Chennai: “We have everything to show that the death of E. Ilavarasan, the Dalit youth who was found dead by a railway track in Dharmapuri, Tamil Nadu, four years ago, was not a suicide,” says Dr. Sampath Kumar, head of the forensic medicine department and vice-principal of the Sri Ramachandra Medical College and Research Institute in Chennai.
The marriage of Ilavarasan – a Dalit youth from Natham, Dharmapuri – to N. Divya, a Vanniyar girl from neighbouring Sellangottai, led to widespread violence and caste clashes in northern Tamil Nadu in 2013.
Kumar, one of the leading forensic experts in the country – he performed the autopsy when former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in 1991 – was called upon to examine Ilavasaran’s body on July 11, 2013 and gave his opinion in the matter to the Madras high court. Kumar also submitted his opinion for the CB-CID investigation, which seems to have jettisoned it. In an exclusive interview to The Wire, the doctor said, “Even if we don’t have enough to prove that Ilavarasan was murdered, we have enough to show that he did not commit suicide.” Kumar also shared graphic pictures taken during three different examinations of the body and post-mortems by different doctors on different dates to prove his point.
Kumar has since deposed before the Justice S.R. Singaravelu Commission of Enquiry, which was constituted days after Ilavarasan’s death. The one-man commission is having another round of hearings on March 14–16 at Dharmapuri. Its recommendations could potentially breathe life into a case that has gone cold, especially in the wake of the Madras high court endorsing the police claim that the Dalit youth had committed suicide.
With over 26 years of experience behind him, Kumar has dealt with a number of sensitive cases over the course of his career – such as the recent murder of Salem’s Gokulraj (a Dalit who was murdered in June 2015 his relationship with a woman of the Gounder community), the death of three women students in a Villupuram college in January this year and the death of high court advocate R. Sankarasubbu’s son, Satish Kumar. In his interview, Kumar takes apart the ‘death-by-train’ theory floated and sustained by the railway and state police in Ilavarasan’s case using “scientific proof” that shows how evidence was tampered with and suppressed – particularly the mysterious appearance of grease marks on the dead youth’s chest after two post mortems had already been conducted, presumably to suggest he had made physical contact with the train.
On February 21, following submission of the CB-CID report, the Madras high court bench of acting Chief Justice Hulvadi G. Ramesh and Justice R. Mahadevan ruled that Ilavarasan’s death was a case of suicidal death, and not murder.
The Tamil Nadu police claimed that Ilavarasan, who had been forcibly separated from Divya, had killed himself by coming under the Coimbatore–Kurla Express (train no.11014) at 1:20 pm on July 4, 2013, near the Dharmpuri railway station. After the first post mortem was conducted by a team of three doctors led by Dr. K. Thunder Chief of Government Medical College Dharmapuri, three other doctors were called to give their opinions based on its videograph. Thereafter, two more experts – Dr. Sampath Kumar of Ramachandra Medical College, and Dr. K. Thangaraj of SRM University Kanchipuram, were called to re-examine Ilavarasan’s body and the scene of death. The high court ordered another postmortem in view of their conflicting reports, and appointed a panel of three doctors from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi, which submitted its report on July 13, 2013. In all, a total of 12 doctors have expressed their opinions in the case.
In its latest order, based on the CB-CID investigation, the high court bench has cited only the AIIMS doctors as saying: “It is most likely that, since the deceased was under the influence of alcohol at the time of incidence (sic) and the ideation (sic) of committing suicide, sustaining injuries resulting into death could be possible due to accidental hitting by moving train. The opinion may be corroborated with the circumstantial evidences (sic) of investigations.” Based on this, the bench concluded: “In view of the above, the stand taken by the petitioner [Ilavarasan’s father] that it is a case of murder and not suicide, appears to be not genuine.”
Excerpts from The Wire’s interview with Dr. Sampath Kumar
You have expressed a strong suspicion in your opinion to the high court – after examining Ilavarasan’s body on July 11, 2013, and visiting the scene of death – that Ilavarasan may not have died by jumping in front of a train. Please throw some light on your findings that substantiate this.
There is every scientific proof that it is not a railway accident. The pattern of injury does not correlate with the story of him being hit by a train.
The most significant point is, the only two external injuries were along the left side of the head, and left forearm, whereas, the express train was coming at anything between 60-100 kmph on the right side. The nature and place of his injury rules out all possibilities of a railway accident in whichever position he may [have] been in. Even in the ‘crow catch position’, or standing at the edge of the track and facing the train, the whole of his front left side including his shoulder should have been injured. This was not the case.
We have tried to reconstruct one such position in the sketch. It is clear that had he been standing in that position, i.e, at the edge of the track and facing the train, the whole of his front left side should have been injured.
His shoulder would have been severely injured, as it is the most protruding part of the body. We did not find any injuries on the shoulders.
There were no cervical spine fractures seen, and no bruising around the cervical spine, which should have been the case, given the impact of being hit by a speeding train.
Had he been hit from the side by a train coming at that speed, he would have been thrown over and well beyond the culvert where his body was found – just 1.7 metres from the track. There would also have been injuries associated with the fall. There were no primary or secondary injuries seen because of hitting the culvert or falling on the ground.
What about if he had been lying on or close to the track?
That is ruled out because, in that case, the whole skull would be fractured. The injury was only on the left side. The CB-CID had asked me, ‘when the head was free to move, is it possible and mandatory to have injury to the spine and other associated injuries?’ Yes, in case of heavy impact to the skull such as in the case of running train, it will lead to extensive fractures of the skull bones, including cervical bones, and will have associated injuries. When the head is free, it is mandatory, as in whiplash injury the contusion of spinal cord or fracture will be seen.
What about the possibility of the ‘crow catch’ position, which was put forth by other doctors?
The theory that he was sitting and putting his head forward (‘crow catch’ position) on the side of the track when the train hit him is ruled out. It is a matter of simple logic that had he been in that position by the side of the train, and the train was coming from the right side, which was the case, it is the right side of his head which would have gotten hit. The injury was clearly only on the left. Had he been sitting in front (across) of the train, his entire skull would have fractured with multiple injuries.
What would you say about the injury on the left forearm that you noticed when you performed the post mortem?
It was not a deep injury. Crucially, the injury is on the posterior side of the left hand. If the railway accident is ruled out, then the injury in the outer aspect of the left forearm is a defence injury, i.e, he could have raised his arm in [self] defence, when he was being attacked.
The CB-CID and the Madras high court have concluded it is suicide, mainly based on the AIIMS doctors’ postmortem report, emphasising the fact that Ilavarasan was under the influence of alcohol….
The amount of alcohol in the brain according to the viscera report was 81 mg (per 100 ml of blood). Anything over 50mg can mean ‘under the influence of alcohol’. But this is highly subjective. Even someone with a measure of 300 mg can be normal, depending on many factors.
There is something seriously amiss in the AIIMS doctors’ report. And that is the presence of grease marks which they have reported “on the front of chest on both side, ventral and medical aspect of left hand and on the left middle finger on the dorsal aspect.” We have pictures taken by the first doctor (Dr. K. Thunder Chief, assistant professor, department of forensic medicine, Government Medical College Dharmapuri) who conducted the first post-mortem on Ilavarasan on July 5.
There were clearly no grease marks on the chest then. How could the grease marks have travelled through his shirt and baniyan, which had no marks, on to his chest? Neither were there grease marks on the chest when I examined the body on July 11.
Five doctors who examined the body did not see grease marks on the chest. Then when and where did these marks appear from? Only on July 13, when the AIIMS doctors saw them?
The picture taken by the AIIMS doctors on the day they conducted the re-postmortem shown by the police, clearly shows the grease marks had ‘appeared’ on the chest on July 13. The picture also shows a ‘grease mark’ on his finger, which I disputed as mere ink.
Were there any procedural lapses on the part of the investigation officers in the course of your examination?
Yes, there were many. They whitewashed the culvert and changed the gravel at the spot Ilavarasan was found within 24 hours of his body being found. Most vitally, the photograph provided to me showed a clean white shirt without any grease or dirt marks, which had gone missing when I inspected the body. When I asked to examine them, they told me his shirt, watch and footwear could not be found. Dr. Thunder Chief had seen the shirt – Ilavarasan was wearing a white shirt, and there was no dirt on it. With the impact of a train hit, he would have been thrown/rolled over the culvert, his shirt would have dirt marks. But it was spotless. So where did his shirt go missing? Dr. Thunder Chief, who did the post mortem had given it to the railway police. When we asked the railway police, they said they had handed it over to the local police. When we asked the local police, they said they’d handed it back to the railway police. They also only showed me a photograph of his watch.
I have met Justice Singaravelu and deposed before the honourable judge, who heard me in depth and recorded my statement. We appreciate his scientific knowledge and the queries he put forward in the interest of this case. Even if we don’t have enough to prove that Ilavarasan was murdered, we have everything to show that he did not commit suicide. This was not a railway accident.
Asra Garg was the superintendent of police in Dharmapuri at the tine of Ilavarasan’s death and led the investigation into the incident. He has now been deputed to the Central Bureau of Investigation in Delhi. The Wire asked him over the phone about the mysterious appearance of the grease marks at the time of the AIIMS autopsy.
“I am not in a position to tell. It was four-five years ago, moreover, it is a matter relating to postmortem, so the doctors who have done this will be in a more competent position to talk about it,” he said. “I have to see the documents which are in the CB file and all the reports which have been given by the doctors. Maybe you should ask the AIIMS team who has written this.”
Asked about Ilavarasan’s position when the train allegedly hit him, how his watch was found on the culvert and not Ilavarasan’s body and the fact that no one has seen the watch since, Garg said, “Whatever you want to get clarified is in the affidavit. You can talk to the investigation officer of the case, he’ll be in a better position … he will remember many things more than me. Whatever was written in the affidavit, was based on pukka evidence. If the family has any other doubts, they can search legal remedies.”
“All these things have already been covered in the investigation. We have filed a detailed affidavit in the high court, subsequently, the case was also transferred to the CB-CID, the CB-CID has also done a re-investigation and also found that the facts found by the district police of Dharmapuri, by the investigation officer, is correct, and the HC after going into it in detail has found there is no need for any further investigation and they’ve closed the matter. So that is my comment.”
Sowmya Sivakumar is an independent journalist based in Chennai