Kanchipuram temple manager Sankararaman was killed by hitmen inside the Varadaraja Perumal temple seven years ago. All the key witnesses in the case have turned hostile.Â Ashish Khetan & Sai ManishÂ investigate an unholy nexus
THE SEVEN-YEAR-OLDÂ Sankararaman murder case has now been made even murkier by the emergence of a sensational CD that allegedly contains phone conversations between the judge conducting the murder trial and main accused Jayendra Saraswati, spiritual head of the Kanchi Math. Proceedings in the case were stayed for eight weeks by the Madras High Court on 25 August on the basis of this CD after a writ petition was filed by an advocate in the high court. The Madras HC has also directed the Registrar-Vigilance to launch an inquiry into the audio CD. TEHELKA has been in possession of the alleged recording, apart from other conversations, for the past two months,and has submitted a copy of the CD to a forensic lab for verification (see transcripts). At the time of going to press, lab results into the veracity of the tapes had not been received.
TEHELKA also carried out a detailed ground investigation into the conduct of the prosecution and found evidence of unholy collusion between the accused and crucial witnesses who held the key to proving the holy seerâs guilt in court. If this could be any evidence of how the court proceedings have progressed, the victimâs wife, who was a crucial eyewitness and had identified the accused before the police, also turned hostile in the trial court.
The seemingly solid case built by the police is now on the verge of collapse. Even as the most recent allegations pertain to the Puducherry sessions court judge T Ramaswami, just a few months ago even the special public prosecutor, N Devadoss, was alleged to have deliberately subverted the course of justice by declaring witnesses hostile at will and weakening the case built by investigating officer (IO) SP Sakthivelu.
Sakthivelu himself stated in his affidavit in the Madras HC that something was rotten with the public prosecutor: âAfter I retired in March 2006, to my shock, many of the witnesses were treated as hostile after being asked out-of-context questions. On enquiry, I came to know that the prosecution is in collusion with Jayendra Saraswati. At no point was my assistance sought.â Instead, malicious news reports were âplantedâ in a section of the local media claiming he was evading court summons. Sakthivelu, while stating that the prosecution did not even seek his assistance, mentioned in his affidavit, âTill 14 March 2011 no summons were issued to me. But in the press it was reported that I was evading summons and the police was in a hurry to finish the case.â
He then sought a writ of mandamus, a judicial remedy in which a higher court orders a subordinate court to do its statutory duty in case it is convinced that the lower court has failed to so.
NEUTRAL OBSERVERSÂ believe that the prosecution seemed to have a clear political sanction from the ruling DMK regime since 2006 to distort the case in a way that it favours the Shankaracharya even though the party is ideologically anti-thetical to Brahmanical order. âThe case was registered during the tenure of Jayalalithaa as chief minister. Only after the change of government was the case taken up for trial and official witnesses treated as hostile,â said Sakthivelu in his affidavit. Between 2006 and 2011, the entire case built by the police was torn to shreds as key witnesses one after another turned hostile.
According to the prosecution, the motive of the murder was to prevent the exposure of sleaze, sex orgies, wife donation and corruption within the Math. The spiritual leader is so powerful that the first IO of this sensational case, C Prem Kumar, who filed the first chargesheet, listed the presiding deity of the temple where the murder happened as the only eyewitness. And in a bizarre moment in judicial history, a magistrate waited in court on a national holiday (Eid of 2005) to accept the chargesheet.
TEHELKA spoke to various investigators who pored over their personal handwritten investigation notes to reconstruct the motive, the conspiracy and the modus operandi of the murder. In addition, TEHELKA accessed operative portions of the testimonies of the crucial witnesses. We even tried speaking to the Public Prosecutor but he refused to talk about the witnesses whom he had branded hostile in court.
Sankararaman, who was the manager at the Varadaraja Perumal temple in Kanchipuram, was found in a pool of blood, hacked to death with a sharp-edged weapon, in the temple office just before sunset on a cloudy day (3 September 2004) at 5.45 pm. Heavy rains after the murder washed away all footprints. At the house of Sankararaman, the police recovered several letters written by him to the pontiff and other incriminating documents and photographs of illegal activities within the Math. The police also learnt from questioning Sankararamanâs wife Padma and his daughter that some strangers had visited the house the previous day, just hours before the murder. Both of them retracted their versions before the court.
Opposing the bail plea of the Shankaracharya before the Supreme Court in 2005, Sakthivelu gave details of the contents of the letters allegedly written by the murdered Sankararaman that could have been the motive for killing him. (The actual letters had been submitted to the sessions court). On 26 June 2003, the temple manager had written to the Math management alleging the seerâs relationships with various women.
âIn the past, they had a sexual relationship with one A (names deleted) and Bâs wife, which I had brought to the notice of all. Now I am going to present new revelations. You all know C, who is Jayendraâs keepâŚ The whole town knows about their relationships. They used to have sex in the hut itself. In fact, they used to have sex in front of her husband, who did not mind. Subsequently, another interesting incident had taken place. At that time D was with his assistant, in the room next to Jayendraâs. The door was half open. He heard some noise, and saw unusual scenes. D was shocked. Jayendra shouted to switch off the lights but they didnât bother.â
Sankararamanâs letters also alleged that Raghu, Jayendra Saraswatiâs brother, would get women married to innocent persons and then have illicit relations with them. In fact, a Tamil columnist named Anuradha Ramanan described how the seer had sex with another woman in her presence and then walked out to distribute prasadam to his devotees. The murdered man had also written under the pseudonym Somasekara Ganapadigal about various dubious property transactions, worried as he was about the Math getting a bad name as a result of the Shankar charaya hobnobbing with politicians and real estate interests.
Key Witnessess And their Retractions
From the victimâs wife to the temple employees, many did an about-turn after their initial statements
Identified killers who had visited her home the day before murder. Said warning letters sent to seer were signed by her murdered husband
Says police tutored her and her daughter to identify the photos. She said she could not identify whether the signatures on the hate letters were those of her husbandâs
Class 4 Employee Of Temple
Says he saw assailants fleeing from the temple after the murder. Even identified two photographs shown to him by the police
Declared as the first hostile witness after saying that he could not make out the faces of the assailants as he had witnessed their escape from a distance of 200 metres
Said that Jayendra Saraswati had offered him Rs 50 lakh to kill Sankararaman because of the mental agony he was causing the seer. Also admitted to engaging Appu and Kathiravan
Retracted saying the police had held him, his wife and child for 15 days and got the confession at gun point.
Bhaskaran and Natrajan
Workers at a shop near Temple
Both admitted to seeing men on motorbikes and two men with sickles in their hand on the evening of the murder
Puja shop owner inside The temple
Said that he saw attackers flee across the courtyard from the office of Sankararaman
Retracted saying he was inside his shop and did not see or hear anyone until someone came and told him a murder had taken place. Said he does not remember signing any statement before the magistrate
Said that she had seen men outside the temple during the time of the murder
Said that she signed the statement before the magistrate without reading it since she had extremely poor vision. Denied ever seeing anyone