| Prabha (left) and her sister Vidyarani at the funeral site on Wednesday. (AFP)
Oct. 20: Veerappan was laid to rest today, but his ghost could continue to haunt the special task force that hunted him down.
The bandit was buried on the insistence of his family and friends, who would not hear of a cremation. As one of them later said, burial allowed them the option of exhuming the body for investigation.
Police had made all arrangements for a cremation last night, even identifying a relative to light the pyre. Firewood, a couple of truck tyres and kerosene had been collected at a spot on a hillock at Moolakadu village in Mettur, where the bandit has relatives.
Veerappan's body had been brought in an ambulance. Wife Muthulakshmi sat by its side in the dark ' there was no electricity ' inside the vehicle. Outside, his elder brother Mathiah, out on parole from a Coimbatore prison, objected to the police 'hurrying' the cremation. He said the family custom was to bury the dead.
The bandit's associates killed with him ' Sethukuli Govindan, Chandre Gowda and Sethu Mani ' were cremated in their villages.
But Veerapan's lawyer and human rights activist friends, including Kolathur Mani and Sukumaran, argued with the police that 'their (police) job had ended with hunting down Veerappan'. Cremation or burial was not their business. Muthulakshmi joined the row in the morning. Finally, the police agreed to a burial at the same spot.
Mani said: 'We will petition the state human rights commission to order a thorough probe into Veerappan's killing' that is one reason why we insisted his body should be buried and not cremated.'
His hands tied and bound in a white cloth, Veerappan was interred in a 6 ft x 3 ft grave at 6.30 am in the village at the foothills of the wooded Sendra Perumal Malai, part of the Western Ghats, as his daughters Prabha and Vidyarani watched. Wails of family members rose in the air.
But 36 km away, at Gopinatham village on the Tamil Nadu-Karnataka border where the bandit was born and spent his childhood, there were no tears. After years of living under the shadow of Veerappan and then also the STF, the villagers celebrated their 'great liberation'.
The villagers had last seen Veerappan 17 years ago, but blame all their hardships on that 'murderous man'. 'A 17-year-old evil that hung over our village has at last gone. We will take a bath this evening and offer prayers at the local Mariamman Temple as an act of thanksgiving,' said Bodinaickar, a villager.
Muthulakshmi insisted her husband 'must have been captured by them (STF)'. He could have shot himself after having been 'captured', she added, demanding compensation from the government.
Rumours that Veerappan's left eye was gouged out before the STF operation have created a stir here. Some pictures suggested the eye was 'missing'.