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Veerappan's widow fights it out

Eighteen months after he was gunned down, the late forest brigand's wife is demanding justice - through ballot box.
By Papri Sri Raman (IANS) | None, Pennagaram (tamil Nadu)
PUBLISHED ON APR 30, 2006 12:04 PM IST

For decades her husband's name was synonymous with crime and terror. Today, 18 months after the police gunned him down, Veerappan's widow is demanding justice — through the ballot box.

Muthulakshmi is contesting the Tamil Nadu assembly elections as an independent candidate from Pennagaram constituency, 600 km southwest of Chennai.

She calls herself a "people's candidate" and says the money she deposited with the Election Commission while filing her papers was collected by the locals. Her two bright teenaged daughters, Vidhyavani (16) and Prabha (14), are campaigning for the mother.

Veerappan, an elusive brigand who poached ivory and sandalwood, plagued the forests of western Tamil Nadu for more than 25 years. He is said to have killed 200 elephants and 134 people, including policemen.

Veerappan and three of his gang members were shot down by the Tamil Nadu Police in Papparapatti village in the forests of Dharmapuri district in October 2004.

Ever since his death, Muthulakshmi has involved herself with an NGO -- Movement for the Protection of Rights of Forest Dwellers -- and a group of victims of the Special Task Force set up by the government jointly with Karnataka, in the early 90s, to ferret out Veerappan.

In a petition in the Madras High Court, Muthulakshmi sought directions to Tamil Nadu and Karnataka to pay Rs 1 million each as compensation to victims of the task force. Reportedly, 66 people died in STF custody between 1990 and 1998.

Pennagaram constituency has nearly 2,00,000 voters, and normally records a high 70 per cent voting.

In the last two elections, the PMK, which advocates the cause of the local Vanniyar community, emerged the winner. Although Muthulakshmi and her daughters enjoy PMK's protection, the party declined to field her.

However, judiciously, PMK leader S Ramadoss' son GK Mani has moved from Pennagaram to nearby Mettur for this election and allowed the DMK field a first timer against an AIADMK rival.

"People will see to it that I win," Muthulakshmi asserted.

She is banking on sentiments against Chief Minister Jayalalithaa here and a soft corner Tamil nationalist groups had for Veerappan.

She has promised to bring drinking water and other forms of development to the village that is yet to see good roads, a hospital and electricity.

"Someone has finally promised something for us," says Chudamani, a tribal woman who lives by grazing goats in Muthulakshmi's vilage Nerppur.

Often there are fresh flowers on Veerappan's grave at Moolakkadu, 15 km from the picturesque Mettur dam, where the mighty Cauvery swerves downhill from the Western Ghats.

Occasionally, a flag is surreptitiously planted at the site, until the plainclothes police that keep a sharp eye out here for any kind of deification of the notorious brigand take it away.

The flags come back again, when no one is looking.

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