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A case of misplaced mercy: Dharmapuri student killers go free
On February 2, 2000, a most horrendous crime took place in Ilakiyampatti, on the outskirts of Dharmapuri district, Tamil Nadu.

Following former CM Jayalalitha's conviction by a Special Court in the Pleasant Stay hotel case, AIADMK men went on the rampage. Petrol bombs were thrown into a bus carrying students and teachers from the TN Agricultural University by some party men, and three girl students – Hemalatha, Gayathri and Kokilavani – were burned to death.  Justice finally prevailed seven years later, when the Salem court sentenced three men to death and several others to seven years' imprisonment. However, the death sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment by the Supreme Court on the grounds of 'diminished responsibility'. This itself was a travesty of justice as three young and innocent women were ruthlessly cut down in the prime of their lives.

The men who were given the death penalty originally - Muniappan, Nedunchezhiyan and Ravindran – all members of the ruling AIADMK, walked free on November 19, 2018, under a general amnesty programme of the TN government. They had spent a mere ten years in prison for one of the most gruesome crimes in the history of the state. 

Suchitra Vijayan, a lawyer, theorist and political analyst, in an illuminating article (co-authored by Senior Advocate, K. M. Vijayan), in HuffPost, writes that the Supreme Court did not have the legal jurisdiction to review the judgment in the Dharmapuri case. She cites Section 362 of the Code of Criminal Procedure to assert that "no court, when it has signed its judgment or final order shall alter or review the same except to correct a clerical or arithmetical error. The court's mandate expires the moment the official order disposing the case is signed. Therefore, in this case, the Supreme Court lacked the authority and the jurisdiction to legally rehear the criminal case for review after the judgment was rendered, since there was no clerical or arithmetical error."   She also feels that the original judgment 'sent a strong message against political thuggery and signalled zero tolerance for such acts of organized violence' which was subverted by the later sentence of life imprisonment.

Vijayan refers to eminent political scientist Paul Brass who has studied riot production and mob violence in India. She says that Brass found that riots are premeditated, and designed to achieve particular ends. This applies to the riots that erupted after Indira Gandhi's death and the communal riots in Gujarat as well as the Dharmapuri incident. However, in Afzal Guru's case, she points out, he was hanged before a similar petition could be reviewed. This, according to her, is evidence that the country's highest court treats different cases differently.   

Certainly there seems to be some bias at work for it is surprising that the TN governor thought it fit to give his consent to let the Dharmapuri accused go free even as those accused in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case still languish in jail.  One has to wonder if it is a case of quid pro quo, for the governor himself was under scrutiny in the MKU sex scandal case. Whatever the reason, there is no doubt that justice has not been served in the Dharmapuri case.  The innocent have been punished for no fault of theirs and the guilty have escaped the punishment they fully deserved.

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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