Sankararaman murder case
Sankararaman murder case was a sensational case on the murder of Sankararaman, the manager of Varadharaja Perumal Temple in Kanchipuram, a town in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. He was murdered in the premises of the temple on 3 September 2004.
The report by investigative journalist Dhanasekaran Prakash in the Tamil weekly Nakkeeran and the confession by the surrendered, lead to the arrest of Jayendra Saraswati and Vijayendra Saraswati, the seers of the Kanchi Mutt, a popular South Indian monastic institution. Sankararaman is alleged to have constantly leveled accusations against the Kanchi seers and the functioning of the Kanchi Mutt. He is alleged to have sent anonymous letters to the Mutt in the pen name of Somasekara Ganapadigal.
J Jayalalithaa, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu and earlier, an ardent follower of Jayendrar and the Mutt, is believed to have consulted the seer in key religious decisions including the TN Prohibition of Forcible Conversions Act in 2002. Jayalalithaa's party, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam was an ally of Bharatiya Janata Party during the 2004 indian general election, in which the alliance lost all the 39 Lok Sabha seats in Tamil Nadu, leading to the fallout between the two. Political experts believe Jayendrar was arrested as a result of the fallout and also to improve her secular image.
The trial involved examining 189 witnesses during the trial period of 2009 to 2013, out of which 89 turned hostile. On November 27, 2013, all the 24 accused were acquitted by the Puducherry Principal District Session, quoting lack of incriminating evidence against them. The Puducherry court that pronounced the verdict on the trial noted that fair and proper trial was not performed in the case by the investigation officer due to the active involvement of SP Premkumar in the case beyond what is specified law. He was suspended for trying to encourage one of the accused to flee and was dismissed from the department in another case.
Sankararaman was the manager of Varadharaja Perumal Temple in Kanchipuram, a town in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Sankararaman constantly leveled accusations against the Kanchi seers and the functioning of the Kanchi Mutt. He is alleged to have sent letters anonymous letters to the Mutt. His father, Anantakrishnasharma was working closely with the 68th seer, Chandrasekarendra Saraswathi, the predecessor of Jayendra Saraswathi. Sankararaman was an employee of the Mutt until the demise of Chandrasekarendra Saraswati in 1994. He detached himself from the mutt when Jayendrar became the head of the Mutt and he joined the Varadaraja Perumal temple as a manager. He was reported to be a stickler of tradition and he streamlined the assets and income of the temple. He suspended two of the temple priests when there was a robbery in the temple and refused to allow them until they paid the loss of 105,000. He made the tenants and land leasers of the temple pay the arrears amount. He filed a case in a court in 2000, against Jayendrar visiting abroad nations, quoting that the seers of the Mutt cannot cross ocean, but can take land route. Jayendrar cancelled the trip eventually. He was allegedly once not allowed to enter the Kamakshi Amman Temple along with his family in 2001 by the Mutt authorities.
Sankararaman was murdered by a set of six gang men on 3 September 2004 in the premises of the temple using sharp weapons. While there were no eyewitnesses to the murder, the perpetrators presumably visited the house of Sankararaman an hour before to enquire about his whereabouts. His daughter, as per her statement in the court, revealed the incident.
Jayendra Saraswathi is the head of the Kanchi Mutt, one of a prominent Hindu monastic institutions in the country. An investigative journalist named Dhanasekaran Prakash in the Tamil weekly Nakkeeran alleged the reasons of the murder being the continuous infuriation by Sankararaman against Jayendrar and Kanchi Mutt. His report claimed that the letters were denting the image of the seer and the Mutt against prospective sponsors of the mutt. The report, which claimed that the murder was done at the behest of the seer and the confessions of some of accused who surrendered earlier brought Jayendrar into the spectrum of the case and necessiated his arrest.
Appu, alias Krishnaswamy, was accused of utilizing his gang men for the murder of Sankararaman. Appu is believed to be associated with politicians from major parties of the state like ADMK, DMK and Congress and his criminal records have sandalwood smuggling and sand quarrying charges. He was arrested twice during the DMK regime during 1996-2001 for those charges, but was released immediately under ministerial pressure. Before the murder, he had nine pending cases against his name that included one murder and three attempts to murder. It was alleged that Appu directed five gang men including Kathiravan to murder Sankararaman. Ravi Subramanian, a civil contractor was believed to be an ardent devotee of the mutt. He constructed all the buildings related to the Kanchi Mutt. He was alleged to have arranged Appu for the murder.
Sundaresa Ayyar, the manager of the mutt for several years was added as an accused in the case as he was alleged to have arranged the funds for the murder from the Mutt accounts. The other people accused in the case include Kathiravan, Rajiv alias Chinna, K S Kumar, Ananthakumar, 'Mattu' Bhaskar, Sylvester alias Stalin, Anil alias Anilkumar, Ambi alias Ambikapathy, Palani, Kuruvi Ravi, Sekar, Senthilkumar, Arumugam, Meenakshisundram, Arumugam, Dil Pandiyan, Sathish, Devarajan and Arun.
The case involved the arrest of Jayendra Saraswati and Vijayendra Saraswati, the seers of the Kanchi Mutt, a popular South Indian monastic institution. Jayendrar was arrested on the Diwali day of 11 November 2004 at around 11:25 p.m. in Andhra Pradesh, while Vijayendrar was arrested on the Mutt premises on 10 January 2005. Both the seers were in Mehaboob Nagar in Andhra Pradesh. The Tamil Nadu police, after getting the orders, reached Hyderabad in a helicopter. It was reported that the Andhra Pradesh government and the Andhra police were reluctant to allow the arrest as it would have political implications, but were later convinced. There were two versions of the arrest reported. One of them state that Jayendrar was just informed that he was taken to Chennai for a routine enquiry, while other detailed that he was issued an arrest notice right in the premises of guesthouse of Surya Lakshmi Cotton Mill guest house where the seers were performing the Triloka Kalyana Yagnam. Jayendrar was brought to Hyderabad airport, from where he was brought to Chennai. The reporters and media people in the airport were frisked away and the seer was not allowed to speak with the media. The midnight arrest by the police was widely criticized, but the police alleged that the Acharya was planning to escape to Nepal. The allegation came under strong criticism as the Kanchi Mutt website already had his yearly calendar published and the visit to Andhra was as per the schedule. Till then, 12 men including Jayendrar, were arrested in the case. Five others surrendered in front of the George Town court. One of them confessed that he surrendered as 50,000 was paid to him for the surrender; the police arrested six men who arranged for the surrender. Rajni, Kumar, Arun, "Mattu" Bhaskar and Kadiravan were also arrested in connection with the murder, out of which, Kadiravan, was allegedly involved in the attack on Radhakrishnan. The police were in search of the remaining two more persons relaed to the case. Appu was arrested on 11 November 2004 in Andhra Pradesh in connection with the case. There were two different accounts of his arrest; the account of the police stated that he was rounded up in his sister's farmhouse in Andhra Pradesh, while the account of the relatives state that it was a conditional surrender. Before the arrest, he gave a TV interview, in which he stated "When I am well off and paying a huge sum as income-tax on my business earnings, where is the need for me to stoop to the level of becoming a killer for the sake of a few lakhs?". Sundaresa Ayyar, the manager of the Kanchi Mutt was arrested during December 2004.
The then Superintendent of Police (SP) K Premkumar who made the arrest and S P Sakthivelu, who was the investigating officer, submitted a 1875 paged charge sheet before the Judicial Magistrate of Chingalpet. The charge sheet, filed on 21 January 2005, named 24 people accused in the case. There were separate charge sheets filed against Jayendrar and Vijayendrar. Jayendrar was charged as accused 1, Vijeyendrar as 2, Sundaresa Ayyar, the Mutt Manager as 3, Raghu, the brother of Vijayendrar as 4 and Appu as 5. It named 377 witnesses in the case and provided 722 documents related to the case. The charge sheets have to be provided 90 days from the date of arrests to the court as per Indian Penal Code and the submission of charge sheet in the case enabled the trial to begin. Ravi Subramanian, who was a civil contract and co-accused in the case, turned an approver, and he was included as a prosecution witness. Speaking to media persons after filing the chargesheet, he said "It is between the Lord Varadaraja and Kanchi Sankaracharya. The incident took place at His temple. He was an eyewitness to the crime. We are just `instruments' who conducted the investigation,". He ruled out eh possibility of having a special court to try the case. Before filing the chargesheet, he visited the Varadaraja Perumal temple and performed special prayers. He mentioned that the arrest of Jayendrar was done based on the confession from Kathiravan, who was charged as accused number 6 in the case.
The bail plea of Jayendrar was declined in lower court and also in Madras High Court during December 2005. Jayendrar was released on bail on 10 January 2005, after two months of his arrest, by an order of Supreme Court, which condemned the Tamil Nadu Police for not gathering credible evidence against the seer. The court also issued a notice to the Government of Tamil Nadu seeking explanation on detaining Krishnaswamy, one of the key accused in the case, and not allowing him to be granted bail. The court also condemned the SP Premkumar for showing "undue interest and active participation" beyond his stated jurisdiction. Jayendrar was asked by the court not to visit the Mutt premises until the chargesheet was filed by the police. The Tamil Nadu government also filed a petition to the Supreme Court that not reside in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Pondicherry during the course of investigation of the trial, but the petition was dismissed by the Justice J.P.Mathur. Vijayendrar was released on bail by the Madras High Court on 11 February 2005, with a personal bond for 50,000 and two sureties.
The SP Premkumar was eventually suspended, imprisoned for a month during November 2006 and dismissed on 23 May 2007 in another case, where he assaulted an ex-service man in 1992.
The trial was initially planned in Chengalpet court, that covers the Kanchipuram town. But, the seers appealed in the Supreme Court of India against the conduct of trial in the state citing political reasons and doubting fair trial. Sankarraman's widow opposed it by quoting that the 375 witnesses were all from Tamil Nadu and the legal documents were all written in Tamil. On 27 March 2007, the court ordered the case to be shifted to the neighbouring Union Territory, Pondicherry.
The trial began on 28 November 2007 in the principal sessions court in Pondicherry amidst tight security. Jayendrar also filed a special leave petition in the Supreme Court on 22 July 2008, challenging the continuance of Public prosecutor appointed by the Tamil Nadu government in the Puducherry court. The court reserved its orders on transfer of the case to Puducherry on his petition in March 2007. The Supreme Court ordered the Puducherry government to appoint a public prosecutor in the case, following which, a senior lawyer, N Devadoss was appointed by the Puduchery government to handle the case. The case was the first of its kind in the legal history of Puducherry when a case was transferred to the Union Territory. During the trial, the SP Premkumar was suspended for trying to encourage one of the accused to flee. Kathiravan, one of the 24 accused was murdered on 5 March 2013 by five gang men in his houses in KK Nagar in Chennai. A Trichy based lottery businessman with whom Kathiravan was involved in a land grab issue, was allegedly found to be the reason of the murder.
The trial involved examining 189 witnesses during the trial period of 2009 to 2013, out of which 89 turned hostile. The trial also saw four judges handling the case. The accused included Jayendrar, Vijayendrar, Sundaresa Ayyar, Raghu, K G Krishnaswamy alias Appu. On November 27, 2013, all the 24 accused were acquitted by the Puducherry Principal District Session, quoting lack of incriminating evidence against them. One among the 24, M Kathiravan, who was murdered on 24 March 2013, was also acquitted. The judge, CS Murugan, in his order, pronounced that the witnesses, including the daughter of Sankararam, Uma Maitreyi, failed to identify the accused in the court.
The Puducherry court that pronounced the verdict on the trial noted that fair and proper trial was not performed in the case by the investigation officer due to the active involvement of SP Premkumar in the case beyond what is specified law. The court noted the same statements used by the Supreme Court against the SP when it granted bail to the seer during 2005.
J Jayalalithaa, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, was an ardent follower of the Shankarcharya and the Mutt. She is believed to have consulted the seer in all her decisions related to religious affairs during her term in 1991-96 and also during her second term starting 2001. Majority of the key decisions like changing the main idol in Palani Murugan temple, Annadhanam (free meal) scheme in temples, the TN Prohibition of Forcible Conversions Act in 2002, and a ban on animal sacrifices in temples in 2003, were all believed to have been advocated by the seer. Jayalalithaa's party, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam was an ally of Bharatiya Janata Party during the 2004 indian general election, in which the alliance lost all the 39 Lok Sabha seats in Tamil Nadu. One week post the rout, she reverted all the schemes leaving the Annadhanam scheme. The last meeting between the seer and her had been reported on 11 August 2003, in the premises of the Mutt, when Sushil Kumar Shinde, the Maharasthra Chief Minister, was also paying a visit to the seer. Political analysts believe, the comments made by Jayendrar on 6 June 2004 in Mumbai, "Her ahankara (arrogance) did her party in. God alone knows who is advising her. I think she's her own advisor.", is believed to have turned the relationship sour. Political experts also believed that the arrest of the Hindu seer in the case has been a political mileage for Jayalalithaa to distance herself from Hindutva and improve her secular image to reach out to Muslim, Christian and Dalit voters, and secure alliance with Dravidian parties and the Indian National Congress, who were otherwise part of the alliance of the opposing Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. Another account claimed that Appu, one of the prime accused was working under Arcot N. Veeraswami, one of the leaders of the DMK. The seer's association with Appu, an opposition party member, is also believed to have effected in the fallout.
Following the arrest of the seer, former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, former president R. Venkataraman and leaders from different political parties held a protest in New Delhi condemning the arrest. The DMK party chief, M. Karunanidhi, who always had an anti-Brahmin stand, welcomed the arrest. The then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh advised the state government to handle the case with care, considering the political tension surrounding it. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) organised a nationwide bandh to protest the arrest.
Impact on Kanchi Mutt
The Kanchi Mutt is seen as one of the prominent institutions of Hinduism, believed to have been established by Adi Sankara in 482 BC. While the account of its history is debated, the Mutt has been popular during the time of Chandrashekarendra Saraswati (May 20, 1894 – January 8, 1994). The Mutt was an element of criticism for the Dravidian parties in the state that follow E. V. Ramasami Naicker's ideologies. Naicker had an anti-Brahmin stand and was critical about the rise of the Brahmin institution. It got national prominence with the involvement of Jayendrar in the Ayodhya issue. Following the arrest of the seer, all the 194 bank accounts of the Mutt were sealed as police believed that the murder was funded by these bank accounts. The Mutt operated temporarily out of Kalavai, following the release of Jayandrar on bail. Media reported rumours that the seer was arrested as the government wanted to take away the properties of the prosperous Mutt.
The Madras High Court ruled against the Tamil Nadu Police on 11 January 2005, quoting "No one is above the law. But if you divert and deviate from that direction unmindful of the rights of innocent devotees of the Mutt, it would result not only in diluting the prosecution, but also cast a deep shadow on it. If there is anything wrong with the administration of the Mutt, it is for the H.R. & C.E. Department which has to comply with the procedure under the Act and to look after the said issues in terms of the provisions of the Act and it is not for the police to interfere with the functions of the Mutt while investigating a case of murder or assault."
- 3 September 2004 : Murder of Sankararaman in the premises of Varadharaja Perumal Temple.
- 11 November 2004 : Arrest of Jayendrar on Diwali in Andhra Pradesh.
- 11 November 2004 : Arrest of Appu.
- 11 January 2005 : Jayendrar released on bail by Supreme Court. Court condemned the Tamil Nadu Police for not gathering credible evidence against the seer; freeze on bank accounts of the Kanchi Mutt removed.
- 11 January 2005 : Arrest of Vijayendrar in Mutt premises.
- 11 February 2005 : Madras High Court grants bail to Vijayendrar.
- 23 May 2007 : SP Premkumar dismissed in another case, where he assaulted an ex-service man in 1992.
- 28 November 2007 : Trial in the principal sessions court in Pondicherry amidst tight security.
- 24 March 2013 : M Kathiravan, one of the 24 accused, murdered in Chennai by gang men.
- 27 November 2013 : Acquittal of all the 24 accused in the case.
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