Thirteen men who were convicted in the sensational Melavalavu massacre in which six persons belonging to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST) were hacked to death in 1996, were released from Madurai Central Prison on Saturday (November 9).
Ten years after the accused were jailed, 13 of the convicts were released by the state on the grounds of good-conduct as prisoners, with the governor signing the order of their release. Three others were released earlier and one of them died in prison in 2010.
What happened in 1996?
When Melavalavu, a village in Madurai was declared a panchayat reserved for Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (SC/ST) members in the October 1996 local body elections, caste Hindus who dominated the village, triggered agitation and violence, following which the polls were called off.
A second attempt to conduct elections was also obstructed by violence and booth capturing. Finally, when the elections were held in December 1996, the caste Hindus boycotted the elections.
SC/ST members were elected as Melavalavu panchayat president and vice-president amid stiff resistance from Amblakars (Thevars) who did not let the elected members enter the panchayat office.
K.Murugesan was elected as the village panchayat president. In June 1997, when Murugesan along with five panchayat functionaries were returning to their village from Madurai, caste Hindus dragged them out of the bus they were travelling in and brutally hacked them to death in broad daylight. Murugesan was beheaded.
Although 44 people were accused in the case initially, 17 of them including the ringleader Alagarsamy were sentenced to undergo lifetime imprisonment by the Supreme Court in 2009.
Despite the apex court dismissing the convicts’ appeals thrice, Melur district MLA Periyapullan sought the release of these convicts ahead of MGR’s centenary birth anniversary celebrations in the Assembly. There was heavy backlash from opposition, activists and family members of the victims who met Chief Minister Edappadi Palanisamy and filed petitions protesting against the release of the convicts.
‘Anti-Dalit’ move, say politicians
Talking to the Federal, Director of Social justice organisation, Arumugam said that the release of the convicts was unconstitutional. “How is it possible that all 13 convicts were so uniformly on good conduct in jail that they had to release them all? Moreover MLA Periyapullan proposed for their release in the Assembly in 2018 itself and cited a different reason. Now they have released all of them for a different reason. This is clearly caste driven move, which needs to be questioned,” he said.
He further said that the release of these convicts is preposterous as their life terms cannot be repealed as per the offences they are charged with. “Section 19 and Section 20 of the Prevention of Atrocities act clearly says that punishment given in this act is supreme and can override any other law. It also overrides section 360 or provisions of the Probation of Offenders Act above 18 years of age. The state has violated and disrespected the law with this move,” said Arumugam.
As part of MGR’s centenary birth anniversary celebrations, the state had proposed to release 1500 prisoners including life convicts by granting general amnesty. The list of prisoners to be pardoned who had completed 10 years of imprisonment as of February 25 was sent to Governor Banwarilal Purohit for approval.
Accordingly, Article 161 of the Constitution of India provides that the Governor of a state shall have the power to grant pardons, reprieves, respites, or remissions of punishment or to suspend, remit or commute the sentence of any person convicted of any offence against any law relating to a matter to which the executive power of the state extends.
The release of these convicts has elicited strong and adverse reactions from across political forum.
While Thirumavalavan, party leader of Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Party called it an ‘anti-dalit’ move, the party’s MP D Ravikumar said that the decision to release the accused is unconstitutional. “I don’t know on what basis they released the accused. It is clear that they were arrested under the Prevention of Atrocities act (SC/ST) but the government has to explain themselves on what basis they signed the government order and released them.”
DMK spokesperson Tamilan Prasanna said that it was a fraudulent move on behalf of the state government. “Everyone knows who committed the crime and which party and criminals were associated with. For the sake of appeasing that particular community and caste and gaining their votes, the state has foiled this insensitive plan. What happens to the family of those who lost their lives? How will they get justice?” Prasanna questions.