The Supreme Court's order comes 18 years after P Rajagopal plotted the murder of Santhakumar.

Saravana Bhavan founder P Rajagopal sentenced to life for murder SC upholds conviction Wikimedia Commons/ Kamalakannan/ CCBYSA3.0
news Court Friday, March 29, 2019 - 11:10

Eighteen years after the abduction and murder of a man in Tamil Nadu, the Supreme Court on Friday upheld the conviction and life imprisonment of P Rajagopal, the founder of the Saravana Bhavan chain of hotels.  The apex court’s order comes 10 years after the Madras High Court’s sentence. Owing to medical grounds, the SC bench has given Rajagopal time until July 7 to surrender. 

The case dates back to 2001 when P Rajagopal, also known as Annachi, hired eight henchmen to abduct and murder Prince Santhakumar. This as Santhakumar, a math teacher had married a woman named Jeevajyothi, who was the daughter of Rajagopal’s employee Ramaswamy. Jeevajyothi was a woman Rajagopal wanted to marry and make her his third wife.

Ramasamy and his family shifted to Chennai sometime before 1999 and he started working in Saravana Bhavan as an Assistant Manager. Meanwhile, he engaged Santhakumar to take math tuition for his son. Later, Ramasamy left for Malaysia and his daughter Jeevajyothi, fell in love with Santhakumar. Ramasamy did not agree to the marriage as Santhakumar was a Christian, but the couple registered their marriage in April 1999.

A few months later, the newly married couple approached Jeevajyothi's uncle and Rajagopal for a loan to start a travel agency. Rajagopal, who then became obsessed with her, started calling her on a daily basis and gifting her expensive things like jewellery.

According to reports, Rajagopal had pursued Jeevajyothi, who was then 20, to become his third wife. This was reportedly based on an astrologer’s advice. The man then tried to drive a wedge between the couple, first by making a doctor tell Jeevajyothi that her husband needed to undergo an HIV test. At one point, he gifted her a phone. In 2001, Jeevajyothi threatened to go to the police as Rajagopal started interfering in her life more. He then told her that he would 'manage police with money' and boasted that his second wife too had married him under duress, but she was living a 'queen's life after'.

Rajagopal also announced to Santhakumar that he intended to marry his wife. When the couple tried to move out of Chennai to an unknown location, Santhakumar was assaulted by Rajagopal and his henchmen. Though the couple went and lodged a police complaint, they were continuously harassed.

In October 2001, Santhakumar was abducted and his wife taken to a village in TN to remove 'witch craft' effects on her. Though Rajagopal's henchman and second accused Daniel claimed that he had killed Santhakumar by leaving him tied to a railway track, Santhakumar was spared. He contacted his wife and the couple confronted Rajagopal. On 26 October 2001, Jeevajyothi, Santhakumar and her family were taken to Tiruchendur. Somewhere along the way Santhakumar was separated from the rest of the family and murdered. His body was found in the hill station of Kodaikanal.

Three years later, in 2004, the hotelier was found guilty by a sessions court and sentenced to 10 years rigorous imprisonment.

While the Saravana Bhavan founder went on to challenge his conviction, the prosecution sought an enhancement of his punishment. The Madras High Court, in 2009, set aside the sessions court’s punishment, pointing out that a conviction under Section 302 (murder) of the IPC justified life imprisonment. The judgment by Justice Banumathi and Justice PK Misra on 19 March, 2009 had noted that the prosecution had proved that 'Rajagopal either because he was advised by an astrologer that his business and prosperity would increase if he takes Jeevajyothi as his third wife or maybe he was besotted with Jeevajyothi, notwithstanding that she had already married Santhakumar'.

For Jeevajyothi, it had been a huge battle to bring Rajagopal to justice. Santhakumar's own brother had turned hostile and refused to identify his dead body that had been recovered from a jungle. The Madras HC in its judgment had noted that the couple's final effort to convince Rajagopal to leave them alone made it 'obvious that the overwhelming love for each other persuaded them to take the risk'.

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