in dalit murder case threathened
-- Advocates, Madras High Court, Chennai.
The trial in the '6 murders' case is nearing completion. There is tremendous
tension in the area. Mr. Ratnam is singly responsible for ensuring that
the trial could be concluded; but for his efforts the case would have
been closed years back and the accused would have gone scot-free. We are
coordinating the campaign to help ensure greater protection to Mr. Ratnam
and others. Following appeal is being addressed to authorities listed
1. Dr. K.R. Narayanan, Hon'ble President of India, Rashtrapati Bhavan,
New Delhi. 2. Dr. A.S. Anand, Hon'ble Chief Justice, Supreme Court of
India, New Delhi. 3. Mr. J.S. Verma, Chairperson, National Human Rights
Commission, Sardar Patel Bhavan, Parliament Street, New Delhi. 4. The
Chairperson, National Commission for Scheduled Castes And Scheduled Tribes,
New Delhi. 5. Mr. N.K. Jain, Hon'ble Chief Justice, Madras High Court,
Chennai. 6. Ms. Jayalalithaa, Hon'ble Chief Minister, Government of Tamil
Nadu, Fort St. George, Chennai 600 009. 7. Mr. Arun Jaitley, Hon'ble Law
Minister, Government of India, New Delhi.
Sub: Threat to the life of Mr. P. Rathinam and Mr. V. Suresh, Advocates,
Madras High Court and Mr. Karuppiah of Melavalavu for prosecuting criminal
case against accused in beheading of Dalit President of Melavalavu Panchayat
and murder of 5 others.
We are addressing this representation conveying our sense of shock and
anguish at the reported threat of liquidation of Mr. P. Rathinam and Mr.
V. Suresh, Advocates of Madras High Court for taking effective steps to
ensure that the accused persons responsible for the beheading of Mr. Murugesan,
Dalit Panchayat President of Melavalavu village in Madurai District and
5 others in 1997 stand trial and comply with legal process and the rule
of law. The threat reportedly extends to the life of Mr. Karuppiah, brother
of the deceased Panchayat President, Murugesan, and another brother Raja,
for pursuing legal remedies through Mr. Rathinam and Mr. Suresh. Since
the information comes from reliable and credible sources, we are seeking
your immediate intervention to ensure that effective counter-steps are
taken to provide security to the persons who face the threat of liquidation
for daring to stand by their commitment to the rule of law and democratic
process and asserting that guilty persons are brought to book and stand
trial for their misdeeds.
The threat to Mr. Rathinam, Mr. V. Suresh, Advocates, and Mr. Karuppiah
has arisen from their efforts to ensure that the trial in the murder of
Murugesan and 5 others is concluded in a quick and fair manner. There
are currently 41 accused persons belonging to the Kallar caste (a non-Dalit
community in the southern districts of Tamil Nadu who have been largely
responsible for many anti-Dalit attacks and riots resulting in numerous
deaths and large scale damage to property) of Melavalavu and surrounding
villages who stand accused for beheading Murugesan, on 30.6.1997 in broad
daylight while traveling in a bus, and the murder of 5 other Dalits. The
incident occurred as the Kallar community was incensed that Murugesan,
a Dalit person, went against their dictates that he should not stand for
election to the village Panchayat, which had just that year been reserved
The incident was a clearly pre-meditated and carefully planned out affair
and took place when the public bus carrying Murugesan and others, was
proceeding towards Melavalavu. The barbarity and vehemence of the caste
feeling which actuated the gruesome murders can be gauged by the fact
that the severed head was thrown into a nearby well. What is most distressing
about the murders is that Mr. Murugesan had informed the police, about
the threats to murder him and to make his murder an example to other Dalits
in the area from daring to challenge their customary dominance.
The intelligence failure and lack of prompt action on the part of the
police, despite prior information, only lent credence to a widely held
opinion amongst many Dalits that it arose from a strong anti-Dalit bias
which existed within the local police. That such an opinion was not without
basis became clearer as the investigation proceeded in the case of the
murder of the 6 Dalits of Melavalavu in a tardy and slow manner. It is
very revealing that the main accused Ramar was arrested only on 22nd December,
2000, although his whereabouts was known to the local police authorities
and despite information given to the police whenever he was sighted in
or near Melavalavu. This accused Ramar is already involved in a double
murder case of Dalits in Chennagarampatti a village near Melavalavu in
1992. He had jumped bail in that case and trial is yet to start.
Mr. P. Rathinam along with over 70 advocates, presented a petition to
the then Chief Justice of the Madras High Court seeking the court's initiation
of appropriate proceedings to cancel bail granted by the High Court to
30 accused. The Chief Justice ordered the petition to be taken on file
as Suo Motu proceedings and which came to be numbered as Suo Motu Cr.
l. M.P. 3151/1998. The matter finally came to be listed before a Division
Bench consisting of Justices Mr. Choutha and Mr. Bhaktavatsalu. The Bench
dismissed the petitions as not maintainable.
Mr. Rathinam thereafter took up the matter to the Supreme Court. He filed
Cr l. Appeal No. 152/2000 against the order of the Division Bench. A bench
consisting of Mr. Justice K.T. Thomas and Mr. Justice Mohapatra allowed
the criminal appeal and remanded the matter back to the Madras High Court
for hearing afresh and disposing according to law on merits. (See `R.
Rathinam vs. State of Tamil Nadu', 2000 (2) SCC 319).
In view of the orders of the Hon'ble Supreme Court, Suo Motu Crl.M.P.No.
3151/98 was revived. In the meantime, Writ Petition W.P.No. 273/99 came
to be filed in the name of Mr. Krishnan, first informant in the Melavalavu
murders case, seeking transfer of the investigation by the CBI. Since
Mr. Rathinam came to be informed that Mr. Krishnan had been won over by
the accused, he filed an impleading petition challenging the prayer to
transfer in the name of 2 other eye witnesses, Kanchivanam and Kumar.
Ultimately the Writ Petition came to be dismissed on 15.12.99.
It was at this time that the local witnessess, especially eye witnesses
reported that they were being both cajoled and threatened from giving
evidence in the trial against the accused persons. In view of this, Mr.
Rathinam filed a petition before the High Court, Crl.M.P.No. 126/2000
seeking transfer of the trial from Special Court, Madurai to Chennai.
Since Suo Motu Crl.M.P.No. 3151/98 had been revived by then and posted
before the Division Bench, the transfer petition also came to be listed
before the Division Bench. After hearing elaborate arguments from both
counsels for the victims and witnesses represented by Mr. Rathinam as
also counsel for all the accused, the Division Bench on 14.12.2000 ordered
transfer of the case from Special Court, Madurai to Special Court, Salem
and directed that the trial should conclude before 30.4.2001. (This later
came to be extended up to 30.6.2001).
Apart from the above, Mr. Rathinam, on behalf of the victims, filed two
petitions before the Madras High Court seeking appointment of Special
Public Prosecutor u/Rule 4 of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocity) Rules,
1995 to conduct the trial in the Melavalavu murders. First, in January,
2000 Crl.O.P.No. 620/2000 was filed which was dismissed by the High Court
with the direction to the petitioners to approach the authorities for
such appointment. However since no appointment was being made by the State
authorities, another set of petitions, Crl.O.P.No. 24410/2000 and 24411/2000
was filed by Mr. Rathinam along with his colleagues. As a result of these
petitions a senior lawyer from Erode, Mr. Thirumalairajan, came to be
appointed as Special Public Prosecutor for the Melavalavu case. The above
petitions therefore came to be closed and dismissed.
Trial in the Melavalavu case commenced on 2.4.2001. At that time Mr. Rathinam
filed a petition before the trial court seeking attachment of the properties
of the accused as contemplated by the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities)
Act, 1989. This was not entertained by the trial court. Therefore a petition
seeking the same orders came to be filed in the Madras High Court by Mr.
Rathinam. The petition Crl.O.P.No. 6831/2001, was dismissed by the vacation
court of the High Court on 8.5.01. On the same day, another petition,
Crl.O.P.No. 6830/2001, seeking transfer of the case from the court of
the Special Judge, Salem to Erode was also dismissed.
From the above it is very clear that Mr. Rathinam has been playing an
instrumental role in ensuring that the Dalit victims of Melavalavu were
able to access the law and ensure that the legal process was not subverted.
It is not an untruth to say that but for his efforts, the trial would
not have progressed to the extent it has now, where the trial is about
to conclude. Mr. Rathinam's role has been critical not just in ensuring
that legal remedies were pursued in the higher courts, including the Supreme
Court. We know that Mr. Rathinam has been attending all the days of the
trial extending necessary moral support to the witnesses.
You will appreciate that it can be extremely intimidating and frightening
for members of the Dalit community to come out openly and boldly to identify
members of the upper castes as the persons who inflicted such horrendous
violence to their close relations and family members. For Dalits whose
lives have until recently been characterized by the demand from the upper
castes of submissiveness, subservience and servitude it is a great struggle
to surmount the climate of fear and threat that has always enveloped their
lives. It is in this background that we will have to appreciate the role
of Mr. Rathinam in providing moral and legal support to the victims of
the Melavalavu massacre and ensuring that justice is finally done to them.
It is precisely for this role played by Mr. Rathinam that he now faces
the threat of extermination. But for his Herculean efforts, the case would
have been given a silent and forgotten burial.
In his efforts Mr. Rathinam has been constantly assisted by Mr. V. Suresh,
a young Dalit lawyer from Chennagarampatti, a neighbouring village of
Melavalavu. It will be pertinent to bring to your attention that on 13.11.1991,
Mr. Suresh, then a youth who had completed his school final examinations,
was attacked by some Kallars, members of the above referred Ramar group,
for assisting Dalits farmers of Chennagarampatti to take some temple lands
on lease which customarily were enjoyed by members of the Kallar community.
It is noteworthy that the trial in this case is still to begin. Worse,
although an offence u/s 307 IPC has been registered, offences under the
SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 are yet to be invoked in the
Apart from Mr. Rathinam and Mr. V. Suresh, Advocates, Mr. Karuppiah, brother
of deceased Murugesan and Raja, two of the 6 murdered Dalits, has also
been playing an important role constantly interacting with Mr. Rathinam
and Mr. Suresh, and following up on all legal proceedings. Operating under
extremely oppressive social conditions in his native village particularly
after the criminal proceedings started, he has shown exemplary courage
in pursuing legal remedies. His thirst for justice has been a moving force
to the lawyers.
Although a very simple person, he has shown by his doggedness and perseverance,
deep rooted sense of humility and commitment to rule of law that justice
will have to triumph even if its is at the cost of his own life.
The threat to the lives of Mr. P. Rathinam and Mr. V. Suresh, Advocates
and Mr. Karuppiah are a challenge to all those who believe in the grandeur
of the concept of rule of law. It is also a test to all those who believe
in democracy and democratic values.
We are very confident that you will not allow the open threat extended
to the lives of Mr. Rathinam, Mr. V. Suresh and Mr. Karuppiah to be carried
out. At the extremely critical juncture that our country is poised in,
we need more of such selfless persons who are able to live by what they
believe in and be an example for the rest of the citizens of the country.
They are also a standing symbol of the values embedded in our constitution
- of the principle of fairness, equality and justice - and a reminder
that if these values have to ultimately triumph it can only be if all
concerned citizens join hands.
We pray that you intervene immediately and ensure that adequate protection
is provided to safeguard the life and person of Mr. Rathinam and Mr. V.
Suresh, Advocates, and Mr. Karuppiah, brother of deceased Murugesan of