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Neither death nor life for Govindasamy

V.S. Palaniappan
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One hell of a roller-coaster ride for a convict in multiple murder case in Tamil Nadu

He teetered between life and death. After being sentenced to death for multiple murders, Govindasamy lived to see the date of his hanging fixed, and then cancelled, four times.

On the night of May 29, 1984, Govindasamy killed five members of his uncle's family at Kondayampalayam near Sathyamangalam in Tamil Nadu's Erode district, following a property-related dispute.

He slit the throats of Nagamalai Gounder, his wife Ponnuthai Ammal and their sons Balasubramanian and Murthy. Murthy's daughter Selvi alias Anbu Selvi's body was smashed to a wall.

Govindasamy spent a year in jail as an undertrial until a trial court acquitted him in 1985. The State appealed before the Madras High Court, which pronounced a death sentence on him on September 2, 1997.

Between the acquittal and the High Court verdict, Govindasamy married Easwari. He told her to remain composed if the people of Kondayampalayam called her a murderer's wife. During this period, they had two children — Damodaran and Padmavathi.

After the High Court verdict, he was lodged first in the Vellore Central Prison and then shifted to the Coimbatore prison. Easwari moved the Supreme Court, which upheld the sentence on April 22, 1998.

The Tamil Nadu Governor rejected his mercy petition on September 16, 1999. The President's office did the same in October.

The hanging was fixed for November 9, 1999. But the High Court stayed it on a petition moved by him.

The reprieve was short-lived as the court vacated the stay on February 2, 2000. The gallows were to be ready for Govindasamy on February 14, 2000.   But on February 5, on a fresh petition from him, the High Court stayed the hanging.

After this stay was vacated, March 16, 2000 was fixed as the date of execution. But one more petition brought another stay on March 7.

Then two Special Leave Petitions filed before the Supreme Court gave him even more time. The court said nothing would be done till March 28, 2000. July 14, 2000 was then fixed for hanging, and there was almost an air of certainty this time that the execution would be carried out. But the hanging was put off once again following government intervention.

No parole

On August 4, 2000, the execution was suspended till a final decision was to be taken. Then came Government Order No.1143 on December 31, 2009. It said Govindasamy would not be hanged. But it came with a rider: he would have to undergo rigorous life imprisonment till his natural death, with no room for leave or parole.

As a life convict, Govindasamy is now eager to visit his home and till his six-acre parcel of land to feed his family.

A wife's battle

When this correspondent visited Easwari at Karappadi village near Sathyamangalam, she said all that she had wanted during these years was to save her husband's life. “My battle was to prevent his execution. But I never knew anything about the alleged offence for which my husband was convicted to death, and now to life.”

“It is enough if we get to see him once in a while. Even this is proving to be difficult for the family,” she lamented. She has to slog for their daily meal. The children have to attend school on weekdays; the prison allows visitors only on weekdays.

Easwari was employed in a knitting unit in Tirupur. But poor health forced her out of the job.

Now, she is dependent on farm wages, but those barely meet the family's needs. Pointing at the leaking roof of her 100-square-foot house, she said: “I have no means to repair the house. We struggle with a meagre income and the old-age pension that my mother gets from the government.”

Govindasamy works in the book-binding unit in the prison and sends home part of his wages. He has sought work in the prison looms for a higher income that would help fund his children's education.

Easwari's goal is to ensure higher education for her son Damodaran, who scored 430 out of 500 in the SSLC examinations and is now in the Plus-Two class. He aspires to become an engineer.

Padmavathi is in Class IX. Easwari now looks up to Damodaran to take care of his sister. “We've been punished enough for no fault of ours. We suffered, and continue to suffer, despite my children and I not knowing anything about those alleged murders.”

Fortunately, the residents of the village sympathise with the family. This has helped them move on, she says.


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