TNM spoke to eyewitnesses and the family of Govindarasu, the 55-year-old factory worker who was found murdered last month at DMK MP TRVS Ramesh’s cashew unit in Cuddalore.

DMK MP TRVS Ramesh, and his alleged victim Govindarasu. In the background is Ramesh’s cashew unit where Govindarasu was allegedly murdered.Victim Govindarasu and DMK MP TRVS Ramesh
news Crime Tuesday, October 19, 2021 - 12:45

On September 20, Monday, Senthil Vel had just returned home from work in Chennai. He got a call from his father’s phone but it was not his father on the line. The person introduced himself as Natraj, the personal assistant of Cuddalore DMK MP TRVS Ramesh. He told Senthil that his father, Govindarasu, had died by suicide. Senthil, who had last spoken to his father on Saturday night, found it difficult to believe. He told Natraj that there was no reason for his father to kill himself but he was bluntly cut off, and told to get more details once he goes to Panruti, his hometown.

When Senthil reached Panruti, he saw his father’s lifeless body for the first time. Something did not add up, he tells TNM. Senthil saw that Govindarasu's body was blue, "like he had consumed poison," which is what the DMK MP's men claimed had happened. “But there were marks of a physical attack clearly visible all over his body. There were blood stains too,” Senthil tells TNM.

Govindarasu worked at the Cuddalore MP’s cashew unit in Melmampattu, Panruti, for seven years. He made Rs 300 per day, and for the last six to seven months, had been demanding a raise in pay to Rs 350 per day. There are over 2,000 employees working in about eight cashew processing units run by Ramesh, but there are no official employee unions. Govindarasu’s months-long demand for a nominal pay raise, made on behalf of fellow employees, had earned Ramesh’s ire. On Sunday, even though 55-year-old Govindarasu was on leave, he was called to come to the factory. And he went.

Family’s version of the events

Senthil says that his father had been warned several times to not make too much noise over the pay hike. But he had not taken the threats seriously. Little did they know that it would cost him his life, Senthil says.

When he went to the police station to file a complaint, he was made to wait several hours before an FIR was registered, he alleges. Though he had filed a complaint and specifically named the DMK MP as well as five others, the police refused to name any of them and registered an FIR stating that Govindarasu had died under suspicious circumstances.

Ramesh’s men allegedly told the police that Govindarasu had stolen around 9 kg of cashew nuts on Sunday and was caught when he was returning home. They had reportedly told the police the same thing when they brought Govindarasu to the police station, visibly battered but still alive, according to eyewitnesses. Two men, Shanmugam and another employee, had brought Govindarasu to the station, reportedly to have him booked for theft. When the police saw him bruised and bloodied, they reportedly asked the men to take him to a hospital first. 

Here, instead of questioning why a man had been assaulted, the police asked the men who brought him to take him to a hospital. But they took him back to the factory where he was beaten up further, Govindarasu’s family say. Senthil says that eyewitnesses told the police that when his father was nearly dead and in an unconscious state, Ramesh’s men forced him to swallow poison to make it look like a suicide.

Govindarasu’s family vehemently contests Ramesh and his team’s version of events, that Govindarasu was caught stealing. Senthil says that his father did not work on Sundays at all and was summoned to the factory at the MP’s behest. He alleges that infuriated by his father’s repeated demands for a salary hike, Ramesh called him to the factory where he and his men were reportedly in an inebriated state. Senthil says one of the watchmen, Shanmugam, told the police in front of Govindarasu’s family that the argument turned more acrimonious after Govindarasu threatened to go to labour court. Ramesh was the first to slap Govindarasu, an eyewitness reportedly told Senthil as well as the police. Taking their cue from the MP, Ramesh’s men allegedly started assaulting him. A while later, even as Govindarasu was severely injured, he was taken to the police station to have a case foisted on him, Senthil alleges.

Threats to family

When Senthil reached Panruti from Chennai, he made it abundantly clear that he intended to pursue the case of his father’s murder. Following this, the family says that they had been approached by several people at the behest of the DMK MP to drop the case. Initially, it came in the form of unsolicited advice. Then, after a few days, it turned into offers of money. The family says that over Rs 20 lakh were offered by people close to Ramesh, via intermediaries.

After Senthil and other members of his family showed no interest in the money, they started getting threats through fellow villagers. The family tells TNM that close to a dozen people “warned” them of dire consequences if they took on a powerful politician in a region where DMK, the ruling party, was in complete control. The family alleges that they were cautioned that wherever they went in Tamil Nadu, it would be difficult to “escape the wrath of the MP.”

Village still in shock and fear

Shortly after the case made headlines, Cuddalore MP Ramesh went on the run, before he surrendered himself to the police on October 11. He has been charged with the murder of Govindarasu. A sense of shock and fear pervades the community in Panruti.

People around Ramesh’s cashew processing units refuse to speak about the case to anyone they don’t know. “Whose side are you from?” is the first question many ask. Dozens of employees that TNM spoke to, while admitting to having known Govindarasu, drew into a shell when asked about the case. Eventually, a few employees at the factory spoke to TNM over the weekend after taking precautions not to be spotted by anyone else. They refused to be photographed or videographed.

“He might have been arrested for now, but he is still very powerful so we cannot imagine what will happen to anybody who speaks against him,” one person said.

Eyewitness accounts

An eyewitness who saw Govindarasu being taken inside the police station around 10.15 pm on September 20 tells TNM that he was visibly injured, his clothes torn in several places and he bleeding from his face and hands. Govindarasu was brought in a car by two men and there was another car that accompanied the first, says the eyewitness. The eyewitness added that Govindarasu could barely walk the last few metres from the car to the police station, but within a few minutes, he was brought out.

Another eyewitness who saw Govindarasu’s body said that there were bruises around his throat, “like someone had tried to force his mouth open.”

Several others who were present inside the factory compound on September 20 have gone missing over the last few days, the residents tell TNM.

Family alleges cover up

Govindarasu’s family alleges that from the time they filed the complaint, the police have been siding with the DMK MP. They first delayed filing the FIR and then refused to name him, apart from diluting the charges, Senthil says.

With DMK in power in Tamil Nadu, the family has doubts about a fair inquiry being conducted in the state. After a petition on behalf of Senthil, the Madras High Court allowed a team of doctors from the Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research (JIPMER) in Puducherry to conduct the post mortem on September 22. A representative from the petitioner’s side was allowed to be present.

Govindarasu’s family says that Shanmugam told the police, in their presence, that before taking the 55-year-old to the hospital, they cleaned up his injury marks as well as the blood on him. While the eyewitnesses as well as the other accused categorically named TRVS Ramesh as leading the assault against Govindarasu, the police refused to name the MP in the initial FIR, allowing him time to go absconding. Before his arrest, he was allegedly on the run for over six days during which time, the family feared that he threatened the witnesses and could have destroyed evidence.

The Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) is supporting the family financially and legally, and says that the police have not recorded the statements of eyewitnesses in writing. “Initially our party cadres went to the police station and protested, demanding that the police should register a case of murder. We then moved a writ petition in Senthil’s name in the Madras High Court. We had contended that the post mortem should not be conducted in Tamil Nadu, the court agreed and asked JIPMER hospital in Puducherry to do the postmortem. We have put continuous pressure, and are now demanding a CBI probe, that petition is still pending with the Madras High Court,” says Balu Kaliyaperumal, PMK spokesperson and co-chairman, Bar Council of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry.

Senthil, who is the complainant, has not been given a copy of the FIR with Ramesh’s name mentioned nor has he been given the post mortem report yet.

CCTV cameras were reportedly present at the cashew factory as well as at the police station. The eyewitnesses reportedly told the police that the footage will reveal the MP’s key role in the murder. The CB-CID has reportedly secured the footage.

Working conditions of the workers in the factory

The disagreement between Ramesh and Govindarasu allegedly began over months ago with a demand for a hike in wages at the factory. While some, like Govindrasu are labourers who load and unload sacks of cashews, others are involved in cleaning and sorting cashews by size. Others are responsible for packing.

Speaking to TNM, the employees say that most of them are made to work for a minimum of 12 hours a day and that there is no overtime pay. They also say that for many years, they have not been given a pay hike despite competing units in the neighbourhood paying their employees more. They complain that given the MP’s influence, they cannot raise their voice against their terrible working conditions.

“The surrender of the MP came just after we threatened a protest if he is not arrested. While so far the CB-CID probing the case seems to be holding an impartial inquiry, we are not sure how they will behave in the future as they too report to the DMK-led government. We want a CBI inquiry to ensure we get justice,” Senthil Vel tells TNM.