'An inhuman act by the police'

Print edition : December 11, 1999

Interview with V. Vaikunth, former Director-General of Police.

"Never in my career spanning over 30 years have I witnessed such a totally inhuman act on the part of my own police." This was how former Director-General of Police V. Vaikunth described the plight of the people of Kodiyankulam following a massive police rampage in the village on August 31, 1995. As the then police chief, he visited the affected village on September 5 and saw for himself the "mindless violence" of the policemen. Now retired, Vaikunth became a bit emotional when he recounted in an interview to S. Viswanathan what he saw in Kodiyankulam. "Even now, after four years, it makes me sad and anguished when I recall the wailing and weeping of the hapless Dalits," he said. Excerpts:

The report of the Gomathinayagam Commission has ruled out any police excesses in Kodiyankulam in 1995. It is a matter of public knowledge, and there were media reports at that time, that you, as the Director-General of Police (DGP), visited the villa ge and found to your shock that the police had indulged in "mindless violence" against Dalits of the village. There were also reports that you sent a note to Chief Minister Jayalalitha. A writ petition was filed before the High Court seeking a direction for the release of the report. Can you please enlighten the public on this sensitive issue?

It is true that as the DGP I had received a series of complaints that the police had allegedly gone on a rampage in the village against Dalits. There were even writ petitions in the High Court, besides representations to the National Human Rights Commiss ion, alleging police high-handedness. Political parties also raised a furore over the issue. The background to the alleged police violence at Kodiyankulam related to caste clashes which rocked Tirunelveli and Tuticorin districts during that period.

It is in this context that I visited the village on September 5, 1995 to find out the truth for myself. En route to Kodiyankulam, I also visited a number of villages which had witnessed caste clashes. There were attempts to dissuade me from going to Kodi yankulam. I could sense that the people of the village were very annoyed with the police in general, but when they came to know of my visit, the village elders came to the outskirts and received me. That was a reflection of the confidence I had created a mong the public about my impartiality and neutrality during my service as the Superintendent of Police in the composite Tirunelveli district (in the 1970s).

What I saw at Kodiyankulam that day was heart-rending. The police had gone berserk in the name of repulsing an imaginary attack on them by the villagers. The policemen had reportedly gone to the village to secure an accused involved in the murder of a pe rson belonging to a predominant caste in the region. They had indulged in mindless violence against hapless Dalits of the village - men, women and children. The police had ransacked their houses, damaged their television sets, ripped open the rice bags a nd thrown the rice on the streets. Worse and still more inhuman was their act of pouring diesel in the drinking water well. The police had also torn to pieces the university degree certificates of the boys and girls of the village. The villagers started wailing and weeping and what I witnessed shook me to the bones. Never in my career spanning over 30 years have I witnessed such a totally inhuman act on the part of my own police. I believed every one of the villagers when they explained what happened, because I saw for myself the bitter trail of police violence. But then I wanted to convince myself about the truth. So I called the S.P. who accompanied me, took him aside and asked him under the shade of a tree in the village to come out with the truth. In the presence of the Deputy Inspector-General of Police of the range, the S.P. admitted to all that had happened.

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I returned to Chennai and made arrangements to send relief at my level to the victims of the village. Later, after getting the details of the pending criminal cases connected with the various caste clashes, I sent a note to Chief Minister Jayalalitha on September 15 suggesting certain immediate steps to be initiated to restore the confidence of the victims of violence: (1) To sanction adequate compensation to the villagers for the suffering they had undergone; (2) To send a team of Ministers who did not belong to any of the predominant castes of the district, with a view to assuaging the feelings of the villagers; (3) To constitute a commission of inquiry, and (4) To order dropping of action in all the criminal cases relating to the caste clashes (exce pt cases involving violence and murder) in which I had found after my assessment that people belonging to either community had been implicated without basis.

Jayalalitha was so moved by my report that she sent for me on September 16 and told me that she had conceded all my suggestions. On September 17, the birth anniversary of Periyar (E.V. Ramasamy), Jayalalitha was to garland the Periyar statue at the Anna flyover in Chennai. At that function, the three Ministers who had been deputed by Chief Minister Jayalalitha to tour the affected areas showed me copies of my note to Jayalalitha and requested me to suggest the steps they should take. On the basis of the findings of the ministerial committee, Jayalalitha announced a relief assistance of Rs.17 lakhs, the constitution of a committee of inquiry and the withdrawal of the cases. To be fair to Jayalalitha, this is one instance where she got a bad name for no fault of hers, because of the police violence (at Kodiyankulam) which, in fact, cost her heavily in the 1996 elections in the area.

But the Gomathinayagam Commission has totally ruled out any police excess.

I have no comments to make because I do not know on what basis the Commission has come to that finding. But I can only say that what I found, which I have narrated now, is true, and what I wrote in my note to Chief Minister Jayalalitha based on what I sa w was again true.

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