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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 October 2005, 09:52 GMT 10:52 UK
Scars remain after bandit's demise

By Sunil Raman
BBC News, Bangalore

Offerings at Veerappan's grave
Veerappan's unmarked grave still draws the curious

A year after police killed the notorious bandit Veerappan, the forests of southern India that were once his domain are quiet.

The police pickets have gone and security check posts have been removed.

In some places villagers have been allowed to graze their cattle in the forest.

Veerappan's unmarked grave on the banks of the Periyar River continues to get curious visitors.

The bandit was shot dead by police last October after a 15-year manhunt costing millions of rupees and involving hundreds of policemen.

But a year after his death, many villagers living in the area are seeking justice for what they allege are years of abuse at the hands of the security forces.

We exercised caution and circumspection when dealing with people in that area
Shankar Bidri,
former special force head

Many villagers allege they were tortured and kept in illegal detention for days and months under a special anti-terrorist law by policemen desperately seeking Veerappan.

A former head of Karnataka state's special taskforce that was on Veerappan's trail, Shankar Bidri, has described the allegations of police atrocities as "false".

He told the BBC that no innocent person was harassed by the special forces.

"We exercised caution and circumspection when dealing with people in that area. All those arrested were either members of the Veerappan gang or his supporters," he said.

'Electric shocks'

Between 1992 and 1995, the villagers allege that policemen would routinely cordon off villages, pack off families into waiting vans and drive them to interrogation centres where they were allegedly tortured.

Veerappan
Followers say Veerappan only fought the police and government

Palayee, 40, works as a porter in Metapalaiyur and says police took away her son and husband one night.

"My son was given electric shocks for three months. He died later. My husband was shot dead by them. I am all alone now," she says.

Palayee is one of about 300 people in this area who allege human rights violations by the police forces of Karnataka and neighbouring Tamil Nadu.

They have now been brought together by a local charity that runs a rehabilitation centre, a short distance from where Veerappan lies buried.

The Rehabilitation Centre for Torture Victims provides legal assistance and psychological counselling to the alleged victims, many of whom are labourers.

It plans to start self-help groups to assist them in income generation programmes.

Valiamma finds it difficult to control her emotions recalling the days she spent in custody. She says her husband was shot in front of her.

"I spent over eight years in various jails on trumped up charges of supporting Veerappan. Today, my daughter has disowned me. The guilty must be punished. I want justice," she says.

The villagers want the guilty policemen punished.

Women complain of torture and rape at detention centres set up in the hills. Some, who were later released without being charged, are angry at the government's indifference.

Cash rewards

Following the killing of Veerappan policemen were honoured by the Tamil Nadu government.

I spent over eight years in various jails on trumped up charges of supporting Veerappan
Valiamma

Millions of rupees in cash and land were gifted to 700 members of the special police force.

In contrast, the villagers say, they did not get any compensation for the many disappearances and alleged killings.

A few months before Veerappan was killed, human rights organisations from the two states joined hands to fight for the villagers' cause.

They managed to get the National Human Rights Commission to set up a two-member investigation team. Around 150 people gave evidence before the commission.

Manohar works for the human rights organisation, SICHREM.

"The investigation team submitted its report even while Veerappan was alive. But, there has been no action.

"The Human Rights Commission has sent copies of this report to Tamil Nadu and Karnataka for their response. Nothing has happened," he says.

Scarred

Perithanda, 47, was among many who were detained under the special anti-terrorist law, which has since been withdrawn.

Chinnanan
Falsely accused, Chinnanan says he has lost his social standing

She was arrested on allegations of having links to Veerappan.

"I pleaded with them. I told them I did not know where he had taken shelter. No one listened to me," says Perithanda.

She was finally freed but continues to visit local courts for hearings.

Increased media attention led to a change in police tactics and illegal detention cases came down.

But the alleged victims want the governments to admit their mistakes.

Chinnanan, 56, says: "I was declared innocent in 2001.

"Along with the little piece of land I owned I have also lost my self-respect. Today, no-one is willing to loan me even 10 rupees. They say they can't trust me when I had nine or 10 cases filed by the police."


SEE ALSO:

18 Oct 04 |  South Asia

01 Jul 03 |  South Asia

18 Feb 03 |  South Asia

09 Dec 02 |  South Asia

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22 Nov 02 |  South Asia


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