CHENNAI: They were small-time farmers lured into smuggling and the dangerous world of explosives, guns and murder by forest brigand Veerappan. Villagers living on the fringes of the Sathyamangalam forest in Tamil Nadu say the four men, Meesaikara Madhaiyan, 65, Simon, 45, Gnanaprakasam, 60, and Bilavendran, 60, facing the gallows for their involvement in the Palar blast case in 1993 which killed 21 people, were first roped in as informers by the bandit. Their initiation into big-time operations was quick and there was no turning back for the four men who formed the inner ring of the Veerappan gang.
"The mercy plea should not have been rejected. The cases against all of us were false. We were not involved in the blast," said Aruldoss, who has written a book on alleged police atrocities against tribals accused of being informers. Aruldoss, one of the accused who was later acquitted, spent eight years in prison.
Except Madhaiyan, who hails from Kottumaduvu village in Mettur taluk of Salem district in Tamil Nadu, all the others were residents of Chamrajnagar district in Karnataka, before they became members of Veerappan's gang. Madhaiyan's wife Thangammal and his son live in Mettur, while Gnanaprakasam's wife Selvamari and Bilavendran's wife Kamalamari live in Karnataka.
Several members of the Veerappan gang, including his wife Muthulakshmi, were accused of murder and abduction but acquitted. From a small-time smuggler to a dreaded dacoit, Koose Muniswamy Veerappan Gounder enlisted several villagers and controlled more than 6,000km of forest land covering three states. His reign of terror lasted two decades until he was gunned down in October 2004. A Robin Hood to some and dacoit to others, Veerappan killed hundreds of elephants for their ivory tusks, looted forest wealth, led a battalion of special task force of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu on a merry dance, terrorized villagers, killed policemen and informers, and abducted actors and activists for huge ransoms.
Veerappan fashioned himself after another dreaded dacoit Malayur Mammattiyan, who reigned the Dharmapuri forests in northern Tamil Nadu. The bandit's first recorded murder was that of Paramasivam, brother of Karuppan, who killed Mammattiyan. He gained notoriety with the killing of Chidambaram, a Tamil Nadu forest officer in 1987. Later the brigand was involved in the killing of several police officials, including Karnataka IPS officer Harikrishna, former Karnataka minister H Nagappa and many police and civil officials. After several rounds of parleys, the brigand finally released Kannada matinee idol Rajkumar, who was abducted from his farmhouse near Erode district.
"The law has taken its course. The operation against the forest brigand was complex and because of the cooperation of chief minister J Jayalalithaa and the special task force, we were able to gun him down," K Vijay Kumar, senior security adviser in the Union home ministry told TOI. Vijay Kumar led the STF team that killed Veerappan in 2004.