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Veerappan's trail of death

December 10, 2002 16:53 IST

Former Karnataka minister H Nagappa is the 119th person the bandit Veerappan has killed. Nagappa was kidnapped on August 25 and appears to have died of a bullet wound on December 5.

Veerappan's very first victims were not human. He began his anti-social life as a poacher, killing elephants for their tusks.

Slowly, he began to take over the many poacher gangs existing in the Sathyamangala forests. Not much is known about how many people he killed then, but rumour has it that he used to invite his rivals to feasts and serve them poisoned meat.

It was only after he was arrested in 1986, and spent some time in a police lockup before escaping from a forest guesthouse, that Veerappan began to target policemen and forest guards. Much later, he moved into the more lucrative arena of kidnapping for ransom.

One of Veerappan's early law-enforcer victims was a forest guard called Mohanaiah, whom he killed at Palar Gate in 1989. Then he ambushed a Karnataka police party, killing Sub-Inspectors Jagannath, R Ramalingu, and Dinesh, and a constable in the Male Mahadeshwara Hills.

He also started raiding police stations, killing personnel and decamping with arms. At that point, he did not have the funds to buy guns, as he now seems to have.

By that time, it had become tough for him to poach elephants, thanks to increased vigilance.

Then came the decapitation of Deputy Conservator of Forests P Srinivas. C Dinakar, who retired several months ago as director general of police, Karnataka, writes in his book Veerappan's Prize Catch: Rajkumar that the brigand suspected Srinivas of impregnating his sister Mari as a means to get to him, thus driving her to suicide.

Veerappan sent Srinivas a message offering to meet him to discuss his surrender. Srinivas went alone and unarmed to the meeting place as instructed, where Veerappan decapitated him after torturing him. The incident took place near Yerekehalla.

Next was Assistant Commissioner of Police Premkumar. Veerappan killed him when he attacked the Rampura police station in 1992.

After that, Superintendent of Police, Kolar, T Harikrishna and his personal security officer, Sub-Inspector Shakeel Ahmed, began hunting the brigand in right earnest. Pretending to be ivory buyers, they established contact with Veerappan's gang.

What they did not realise was that Veerappan had set a trap for them. They were ambushed and both Shakeel and Harikrishna were killed in the MM Hills, near Meenyam.

"They went into the forest with cars and a truckload of policemen masquerading as construction labourers and forest workers," P Lankesh, well-known Kannada journalist and litterateur, had said then. "How did they think they could catch the man?"

At that time, Harikrishna and Shakeel were both with the Special Task Force formed to nab Veerappan.

Two years later, Veerappan killed, for the first time, a Tamil Nadu STF officer, Sendhil Kumar, at Kailasapalyam. Soon after, he murdered Border Security Force Lance Naik Bhupinder Singh near Chengadi. Then came Selvaraj, a head constable from Tamil Nadu, at Arepalya, in 1996.

"For a long time, he seemed to be only picking out Karnataka people as victims, both for kidnapping and killing," said C Dinakar. "Perhaps this was because he liked to be perceived as a Tamilian, living amidst the Tamil people, as much of the terrain that he habitually stays in is in Tamil Nadu, and he looks to the support of the local tribals there. But he began targeting the Tamil Nadu police force too some years ago."

From then to the present was a long gap. Until Veerappan kidnapped Rajakumar, there was speculation that he had escaped to Sri Lanka. But for the past six years, there are no official records of Veerappan killing anyone.

The families of Veerappan's victims would like nothing better than to see him arrested. “That is my main goal in life now," says Abdul Karim, Shakeel's father. "Nobody who supported him should be allowed to get away either. Otherwise, the sacrifice of men like my son would have gone in vain. Catching Veerappan was a personal thing for him, because of all the police officers and innocent tribals that that man had killed in cold blood."

But Preetha, Harikrishna's wife who now runs a gas agency in Bangalore, seems to bear no rancour against Veerappan,  though she says there was nothing accidental about Harikrishna's death.

"Veerappan specifically set out to kill my husband and Shakeel Ahmed," she says. "They had caught a lot of his men and were very determined to catch him. My husband had declared in the local press that he was hot on Veerappan's trail and would catch him within seven days. So Veerappan felt he should finish him off instead."

"I still remember the first time Veerappan actually came into my personal life," she continues. “I was in hospital having just delivered my son, and my husband came in full uniform to see me. He had volunteered for the STF for the first time. I didn't think Veerappan would actually kill my husband then."

Still at large!
The Rajakumar kidnapping

M D Riti