Premature release of all Melavalavu murder convicts sparks outrage in Tamil Nadu

Published : November 13, 2019 18:49 IST

Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi president and Member of Parliament Thol. Thirumavalavan paying homage at the site of the “Viduthalaikalam Memorial” at Melavalavu near Melur in Madurai district of Tamil Nadu on June 30. Photo: G. Moorthy

The remission of sentence and premature release of 13 convicts serving life terms for the murder of six Dalits, including the president and vice-president of Melavalavu village panchayat near Melur in Madurai district in Tamil Nadu on June 30, 1997, has kicked-up a controversy. The Tamil Nadu Prison Department released them from the Madurai Central Prison on the occasion of the MGR birth centenary celebration, for “good conduct”

Of the 44 persons charge-sheeted in the Melavalavu murder case, 17 were found guilty. While one accused died of snakebite during the period of trial, the remaining 16 were sentenced to life in prison by the Salem Sessions Court, which the High Court and the Supreme Court upheld. Of the 16, three had been given remission in 2008.

The release of the life convicts shocked activists and civil society alike. Dalit activists and legal experts also said the premature release of these persons would send a wrong signal to other dangerous anti-social elements. “Casteist forces will be emboldened,” said the social activist A. Kadir of the Madurai-based non-governmental organisation Evidence.

A letter from the Office of the Inspector General of Prisons, Chennai, R. Kanagaraj, dated November 9, 2019, sent to the Superintendent of Prisons, Central Prison, Madurai, and Inspector General of Prisons, Madurai Range, quoting the relevant Government Orders, sought the premature release of 13 convict prisoners on the occasion of the birth centenary of former Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandran. The letter wanted it to be treated as “very urgent”. The I.G. of Prisons sought a compilation report with copies of the bonds executed by the prisoners.

P. Rathinam, one of the lawyers who argued the case on behalf of the victims, told Frontline that the premature release of the Melavalavu convicts was illegal. “Do you know that one of the convicts released now was involved in the Chennagarampatti Dalit murders too and got a life term?” he asked. He wondered how the casteist murderers could be released prematurely on claims of “good conduct”.

He pointed out that on September 11, 2008, the then DMK regime issued a G.O. to release 1,405 life convicts who had either completed seven years of imprisonment or were 60 years and older and had spent five years in prison. The occasion was Anna Memorial Day. The BJP leader Dr Subramanian Swamy challenged its legal validity in the Madras High Court. The writ was later disposed of following the State government’s claim that all the released prisoners had already re-integrated with society and were living peacefully. The case was taken on file on a batch of petitions filed by life convicts who had served more than 10 years seeking their release. P. Rathinam said life imprisonment meant life. “These hard core criminals should not be permitted to come out into society,” he added.

Dalit activists claimed that the provisions of The Probation of Offenders Act would not apply for crimes committed under The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes Prevention of Atrocities Act. Kadir said that anyone who committed diabolical crimes like murders, especially of Dalits, should not be given remission. He urged the State government to frame a proper policy or law on such remission of sentences. “Today the released convicts had gone to the village where the families of their victims too were living. The fear they experienced some 20 years back has returned to haunt them. It is a nightmare for the wives, children and relatives of those who were killed,” said Kadir.

Condemning the remission of sentences, the Viduthalai Chirithaigal Katchi (VCK) leader Thol. Tirumavalavan told the media in Chennai that his party will explore legal means against the government’s decision. Meanwhile, the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court has given permission to Rathinam to go ahead and file a case challenging the State government for the remission.

Murugesan, the then president of the Melavalavu village panchayat and five other Dalits, including vice president Mookan, were hacked to death by a mob near Melavalavu village on June 30, 1997, when they were returning in a town bus from Madurai after meeting the Collector in order to seek security for themselves following threats from caste Hindus who refused to acknowledge Dalits as their panchayat president and vice president. The gang stopped the bus near the village tank and hacked the Dalits to death. They severed the head of Murugesan and threw it into a nearby well.

This is the second time within a year the Tamil Nadu government has released noted convicts under the remission procedure. In November last year, the government released three convicts, Nedu alias Nedunchezhian, Madhu alias Ravindran, and Muniappan, who were serving life sentences in the Dharmapuri bus burning case. Three girl students of the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University were burnt alive when their college bus was set on fire near Dharmapuri following the conviction of AIADMK leader Jayalalithaa by a special court in the Kodaikanal Pleasant Stay Hotel case, on February 2, 2000. The three men, all AIADMK cadre in Dharmapuri urban and district units, walked out of Vellore Central Prison on November 19, 2018.