A farm labourer conspires with his lover to kill her husband and frame an old enemy
The village of Karadirampura is not far from Bangalore, located as it is near Ramnagara, off the Mysore highway. It was named so because the rocky terrain on its border was full of wild bears (the Kannada word for ‘bear’ is ‘karadi’). While Lingayats are a majority there, Vokkaligas and Dalits also live in the village in significant numbers.
Like the rest of the state, this village also felt the heat of the land reforms propounded in the mid- 1970s by the then chief minister Devraj Urs. Labourers working for landlords started staking their claim on the land they tilled, and the landlords had to fend for themselves against the Land Ceiling Act. Since the joint family system prevailed in those days, many land-owning families tried to save their property by breaking up into nuclear families.
Owners of small tracts bore the brunt of this sweeping social change. The new law offered no protection for those who owned just a couple of acres and had leased it out to their farm labourer-tenants. They were termed ‘absentee landlords’ and there was no provision in the law for them to retain their land. I still think this was a weak point in the 1974 Karnataka Land Reforms Act when compared to the one implemented by the West Bengal government, which ensured that the rights of small land-holders were well protected.
Kenchappa, the headman of Karadirampura, was one such small land holder. He had leased out his land to Eeraiah, a Dalit labourer. After the Land Reforms Act was passed, Eeraiah staked his claim over the land and filed a case. As the land’s title deed was in the name of Kenchappa’s cousins, the assistant commissioner quashed Eeriah’s petition and handed over the possession of the land to its legal owners. Eeraiah appealed against the order at the district court.
Situated next to Kenchappa’s property was a farm belonging to Shankaraiah, a Lingayat. After losing his claim over Kenchappa’s land, Eeraiah started tilling Shankaraiah’s farm. And since Shankaraiah worked on the land along with Eeraiah, the farm started to prosper.
One day, as Shankaraiah was busy deweeding his farm, he felt someone hugging him from behind. He sensed thick hair and sharp nails on the hands pressing down on him. Shankaraiah realised it was a bear and screamed. Using all his force, he managed to break free, but the bear managed to rip out his shoulder and throat muscles. As he collapsed, the bear attacked him again. Shankaraiah suffered injuries on his groin and both his legs were fractured by the time the villagers rushed there and saved him.
Shankaraiah was treated in a hospital, but his hands and legs were permanently disabled. As he could not work in the farm, he started a tea stall and his wife Mahadevamma took charge of the farm. Eeraiah was around to support her.
Gradually, Mahadevamma and Eeraiah fell in love. Soon, the villagers came to know about the affair and the Lingayats unofficially cast out Shankaraiah’s family from their circles. Even Mahadevamma’s elder brother Mahadevappa stopped visiting her.
Meanwhile, the enmity between Eeraiah and his erstwhile master Kenchappa grew, and quarrels frequently broke out. Shankaraiah started taunting Mahadevamma about her liaison with Eeraiah. She confided in Eeraiah, who came up with a plan to deal with both problems at one go.
It was a Sunday. Mahadevamma took her husband to the farm. While they were on the way, Eeraiah showed up in their path, as if from nowhere. He held a sickle in his hand. He struck at Shankaraiah’s throat, killing him on the spot. Eeraiah fled.
After ensuring that Eeraiah was completely out of sight, Mahadevamma started screaming, shouting the name of Kenchappa, who she blamed for her husband’s murder.
The police arrested Kenchappa and some of his relatives. However, the circle inspector could sense Kenchappa was innocent. On hearing about Mahadevamma’s illicit relationship with Eeraiah, he searched her house. There he found a bloodstained sari. When asked about it, a nervous Mahadevamma said it was her menstrual blood. And that was the blunder she made. She could have got away by saying the stains were her husband’s blood, splashed on her as she was standing close to Shankaraiah when he was attacked.
After Kenchappa’s relatives approached me, I visited the spot where the murder had taken place and spoke to the villagers and Mahadevamma’s brother.
I did not bank on the single point that Kenchappa had not committed the murder, but decided to argue that Mahadevamma and Eeraiah had hatched the plot. I didn’t have to prove that they were the murderers, but just needed to pick them out as the probable culprits.
I convinced Mahadevamma’s brother to be a witness. He testified that Mahadevamma was having an affair with Eeraiah. Based on my plea, the court called for a forensic test of the blood-stained sari.
The other eye witnesses testified that Mahadevamma was screaming and calling people for help at the murder spot, but did not do anything to save Shankaraiah from death.
Forensic test results showed the blood stains on Mahadevamma’s sari were indeed those of Shankaraiah, and not her own menstrual blood as she had claimed.
The eyewitnesses and circumstantial evidence went strongly in favour of Kenchappa. The district sessions judge, Prasad Rao, discharged my client and others the police had taken into custody.
Translated by BV