Tribal women tortured during hunt for Veerappan pledge support for Annie Raja in Kerala

A group of women, tortured for allegedly protecting forest brigand Veerappan, a charge they were acquitted of, were in Kerala’s Wayanad to support Annie Raja, the candidate of the Left for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
Women from Sathyamangalam Forest with Annie Raja in Wayanad
Women from Sathyamangalam Forest with Annie Raja in Wayanad
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After a few minutes of talking about their lives, Chinnaponnu says she has a headache, and that it happens every time she thinks of the past. She has just spoken of the nearly nine years that she and other women with her had spent in a Mysore jail, while their husbands or other members of the family were killed in police torture. Chinnaponnu is one of the 89 victims identified by the National Human Rights Commission as tortured by the Joint Special Task Force of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, in their attempts to catch the late forest brigand Veerappan. They were imprisoned and tortured for allegedly protecting Veerappan upon charges which could not be proved and acquitted years later.

“I was taken in 1993 and released in 2001. I spent more than eight and a half years there, and so did these women. Several of our husbands were shot dead. We were tortured in different ways,” she says, pointing to a group of people with her. Bhanumathy, Ponnarassi, Nirmathi, Nallamma, and Sarassu stand next to her in a room they are lodging at in Kerala’s Wayanad where they came to support the candidate of the Left for the Lok Sabha election, Annie Raja.

Annie Amma, they say, has helped them a lot in their fight for justice. In 2007, six years after their release, the NHRC announced an interim relief of Rs 2.8 crore to the 89 victims, after a panel headed by Justice AJ Sadashiva conducted an inquiry and submitted their report. Seventeen years later, some of the women have still not received the amount. “With Amma’s intervention, we have been able to approach several offices, including that of the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Stalin, to get the money. Now we have been assured we will get it soon,” Chinnaponnu says.

An Amnesty International report of 2021 says that 13 of the 89 victims in Karnataka did not receive their compensation, while 104 more victims were identified by human rights organisations as victims of torture and assault but were allegedly not considered by the inquiry panel. 

“And this is only the interim relief, the full settlement should come later,” Chinnaponnu says. She is talking about the Rs 7.2 crore remaining in the 10 crore rupees allotted by the governments of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, during Veerappan’s infamous kidnap of Kannada actor Rajkumar. The kidnap was meant to secure the release of all the prisoners tortured on charges of protecting Veerappan. But there was also a ransom. Both the Tamil Nadu and Karnataka governments issued orders to pay the Rs 10 crore total ransom demanded by the bandit as compensation for the victims of police torture. After this, Rajkumar, who spent 108 days in the custody of Veerappan, was released in November 2000. Months later, Chinnapponnu and the other women were released from jail.

But many of them were so lost they were like “dead people walking”, she says. “Many of our families would not accept us, saying that we were sexually assaulted by policemen. We were so numb it felt like we were dead,” she says of the trauma.

A Telegraph report of 2004 mentioned electric shocks and repeated instances of sexual assault, most of which the women deposed before the inquiry panel. It made it difficult to even find work and sustain a livelihood. 

But they found their way through life, and several NGOs and humanitarians had helped them. In the same breath that they speak highly of Annie Raja, they also vouch for the Congress party, dropping names like Sonia Gandhi and Indira Gandhi. “In our place, we will vote for the Congress. Here, Annie Amma should come to power,” Chinnaponnu says.

Women from Sathyamangalam Forest with Annie Raja in Wayanad
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