn made sympathetic references to the harsh life he had led as a child in the slums of Brooklyn Capone felt that it was a pejorative reference to the system in which he grew up to fame.

"Listen", he said, "don't get an idea that I am one of those goddam radicals. Don't get the idea I am knocking the American system". As though an invisible chairman had called upon him for a few words, he broke into an oration upon the theme. He praised freedom, enterprise and the pioneers. He spoke 'of our heritage' he referred with contemptuous disgust to socialism and anarchism. 'My rackets' he repeated several times are strictly run on American lines and they are going to stay that way.' 'This American system of ours" he stated, "call it Americanism, call it Capitalism, call it what you like, gives to every one of us a great opportunity if we only seize it with both the hands and make the most of it."

The system operating in this country gives predators great opportunity and Veerappan seized it by its horns to emerge as a political leader and as a totally free man.. For achieving this he kidnapped a very proper person, a darling actor of Karnataka State. Necessary orchestration have already been made. The Political demands, release of a short biography and some sympathetic articles have already appeared. He has not yet made grant of amnesty as condition precedent to the release of Raj Kumar. The demands made appear trivial and totally uninformed. The obvious effort of his ventriloquist is to help himself and his friends and to provide a political image to Veerappan. He is expecting a golden hand shake from his previous business. This abduction, the demands and the orchestration have alerted the victims dependents and their moves are likely to jeopardise the life of Rajkumar. The anger against Veerappan is likely to be as blind and brutal as Veerappan's deeds.

Look at the consequences of our failure to secure the release of Raj Kumar. Veerappan is a Tamil and language riots are not new to Karnataka. If the attempts failed the attack on Tamils cannot be ruled out. And there is a sizeable community of Tamil settled in Karnataka. Innocent Tamils should not be made to pay for the deeds of a corrupt set up which allowed Veerappan to grow to this unmanageable size and for his deeds of brutality.
Setting him free for all the plunder and the 134 murders he is alleged to have committed can never be thought about. Among this 134 murders 34 are of policemen. Once police officer's parent has gone to the court stalling the release of the fifty and odd who have been in jail. His grief and anger cannot be questioned. The question is who should be punished? The facts of the case against Veerappan:

In the year 1992 two crimes were registered under the limits of Ramapuram Police Station. In the year 1993 a further two crimes were registered under the limits of M.M. Hills Police Station and against these four Crimes four cases were registered by the Designated Court. Four charge sheets were filed between 28 Nov.1997 and 28 March 1998 and charges were framed by the Designated Court there after. 143 persons have been arraigned as accused. Among these 103 persons are Veerappan and his gang. Forty six persons belonging to the gang died in encounters and skirmishes with the police. 24 among the 103 are said to be absconding. The names of 22 persons were deleted from the charge sheet. The persons are in prison are the villagers in the areas where Veerappan operates. Their numbers appear to be around 121. On a review following the directions given by the Supreme Court in Shaheen Association's[ (1996) 2 SCC 469 around seventy persons were released on bail. These 0facts were before the Karnataka High Court when writ petitions were filed to quash TADA charges. These writ petitions were filed at the behest of PUCL AND Peoples Watch NGO from Madurai. These petitions were dismissed on 11 Feb 2000. We decided to proceed with the trial.

I do not think that in examining these cases there is any place for indignation judicial or righteous. The Chief Minister of Karnataka, a late comer on the scene, cannot be blamed for the growth of Veerappan or the kidnap. As a Chief Minister it is very difficult to take decisions on such issues. The peremptory dressing down of the Chief by the Supreme Court was unfortunate. We are amidst enveloping ineptitude and we cannot assert that this particular institution has not been functioning well. A crime registered in 1992 did not proceed to trial until the filing of the forty writ petitions on 11 Oct. 1999. The Act itself came into force in 1987 for the second time. Thereafter it has undergone four extensions of two years each. The explanation given to the court is that the trial was postponed for want of a court premises and it was secured on 23 Oct. 1999. The Act mandates speedy trial and the court building was secured after four years of expiry of the Act and twelve years after its passing. Veerappan and his gang were not apprehended at all. In all these years the 121 villagers were arrested and forgotten. And what is their crime? They were all acting at the bidding of Veerappan's gang for he was providing them the livelihood. Living under fear and duress can anybody behave otherwise?

When PUCL and Peoples Watch took up these matters they were arguing for quashing of the TADA charges alone for we had a principled objection against TADA. Even now we hold the same view. If two governments can be browbeaten by this abduction should there by any further evidence to convince us that the 121 villagers were as frightened of the consequences of Veerappan's wrath? These 121 villagers including the fifty in prison are not accused of any overt acts against the victims of Veerappan. Should they be harassed by continuing these proceedings?

Abductions on political grounds, we are familiar with, are of a different order. An ordinary criminal by a simple act of abduction is asking you to pay minimum wages, to grant bail to under trial prisoners who have been detained for long periods without trial, to tell governments not to use preventive detention as a substitute for punitive detention and to settle your river water disputes equitably and without rancour. How and why did abduction become a substitute for Rule of Law? Should not the court work in tandem in such situations with the government and devise ways and means of easing tensions and provide guidelines for an equitable resolution of such issues without jettisoning Rule of Law and the Constitutional objectives?

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