Death in a `police encounter'

Print edition : August 15, 2003

TO the fisherfolk of Chennai he was their "revolutionary general" and "son of the Bay of Bengal", but in the police records K. Veeramani was a rowdy who had more than 30 cases against him. The Marina beach was his turf and it was there that he met a bloody end at the hands of the police on the afternoon of July 27. The police said two Sub-Inspectors opened fire at Veeramani in self-defence after he and an accomplice attacked them with knives.

The incident took place a few hundred metres from his second-floor home at Ayodhyakuppam, a fishermen's colony, and his neighbours thought the gunshots to be firecrackers. By the time they realised what had really happened it was too late for Veeramani. They took him to hospital but doctors pronounced him "brought dead". "It was more of a chance encounter. The Sub-Inspectors did not expect Veeramani to be there," said Chennai Police Commissioner K. Vijay Kumar. They opened four rounds of fire.

Veeramani's neighbours contest the police version. A young man claimed that Veeramani was drinking lime juice from a roadside stall after a fishing trip when four policemen, who had come wearing lungis, opened fire in the air. He turned around and they shot him, he alleged. "He was killed when he had reformed himself and wanted to help society," he said. Veeramani's wife, Udaya, said her husband was on the beach along with others when he was shot dead. Said a fisherman: "He could have been sent to jail instead."

A police press release said stall owners on the Marina had complained to the police on July 25 that Veeramani's men extorted money from them every Sunday evening and their shops were smashed if they did not pay up. The rate was Rs.3,000 for a new stall. Two Sub-Inspectors, S. Vellaidurai and K. Kingsley Devanand, were asked to investigate the complaint. When they asked Veeramani, who was walking on the service lane on the beach around 11.15 a.m. on July 27, to come to the police station for interrogation, he called them "bachcha (small) S.I.s" and refused to go with them. When the Sub-Inspectors insisted, Veeramani and his accomplice attacked them with knives, the release said. The police officers, who were injured, shot at Veeramani to protect their lives, it added.

Apparently, Veeramani's writ ran at Ayodhyakuppam. He owned mechanised trawlers and dispensed instance justice in kangaroo courts, both on land and at sea. He began as a moonshiner on the beach and graduated to big crime. Of the cases against him, five related to murder and 11 attempt to murder. The charges in the other cases related to extortion, trade in narcotics and abduction. A lower court passed the death sentence on him in 1984 for the murder of a person, Babu, of Ice House near Ayodhyakuppam. An appellate court reduced it to seven years' rigorous imprisonment.

Veeramani is the eighth person to be killed since 2002 by the Chennai police by "opening fire in self-defence". The others include Sanjay Ghate, a Chota Rajan gang member, on April 20, 2002; Sura, on November 18 ; three gangsters, Krishnan, Govindan and Murugan, on November 21; and two militants, Rajaram, who headed the Tamil Nadu Liberation Army, and his comrade Saravanan, on March 25, 2003 (Frontline, April 25).

T.S. Subramanian
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