Social Issues

Trial court awards death sentence to one accused and life imprisonment to 12 in 2003 ‘honour killing’ of couple in Tamil Nadu

Published : September 24, 2021 17:16 IST

Murugesan and Kannagi, who were poisoned to death in 2003. Photo: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

In the case involving the 2003 killing of an inter-caste couple, S. Murugesan, a Dalit, and D. Kannagi, a Vanniyar (a Most Backward Caste), of Vriddhachalam in Cuddalore district of Tamil Nadu, the Special Court for SC/ST cases at Cuddalore awarded the death sentence to the deceased girl’s brother and the life sentence to 12 others, including the girl’s father.

In the case involving the 2003 killing of an inter-caste couple, S. Murugesan, a Dalit, and D. Kannagi, a Vanniyar (a Most Backward Caste), of Vriddhachalam in Cuddalore district of Tamil Nadu, the Special Court for SC/ST cases at Cuddalore, expressing deep anguish at the brutal killings, awarded the death sentence to the deceased girl’s brother and the life sentence to 12 others, including the girl’s father.

The judge, Uthamaraja, delivering the judgment on September 24 after the completion of the trial in the case, called the double murder that took place on July 8,2003, as “brutal and against humanity”. He said the punishment would serve a warning to those who still practised caste-based hatred.

The court awarded the death sentence to Marudhupandian and the life sentence to C. Duraiswami, the girl’s father, and 11 others, including two policemen, Chellamuthu, since retired, and Tamilmaran, since suspended, who initially served as investigating officers at the Vriddhachalam Police Station.

The CBI, to which the case was entrusted, filed a 690-page charge sheet in 2009. Two other accused, Ayyasamy and Gunasekaran, were acquitted. Of 81 witnesses, 36 turned hostile. In fact, the double murder was the first case to be labelled as an “honour killing” in Tamil Nadu, though many such incidents had taken place in the past too.

The main reason for the delayed justice in this case was the botched- up police investigation, besides legal issues. Murugesan’s relatives claimed that the police wanted to close the case as “suicide” at the behest of some members of a powerful caste-based political party.

But a team of lawyers and activists led by the senior advocate P. Rathinam and activist G. Sukumaran, under the banner of the Tamil Nadu Ambedkar Legal Services Movement, intervened and made the police register an FIR against eight persons under Sections 147, 302, 201 of the Indian Penal Code. It did not, however, invoke the provisions of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities Act), 1989, though a Dalit was one of the victims.

Besides arresting four Vanniyars, including the father of the girl and her brother, the Vriddhachalam police arrested Murugesan’s father, Samikannu, and uncle, Ayyasamy, along with two others. Samikannu approached the Madras High Court seeking a CBI investigation, which the court conceded.

The CBI filed its charge sheet before the Special Court, invoking the provisions of the SC/ST (Prohibition of Atrocities Act), 1989. It discharged Samikannu from the case, but included the names of the two police personnel of Vriddhachalam Police Station who had filed the FIR. It, however, retained Ayyasamy’s name, claiming that he assisted the main accused in the diabolical act. The court, however, acquitted him. The CBI named 15 persons in all, 11 of them Vanniyars.

Murugesan and Kannagi, in their early twenties and hailing from Puthukkooraippettai village in Cuddalore district, fell in love when they were studying at Annamalai University in Chidambaram town. They secretly got married and got their marriage registered on May 5, 2003, in Cuddalore. Murugesan was a graduate in Chemical Engineering, while Kannagi was a commerce graduate.

Kannagi’s family members came to know about the marriage and became furious. They apprehended both Kannagi and Murugesan on July 7, 2003, just before they were to leave for Tiruppur town. The couple was forced to drink poison in the early hours of July 8, 2003, near the village cremation ground. They died. Later, their bodies were burnt . Suicide was the reason that was propagated behind their deaths.

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