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A case of mistaken identity ruined her life

Last updated on: February 2, 2010 18:55 IST

Image: R Vetrivel and Pichayammal

She had to watch her husband bleed to death live on television. As he lay dying, he begged ministers, bureaucrats, policemen and media persons passing by to help him. They didn't. 

Pichayammal, 35, cannot obliterate the images of her husband's last moments, which were repeatedly telecast by regional as well as national channels.

Her husband, Sub Inspector R Vetrivel, was killed on January 7, when he was attacked allegedly by a gang of criminals in a case of mistaken identity.

Even her children, Ashok Kumar, 13 and Sindhu Bharathi, 10, watched the horrific images unfold on TV. "Finally I had to stop switching on the TV because I never knew which channel was going to replay it," she says.

But the TV channels have now stopped showing the gory footage. After giving the untimely death of the policeman its 15 minutes of headline-grabbing fame, the media has now moved on to the next sensational, breaking story.

Pichayammal lives in a small village in Thirunelveli district  with her two children. Her six siblings live in the same village, and they are helping her cope with the trauma of her husband's death.

Pichayammal has studied up to class 8. She married Vetrivel, then a head constable, when she was 21. "I was the first girl in my family to marry a policeman. Initially, I was scared, but then I got used to it," she recalls.

She had reason to be concerned about the safety of her husband, who was then a member of the Special Task Force that was formed to nab the notoriously ruthless sandalwood smuggler Veerappan.

Vetrivel was stationed in the Sathyamangalam forest area, but the STF policemen were not allowed to bring their families along, as it was considered too dangerous. Vetrivel met his wife and family on the five days in a month when he got leave.

"He never talked about his job or about life in the forest, or the dangers there," says Pichayammal.

At the end of his stint with the STF, Vetrivel received a chief minister's medal for meritorious service. All the STF members were honoured after Veerappan was killed in an encounter in October 2004.

Reportage: A Ganesh Nadar

Ministers, reporters didn't help dying cop

Image: Vetrivel's children Ashok Kumar and Sindhu Bharathi

Vetrivel was promoted as sub inspector while he was posted at Sivagiri.

On January 7, Vetrivel, who was posted at the Alwarkurichi police station, was apprehended by a group of criminals who mistook him for Sub Inspector Sivasubaramaniam.

The gang allegedly comprised brothers and friends of Sivakami, the estranged wife of Sivasubaramaniam, with whom the sub-inspector had been involved in a long-standing feud.

Sivakami's brothers and friends had been arrested earlier, when they were allegedly looking for Sub Inspector Sivasubaramaniam, and had weapons in their possession.

They were soon released on bail, and the criminals promptly renewed their murderous mission. Only, this time they killed the wrong policeman.

"They will come out on bail again in 90 days and this time, they will kill Sivasubramaniam," said a police inspector who did not wish to be named.

The gang of criminals first lobbed bombs at Vetrivel, who was on his motorcycle, and then attacked him with swords.

Vetrivel's death created a furore in the state's political circles, after it was revealed that two state ministers and top bureaucrats, who were passing by along with their convoys, did nothing to help the bleeding policeman.

State Health Minister M R K Panneerselvam, Health Secretary V K Subburaj, Director of Public Health S Elango, Environment Minister T P M Mohideen Khan and Tirunelveli Collector M Jayaraman stood and watched as Vetrivel writhed in pain and pleaded for help.

The ministers, under severe criticism for their indifference, later claimed that they did everything in their power to save Vetrivel. The video of the sordid incident shows them furiously talking away on their cell phones, purportedly calling for an ambulance.

It did not strike any of the ministers and bureaucrats, who form the top echelons of the state administration, to rush the injured policeman to the Tirunelveli Medical College Hospital in one of the numerous vehicles of their convoys.

Had he received medical help in time, Vetrivel might have lived.

Neither did the posse of policemen, who were accompanying the ministers, try to alleviate their colleague's suffering. 

And some members of the media -- reporters and cameramen from a Delhi-based TV channel -- decided to film the sub inspector bleeding to death, rather than coming to his aid. .

By the time the ambulance arrived, it was too late.

'The children go to the terrace and cry'

Image: Vetrivel (encircled) and the Special Task Force with then Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa

Of the 16 accused in the case, 11 are already behind bars. But the criminals are eligible to apply for bail, and the apathetic system might repeat its earlier mistake, and grant them bail to continue their vengeful agenda.

A competent, meritorious inspector has died. His young wife is now a widow. Two innocent children have lost their father.

Pichayammal is still struggling to come to terms with the void in her life, and breaks down every time her deceased husband is mentioned. She is consoled by her teenaged son.

"The children go to the terrace and cry," Pichayammal says.

Sindhu Bharathi, merely 10 years old, has not grasped the enormity of the tragedy. She cries whenever she sees her brother or mother dissolve into tears.

The Tamil Nadu government has given Pichayammal a cheque for Rs 7 lakh. In a moving gesture, personnel of the Tirunelveli district police donated a day's salary for the slain sub inspector's family, and managed to raise a handsome amount of over Rs 12 lakh.

Tirunelveli Superintendent of Police Asra Garg has given Pichayammal a job as an attendant at the deputy superintendent of police's office.

Pichayammal plans to join in the first week of February if "I feel okay".  But it will be a long, long time before the bereaved family can feel 'okay' again.