Fearless, tribals will fight for their rights


  Kerala

ATTAPPADY, May 7, 2013

 

Krishnadas Rajagopal

Suresh (centre) and Murugan along with their
grandmother at Edavani ooru in Attappady. Photo: Thulasi Kakkat
Suresh (centre) and Murugan along with their grandmother at Edavani ooru in Attappady. Photo: Thulasi Kakkat

“Endengilum kittiyo, saare? (did you get anything, sir?)” 18-year-old Suresh K. asked section forest officer Lavakumar E.R.

The teenager’s grandmother, Nenji, stifles a laugh, proud at Suresh’s open challenge to the Forest Department team whicht had just come out of a clearing in the forest at Thazhe Budhiyoor, a Kurumba hamlet nestled in the Nilgiris range.

Mr. Lavakumar’s team of three is heading back after a routine patrol.

The Forest official takes this correspondent aside and says: “Do you know there are fewer men than women in these hamlets… Why? The men die young of drinking. In every house, there is illicit hooch buried under the ground, but how can we go inside with all the laws protecting them. Of course, there is no ganja cultivation now,” Mr. Lavakumar said.

Suresh overhears him and throws a second challenge at the officer: “Sir, earlier our fathers were scared of you people. They would run inside when they see men in khaki. Today, that’s not case… we know that we have done no wrong; we don’t have to be afraid.”

Mr. Lavakumar, whose face crinkles into a smile, walks away.

Suresh is the new face of the Kurumbas… the next generation. Like his elder brother, Murugan P., he talks repeatedly about the confidence education has given him; the right to question authority. He is doing his first year of travel and tourism course at the KPSMM Vocational Higher Secondary School at Varode in Ottapalam. “I am the only tribal youth from Attappady in my school. There is no hostel facility there. So I went to the Palakkad District Collector’s office and asked him to help me. Now I get monthly stipend of Rs. 1,500 towards room rent. The going is tough, but I have to finish the course,” he said.

But, for Murugan, it has been tough from the very beginning.

“I was seven years old. I wanted to go to school. My ooru people did not take me seriously. I would rebel when they made fun of my wish to go to school. One day, my cousin Manickyan decided to take me to the Kookampalayam LP School. I still remember it was the school assembly, and I didn’t know where to stand. The hostel for tribal boys was near Thavalam. It was like a cattle shed. Every week, one or two children would run away home to their ooru,” the 23-year-old said.

Today, he is a daily-wage teacher at the Government Tribal Welfare LP School. He earns Rs.8,000. He is doing a distance course from the University of Calicut in M.A. Sociology and wants to appear for the University Grants Commission examination.

“I come home to Edavani ooru every weekend, not as a runaway from the Kookampalayam school hostel when I was a child, but as a teacher who wants to give something back to my ooru,” he said. The brothers have even been able to influence their mother, Mari, who enrolled as an anganwadi helper.

The ooru, one of the most remote hamlets in Attappady, has two of its children doing graduate courses in Physics and Economics.

There are 30 government educational institutions in Attappady, of which 18 are lower primary schools, 4 upper primary schools, 7 high schools, 4 Plus Two schools and 2 vocational higher secondary schools. There are 16 hostels for Scheduled Tribe children.

But Murugan’s cousin, Manickyan K, a Malayalam teacher at the Kottathara Government UP School, says tribal children study till class 10, after which they discontinue. “We call this phenomenonkozhinju pokku (withering away). Finance is a problem, hostel accommodation in Attappady is also an issue.

Panali M, who contested the Pudur panchayat elections last year and lost by 16 votes, says the Scheduled Tribes Promoters do not talk about the children’s problems at the ooru council. Most of them are “yes men”, he says. They are supposed to take care of the ooru’s children, visit them at the hospital or at the hostel. They don’t.

 

Constitutionally incorrect to hang the three, says judge who confirmed death for Rajiv killers #deathpenalty


By, TNN | Feb 24, 2013

Constitutionally incorrect to hang the three, says judge who confirmed death for Rajiv killers
Justice Thomas said the judgment itself had ‘errors’ as the death sentences had not considered the antecedents, nature and character of the accused.
CHENNAI: It would be ‘constitutionally incorrect’ now to hang the three people sentenced to death in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, said Justice K T Thomas, who headed the Supreme Court bench that confirmed the death sentences. “It was my misfortune to have presided over that bench,” he told TOI.

More than 13 years ago, it was a three-judge bench headed by Justice Thomas that confirmed death sentence for Nalini Sriharan, Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan. Nalini’s death penalty was commuted to imprisonment for life by Tamil Nadu governor in April 2000 on the basis of a recommendation of the state cabinet and a public appeal by Sonia Gandhi. The TADA had originally awarded death sentence to all the 26 accused persons. When the matter reached the Supreme Court, which was the only appellate forum under theRajiv Gan as a referred trial, capital punishment was confirmed only for four.

In an interview, Justice Thomas said the judgment itself had ‘errors’ as the death sentences had not considered the antecedents, nature and character of the accused. Hence any decision to hang the three could now be termed as ‘constitutionally incorrect’ and a violation of Article 21 of the Constitution, he told TOI. Going a step further, the judge said case deserved a review, considering the antecedents and character of Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan.

“At a time when the Supreme Court bench headed by me pronounced judgments in Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, apparently, we did not consider the nature and character of the accused who were sentenced to death penalty by us. It was only many years thereafter a bench headed by Justice S B Sinha pointed out that without considering the nature and character of accused, a death sentence should never be awarded. His judgments mentioned errors in previous SC judgments and that applies to Rajiv Gandhi assassination case,” he said.

Also, he pointed out the three have been in prison for 22 years. “For any life imprisonment, every prisoner is entitled to have a right to get his case reviewed by the jail authorities (to determine) whether remission can be announced or not. Since the accused in Rajiv Gandhi case were death convicts, they underwent a long period of imprisonment without even having the benefit of life imprisonment,” he said. “This appears to be a third type of sentence, something which is unheard and constitutionally incorrect. If they are hanged today or tomorrow, they will be subjected to two penalties for one offense.”

In 1999, Justice Thomas had agreed with two others on the bench in respect of death penalty for only Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan. As for Murugan’s wife Nalini, he gave a dissenting, but minority, verdict preferring imprisonment for life.

When TOI contacted Justice V R Krishna Iyer, former judge of the Supreme Court, he said death penalty could not be considered as a punishment. “It is just another act of murder, a judicial murder, by the state. It is high time for India to abolish death penalty and India has not gained anything from death penalties in the past,” he said.

The three death convicts have completed almost 22 years of imprisonment. Their execution, which was scheduled to be held on September 9, 2011, was stayed by the Madras high court for six weeks in August that year. The case has since been transferred to the Supreme Court, to be decided after the Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar case verdict is delivered.

 

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