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Sunday, September 23, 2007

Veerappan (The Sandal Wood Bandit)- Episode 2

Episode 2:
VEERAPPAN : ( The Tamil 'Sandal Wood' Bandit )

Hi guys and gals,

hope the two-part episode on the life and times of Al Capone had you engrossed in it, full time. I also hope it had you thinking about good and evil, and the narrow line that divides them. Al Capone and the scenario and the culture he thrived in is not something that is very familiar to us. But, the reason I decided to have that as the first episode is because the notorious personalities we'll be discussing in this and the following chapters, their methods of crime, the way they built their organization and the reputation they had among the public, were more or less on the same lines as that of Al Capone. And, also that it will be easier to comprehend what their lives interpreted.

Today, we're talking about the tamil bandit, who terrorized three south-indian states of Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu with violence, convicted for murdering about 124 people that include senior police and forest officials, for poaching about 200 elephants, and smuggling ivory worth US$2,600,000 and sandalwood of about 10,000 tonnes worth US$22,000,000. He had a price of US$1.1 million( Around 5 Crore Rupees ) on his head, but evaded arrest for about 20 years until he was killed by the police in 2004 during Chief Minister Jayalalitha's reign. Yes, we're talking about our own Koose Muniswamy Veerappa Goundan, popularly known as Veerappan.

Childhood Days :

Veerappan was born on January 18, 1952 in Gopinatham village in Tamilnadu to a family of cattle-grazers. He was commonly known as "Molakai" in his childhood days by the locals. At age eighteen he joined a gang of poachers. Over the years he eliminated members of a rival gang and gained control of the entire forest belt. He made money smuggling sandalwood trees and killing tuskers for ivory.

His gang of forty members indulged in killing and kidnapping. Most of his victims were police and forest officials and informers. He felt the police were responsible for the suicides of his sister Mari and brother Arjunan. He was also known for his kidnapping of prominent people to make demands, starting with a forest official in 1987. He trapped and brutally killed a senior forest officer Mr. P. Srinivas IFS on November 10, 1991 in Namadalli forests of Kollegal taluk in Chamarajanagr district. He also killed Mr. Harikrishna IPS, senior Police officer,SI Mr. Shakeel Ahmed, along with others on August 14, 1992 near Meenyam of Kollegal taluk by ambushing the police party going for a raid.

He married Muthulakshmi, a shepherdess, in 1991. He had three daughters, Yuvarani, Prabha and another, whom he allegedly strangled to death. Veerappan also worked in Central Excise canteen.


Veerappan had a Robin Hood like image among the villagers adjoining his native village Gopinatham. Veerapan was revered by many as a man who can avenge injustice, rape and cruelty to innocent people by police and corrupt authorities. Sympathetic villagers are said to have acted as cover to his activities and informed him of police activities. They also provided food and clothing to the gang. However, it has been suggested that the villagers helped him out of fear of reprisal, and that Veerappan helped the villagers with money only to protect himself from being captured. He was very ruthless to villagers who provided the police with information.

He was arrested in 1986, but escaped. According to wildlife photographer Krupakar, who was once kidnapped by the bandit, he paid a bribe of US$2000 ( About Rs. 1 Lakh ) to a policeman to help him escape. Many have said that Veerappan's mimicry of birds and deers helped him evade capture. He was a surprisingly refined man, with a strong penchant for Carnatic music. He was said to be religious and prayed every day. He visited Bannari Amman temple regularly. He was fond of his handlebar moustache and tended to it as a daily routine. He regularly made his communications to the government through emissary R.R. Gopal, requesting amnesty. He desired to start an orphanage and to join politics, inspired by bandit-turned-Member of Parliament Phoolan Devi. He is quoted as having watched The Godfather over one hundred times and was an ardent listener of the BBC.

Veerappan on the Run :

In 1990, the Karnataka Government formeed a Special Task Force to capture him and put an end to the menace. Soon after, the task force managed to kidnap several of Veerppan's men.

the special task force killed his lieutenant Gurunathan. SI Shakeel Ahmed, a dynamic police officer, was single-handedly responsible for Gurunathan's capture. Veerappan retaliated by attacking Ramapura police station of Kollegal Taluk, killing several policemen and capturing arms and ammunition. In July 1997, he kidnapped nine forest officials at a place called Marapala, he made demands for releasing them including amnesty, but none were granted. The hostages were released without being harmed, which showed his resolve to not negotiate with the government.

Kidnapping of Raj Kumar :

On July 30, 2000 Veerappan abducted popular Kannada film actor Dr. Rajkumar from his ancestral home. This event put the Karnataka government in a political dilemma of whether or not to call in the army. The decision was reached that to do so would set a poor precedent. Rajkumar was released without harm on November 15, 2000, after 109 days in captivity. There are allegations by several people including Jayalalithaa that about US$10 million ( About 50 Crore Rupees ) were paid to Veerappan for releasing Rajkumar.

On August 25, 2002 Veerappan kidnapped H. Nagappa, a former state minister. Nagappa was found dead in the forest three months later. The reward offered by the Karnataka state government was increased to US $1.1 million ( About 5 Crore Rupees ).

The only person who could pull his strings of courage so strongly and unflinchingly together ( in other words, the only person 'who had the balls to' !!) to embark into the Veerappan-infested forests to interview him face-to-face was magazine reporter R. Gopal of Nakkeeran Magazine. It gained him near celebrity status and the video tape became very popular. News and articles about Veerappan were very much publicized then on, and his name became very common so much that several movies used his name and also his queer countenance, especially his whiskers. There were also allegations and rumours that the Governments could have caught him and brought him down to justice easily, but did not venture to do that because it was believed that they ensconced themselves with the influence he had on running politics and that the benefits were mutual.

His Death :

On October 18, 2004, following a tip-off, Veerappan and two associates were allegedly murdered in cold blood after being arrested by Tamil Nadu State Special Task Force headed by the Additional Director-General of Police, K. Vijay Kumar,Suprintendent of Police Sentamarai Kannan and Additional Suprintendent of Police F.M.Hussain, near the village of Paparapatti in Dharmapuri district, Tamil Nadu. His third associate managed to escape. However, the next day his widow claimed that he had been arrested a few days earlier, interrogated and killed by the police.

**It is worth noting that Veerappan had repeatedly threatened, if ever brought to trial, to point a finger at every policemen and politician he had bribed to ensure his three-decade long run from justice.**

According to media reports, post-mortem photos of Veerappan with a bullet hole above his left eye seemed to contradict with the official story that the STF, lying in ambush, stopped the ambulance Veerappan and his gang was traveling in, offered them to surrender and gunned them down when someone from inside the van opened fire. Another possibility, is that Veerappan and his associates may have committed collective suicide inside the van when faced with capture.

Veerappan was buried in the village of Moolakadu, Tamil Nadu. The police said they did not let the burial take place in his home village in Karnataka, fearing the large crowds that had gathered there. Although the police had planned for a cremation, this was objected to by the relatives of Veerappan suggesting that exhumation would be required if there was investigation into his death. Thousands of people turned out for the funeral while others were kept away from the burial ground by heavy security.

Veerappan was a sincere devotee of Kali. It is also said that he built a Kali temple. Veerappan belonged to the Vanniar caste. Some people of Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), or Working People's Party, which is based on that Vanniar caste, hoisted half-mast flag of their party on the death of Veerappan. 'Veerappan: India's Most Wanted Man ' is a book by Sunaad Raghuram. It elaborately dilineates the life and times of Veerappan. Try getting that book if you are very much interested in getting to know more about this 'Robin Hood' forest brigand.