The name Veerappan has become synonymous with notoriety in South India. Most Malayalis need no introduction to Veerappan, but to those who do, Veerappan was the uncrowned bandit king of forests spanning the states of Kerala, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu. From smuggling, abduction and murder, to romance and a Robin Hood-esque image, the story of Veerappan has it all. Let’s explore a few interesting Veerappan facts.
His real name was Koose Munisamy Veerappan Gounder
Or Veeraiah, as some villagers in his native Gopinatham called him. He was born in 1952. He got married in 1990 and had two children, Vidya and Prabha.
Veerappan’s ride on the criminal train began when he poached his first elephant under the mentorship of his relative Saalvai Gounder when he was 14 years old, or 10 depending on who you ask. At 17, he committed his first murder. From this point on, Veerappan’s actions became increasingly bloody. He killed anyone he believed to be a threat, which accounts to be well over 180 people. This includes the infamous Palar blast that killed 22 members of a 41 member team that had been assigned to investigate a murder he committed in Mettur, Tamil Nadu.
Veerappan is believed to have helped villagers
It is a fact that Veerappan was helpful to the poor villagers in the forests. Whether his intention was to do them genuine good or to keep their mouths shut is anyone’s guess. The villagers were also mortally afraid of Veerappan’s merciless nature; as mentioned earlier, he executed anybody he believed to be a threat. There are also several people who were of the view that Veerappan was a hero and the police were the villains. Some of them even believed that he was a beneficiary of politicians who later turned on him as he got more powerful. Sounds familiar? The plot of most anti-hero tropes!
Veerappan’s beef with the police was the stuff of legends
Looking at how over half of his 180+ kill count consisted of police officers, it is safe to assume that Veerappan absolutely detested the police. Nakkeeran editor R Gopal, who was the first journalist to interview him said that Veerappan often referred to the police as ‘demons’, and claimed that they used the manhunt against him to perpetrate violence on the poor villagers. Ironically, The Guardian hailed his death in 2004 as the ‘Death of a demon’. At one point, the reward for killing Veerappan was nearly ₹15 crore. He was killed by the Tamil Nadu Special Task Force in a controversial encounter referred to as Operation Cocoon. Decades later, people still debate who the demon was – the police who allegedly mistreated tribal villagers or Veerappan himself, who despite enjoying a Robin hood status had a terribly violent record.
Veerappan was not just a bandit, but also an accomplished abductor
Some of his largest money hauls were ransoms for the VIP’s he kidnapped. Kannada actor Rajkumar was his most prominent kidnap victim. He was nabbed by the bandit in July 2000 and spent over 108 days in captivity. Even though, he claimed that he was treated like a brother’, it is debatable if the 72-year-old actor truly felt that way. He was returned after Veerappan was paid a ransom of allegedly ₹20 crores, but the manner of Rajkumar’s release is still shrouded in mystery. There is even a book regarding this incident, Veerappan’s Prize Catch: Rajkumar by C. Dinakar. Another high profile kidnapping by Veerappan was the abduction of Nagappa, a retired agricultural minister. The ordeal did not end well for Nagappa, who was found dead three months later. However, Veerappan denied killing him.
Despite his violent tendencies, Veerappan still maintained a loyal marriage.
Veerappan was 29 when he first met Muthulakshmi, a 16-year-old who would later become the bandit’s wife. In an interview with The Business Standard, Muthulakshmi said that Veerappan had approached her with the proposal of marriage. One romantic dialogue later, Muthulakshmi had fallen for Veerappan’s bad-boy image and iconic moustache. The pair got married in 1990 and had two children, Vidya and Prabha. There are also conflicting accounts of a third daughter. According to some accounts, the child died in a gunfight just prior to Muthulakshmi’s arrest in 1993, while others believe that the infant was strangled by Veerappan who didn’t want a third girl child. 29 -year-old Vidya Rani made news early last year by joining the Bharatiya Janata Party. Muthulakshmi, on the other hand, lives estranged from Vidya, managing her own organizations for tribal welfare. She has even contested in elections, albeit unsuccessfully.
Veerappan was a keen forest man, with an incredible sixth sense
Veerappan’s lucky escapes are as legendary as the man himself. He was known for his deep knowledge of the forest and the way it moved. The forest was truly his realm; he could find ways to cross distances in hours that others spent days crossing. R Gopal also said that he analysed flight patterns of birds and movements of animals to identify human activity in the forest long before the police got anywhere near him.
Veerappan’s legendary loot
No respectable bandit is worth his name without a hidden hoard of wealth. Veerappan is said to have amassed a wealth of over ₹150 crores. Many claim that he distributed his money among villagers who helped him. It is believed that the rest of the money is buried in the deepest parts of Veerappan’s forest dominions. Also interesting is the fact that the states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka together spent a total of ₹100 crores to nab Veerappan.
Robin Hood or Al Capone: Who was Veerappan?
A good man? An evil villain? Or was he ‘the lesser evil’ that dwelt in South India’s deep, dark forests? It is true that Veerappan terrified the people he lived amongst. He was brutal, alleged to even have boiled and beheaded officers who tried to apprehend him. Yet, he was also someone who is said to have helped villagers settle disputes, who bargained with governments to secure minority interests, whose burial was attended by thousands of people.
Who was he truly? Only the forest knows.