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Two-member bench of the Madras High Court commutes death sentence to life in 2003 Murugesan-Kannagi honour killing case

Print edition : Aug 04, 2022 T+T-

Two-member bench of the Madras High Court commutes death sentence to life in 2003 Murugesan-Kannagi honour killing case

Murugesan and Kannagi, who were poisoned to death in 2003.

Murugesan and Kannagi, who were poisoned to death in 2003. | Photo Credit: By Special Arrangement

A two-member bench of the Madras High Court has commuted the death sentence of D. Maruthupandian, who belongs to the Vanniyar community, a Most Backward Class, to life sentence on June 8. He was awarded the death sentence in the case of the brutal double murder of his younger sister D. Kannagi and her husband S. Murugesan, a youth belonging to a Scheduled Caste, in their village near Vridachalam town in Cuddalore district of Tamil Nadu in 2003.

The High Court, however, upheld the trial court’s award of life sentences to Kannagi’s father C. Duraiswami and nine others. The bench of justices P.N. Prakash and A.A. Nakkiran acquitted two other accused in the case—Rangaswamy and Chinnadurai—both relatives of Kannagi. The High Court also upheld the appeal of Tamilmaran, who was the Sub-inspector of the Vridachalam police station at the time of the murder, and set aside his life sentence awarded under the provisions of The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2015. He, however, has to serve imprisonments of various terms given under other sections of Indian Penal Code.

Earlier, not satisfied with the investigation of the State police, Murugesan’s father had approached the Madras High Curt and got the case transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). After a prolonged investigation, the CBI had filed a 690-page charge sheet before a special court constituted under The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prohibition of Atrocities) Act, 1989 at Cuddalore in 2009. After a prolonged legal battle, the special court awarded its verdict on September 24, 2021. Justice Uthamaraja of the special court called the double murder “brutal and against humanity”. Of the 81 witnesses, 36 turned hostile.

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 in Cuddalore. The girl’s relatives found out about their marriage and murdered them after forcing them to drink poison.

Considered the first recorded case of honour killing in Tamil Nadu, the couple was murdered and their bodies burnt near the village’s burial ground for defying caste equations in the village. A powerful caste Hindu lobby prevailed upon the Vridachalam police to not register the case as murders.

In fact, the main reason for the delayed justice in this case was the botched-up police investigation. Murugesan’s relatives claimed that the police had wanted to close the case as ‘suicide’. However, a team of lawyers and activists led by the senior advocate P. Rathinam and activist G. Sukumaran, under the aegis of the Tamil Nadu Ambedkar Legal Services Movement, intervened and ensured that the case came to its logical end.