Print edition : November 20, 2009

ON October 22, the Supreme Court hit the nail on the head by upholding the life sentence awarded to 17 persons in the Melavalavu massacre case of 1997. Six Dalits, including the president of the local panchayat, K. Murugesan, were murdered by a mob of caste Hindus in an act of intolerance to empowerment of the oppressed. The Melavalavu case had sent shock waves across the country, much like the Keezhavenmani carnage of 1968 in which 44 Dalits were charred to death.

In 1996, the hostility of caste Hindus of Melavalavu village in Madurai district towards Dalits intensified after the local panchayat was designated as a reserved local body. The caste Hindus, mainly those belonging to the Ambalakarar community, adopted devious methods to disrupt the elections as they were not prepared to put up with a panchayat headed by a Dalit. They let loose terror, forcing the Dalit nominees to withdraw from the contest. When fresh elections were held, they resorted to booth-capturing, which warranted a re-poll. Although Murugesan was elected, he was not allowed to function freely. He faced constant threats from his detractors.

Finally, on June 30, 1997, when Murugesan, along with a few other functionaries of the panchayat, was returning to his village from Madurai after a meeting with government officials in pursuance of their demands, the caste Hindus attacked the bus in which they were travelling. The victims, who tried to flee, were hacked to death. Murugesan was beheaded.

Although 40 persons were cited as accused, the trial court on July 26, 2001, convicted 17 of them, including accused No.1 Alagarsamy for offences under Section 302 (punishment for murder) read with Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) and/or Section 149 IPC (unlawful assembly). The judgment was confirmed by the High Court through its verdict on April 19, 2006.

Filing appeals before the Supreme Court, Alagarsamy and others contended that the whole prosecution case was liable to be discarded on the basis of irregularities pertaining to the first information report (FIR). They also contended that the trial court had convicted them on the interested and discrepant testimony of the prosecution witnesses even as the FIR book itself could not be traced and the names of many persons in the case did not figure in the FIR. The appellants also argued that the first report sent by the Tahsildar of Melur to the District Collector and the Collectors report to the Secretary, Public (Law and Order), did not mention the names of the accused.

However, a Supreme Court Bench comprising Justices V.S. Sirpurkar and Deepak Verma dismissed the appeals. The court also pointed out that the non-mention of names in these reports would be of no consequence as the officers were only informing the higher-ups.

Considering the unprecedented nature of this prosecution, the chaos that it caused in the otherwise peaceful life of the village and the enormousness of the whole affair, the number of persons murdered, the number of witnesses collected and the enormousness of the investigation, we cannot blame the investigating agency and the prosecution for not being able to trace out the FIR book. In our opinion, that circumstance, by itself, will not persuade us to throw the whole prosecution case, the apex court observed.

In fact, barring the aforementioned argument regarding the FIR, no arguments were led before us, assailing the evidence of the eyewitnesses, as also the injured witnesses and the other corroborating circumstances relied on by the courts below, it pointed out.

The court also agreed with the comment of the High Court that there had been an attempt to win over the prosecution witness-1, Krishnan, after the cross-examination. Krishnan was declared hostile at the fag end of his cross-examination, it noted.

We are convinced that the findings of the trial court and the appellate court are correct in law. We find that there is no merit in the appeal and it deserves to be dismissed. It is accordingly dismissed, the apex court said in its order.

The court order is a shot in the arm for those fighting for the empowerment of the oppressed.

S. Dorairaj
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor