Sankararaman murder case
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Sankararaman murder case was a 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.
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 of Kanchipuram Premkumar IPS in the case beyond what is specified law.
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 Sri Jayendra Saraswathi. Sankararaman was an employee of the Mutt until the demise of Chandrasekarendra Saraswati in 1994. He detached himself from the mutt when Jayendra saraswathi 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 Jayendra Saraswathi visiting abroad nations, quoting that the seers of the Mutt cannot cross ocean, but can take land route. The Jagadguru 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 five 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 necessitated 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 and his criminal records have sandalwood smuggling and sand quarrying charges. He was arrested twice during 1996-2001 for those charges but was released immediately. 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 to murder Sankararaman. Ravi Subramanian, a civil contractor who constructed buildings related to the Kanchi Mutt 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. A total of 24 people were accused in the case.
The case involved the arrest of Jayendra Saraswati and Vijayendra Saraswati, the seers of the Kanchi Mutt, a monastic institution established by Sri Adishankara. 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 Mahabubnagar in Andhra Pradesh when the warrant was issued and the Tamil Nadu Police reached Hyderabad. Jayendrar was arrested and brought to Hyderabad airport from where he was brought to Chennai. 12 men including Jayendrar, were arrested in the case and 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 and the police arrested six men who arranged for the surrender. Appu was arrested on 11 November 2004 in Andhra Pradesh in connection with the case. Sundaresa Ayyar, the manager of the Kanchi Mutt was arrested in December 2004.
The then Superintendent of Police 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 who were the prime accused in the case. It named 377 witnesses in the case and provided 722 documents related to the case. The submission of charge sheet in the case enabled the trial to begin. Ravi Subramanian, who was a civil contractor and co-accused in the case turned an approver, and he was included as a prosecution witness. 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 in December 2005. Jayendrar was released on bail on 10 January 2005, after two months of his arrest, by an order of the Supreme Court of India, 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 the accused shall not reside in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Pondicherry during the course of investigation of the trial, but the petition was dismissed. 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 trial was initially planned in Chengalpet court. 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. 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. 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 in his order, pronounced that the witnesses including the daughter of Sankararam 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. After opinion from Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi to the central Home ministry, the Puducherry government reversed its decision to file an appeal on the case.
J Jayalalithaa, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, was an ardent follower of the Shankarcharya and the Mutt. 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 Maharashtra Chief Minister, was also paying a visit to the seer. The arrest of the Hindu seer in the case was seen as a political mileage for Jayalalithaa to 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 while the DMK party chief M. Karunanidhi 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 and claims to have been established by Adi Sankara in 11th central AD. While the account of its origins is debated, the Mutt has been popular during the time of Chandrashekarendra Saraswati swamigal (May 20, 1894 – January 8, 1994). The Mutt was an element of criticism for the Dravidian parties in the state that follow Periyar's ideologies. 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.
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."
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