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YSRCP MLC sentenced to jail in 28-year-old case of tonsuring Dalits, gets bail (Lead)

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Visakhapatnam, April 16 (IANS) A special court in Andhra Pradesh's Visakhapatnam on Tuesday sentenced YSR Congress Party MLC Thota Trimurthulu and nine others to imprisonment for 18 months for tonsuring two Dalit youths 28 years ago, but hours later, the district court granted him bail.

Trimurthulu, who is also the YSRCP candidate for the Mandapeta Assembly seat in Konaseema district in the next month's polls, approached the district court after XI Additional District and Session Court-cum-special court for trial of cases under SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act pronounced its verdict in the sensational case of 1996.

The ruling party leader said he would challenge the special court's verdict in the High Court.

The special court imposed a fine of Rs 2.5 lakh on the main accused Trimurthulu. The fine on others ranged from Rs 20,000 to Rs 1.5 lakh.

The court also ordered a compensation of Rs.1.20 lakh to Koti Chinna Raju and Dandala Venkata Ratnam, who were tonsured by Trimurthulu and others.

The case had created a sensation in 1996 and the victims and their families have been awaiting justice for over two and a half decades.

On December 29, 1996, Trimurthulu, the then independent MLA of Ramachandrapuram, had tonsured two Dalit youngsters Koti Chinna Raju and Dandala Venkata Ratnam and beat up three others, Challapaudi Pattabhiramayya, Kanikella Ganapati, and Puvvala Venkata Ramana of Venkatayapalem in East Godavari district as they had opposed him in Assembly elections.

The Dalit youth had worked for polling agents of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).

On a complaint by the two victims, a case was registered in 1997 at Draksharamam police station in East Godavari district.

Trimurthulu was later elected as MLA on the TDP ticket in 1999 and 2014. He later joined the YSR Congress.

The victims have welcomed the court order saying justice was finally done after 28 years. The reaction from Dalit groups and people’s organisations was mixed. Few of them said the punishment awarded to convicts was not proportionate to the nature of the crime committed by them.

Jahan Ara, counsel of the victims, said the quantum of punishment awarded was disappointing.

The incident, which had occurred in Venkatayapalem village in the combined East Godavari district, had triggered protests by Dalit groups and human rights organisations.

Trimurthulu was arrested along with other accused and was jailed for 87 days. The then TDP government had also constituted the Justice Puttaswamy Commission to probe the incident.

Based on its report, a Government Order (GO) was issued, giving clean chit to Trimurthulu. The victims had challenged the GO in the Andhra Pradesh High Court, which had passed orders for questioning Trimurthulu.

In 2008, the investigation was re-opened in the case.

Senior lawyer and activist Bojja Tarakam had filed a petition in the High Court in 2015. The High Court directed the government to conduct a thorough investigation into the case and do justice to the victims.

On the directions of the High Court, the special court in Visakhapatnam began the trial in 2017. There was another twist in the case when authorities refused to issue caste certificates to the victims, claiming that they were not Dalits but Christians.

After protests by Dalit and civil liberties groups and the direction of the Supreme Court, caste certificates were issued to them in June 2019.

The case was adjourned for143 times.

There were 24 witnesses in the case and 11 of them died due to old age or ill-health. Among the victims, Puvvala Venkat Ramna passed away.

Following the court order, police stepped up the security in Venkatayapalem and also at Draksharamam, which are now in Dr B.R. Ambedkar Konaseema district.

--IANS

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