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Villagers happy to bid goodbye to task-force personnel

By R. Krishna Kumar

M.M. HILLS, OCT. 20. The violent end to the Veerappan saga has exploded myths surrounding the bandit's persona.

For one, the image of a Robin Hood that Veerappan had at least among some villagers took a battering when people in Kollegal, M.M. Hills, Kamagere, Cowdahalli, Ramapura and the bandit's village of Gopinatham broke into spontaneous celebrations. The news of Veerappan's death in an encounter revived memories of the bandit's ruthlessness, which is contrary to the belief of some people that he was kind to the poor. If at all he was kind, it was to extract a favour from them.

`Interrogations'

The torrent of criticism against the Special Task Force (STF) for their alleged high-handedness with villagers is replaced by relief. People say they will now be spared the ordeal of "STF interrogations.'' Mahadev, who owns a small shop near Palar, said: "I am relieved; I was trapped between Veerappan and the STF.'' The task force personnel suspected that he had links with the bandit. "They used to periodically take me into custody to get information which I did not have. I used to be led into the jungles at night, with the STF personnel following me at a safe distance, and told to lead them to the bandit's hideout. When they realised that I had no contact with the bandit and his gang, they left me alone. But I feared death at the hands of Veerappan since he has not spared anybody whom he suspected of having worked with the STF.''

Ayyan Dorai (35), a member of the Padayachi Gounder community from Gopinatham village, who has seen Veerappan, said: "From now on I can freely venture into the forests to graze cattle without fear of STF harassment. I have seen Veerappan when he lived in the village and operated as a sandalwood smuggler. He was feared as a local don,'' he added.

People of Gopinatham had no tears to shed for the bandit and the celebrations began as news of the brigand's killing was received around midnight on Monday. "Deepavali celebrations have already begun in the village,'' a woman said.

Perumal, an elderly citizen from Gopinatham, said: "He brought a bad name to all of us. It is true that he earned a `name' for himself. But in the process, thousands of families across two States suffered." Perumal claimed that he negotiated with Veerappan to end his feud with former Deputy Conservator of Forests Srinivasan, who was beheaded by the bandit.

What about the belief held by some persons that the bandit was compassionate to the poor and his fight against was the might of the establishment and the corrupt? The suggestion drew derision from villagers.

"He may have helped a few, we don't know. What we know is that thousands more have suffered,'' Perumal said.

`Not friendly'

Villagers also laid to rest the "myth" that the STF had adopted a friendly approach to tribal people. Ayyan Dorai said the task force personnel were never friendly to villagers. "We were victims of atrocities by both Veerappan and the STF. We were barred from moving out after 6 p.m., and if we were found carrying foodstuff, the STF would interrogate us. We are relieved that the bandit is gone. But we are also elated that the STF will also go."

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