AT 33, he has spent half his life now in jails, on trial in various cases. In five of those alleged to have been committed by him when still a minor, he was sentenced to death. He has been acquitted in all since, but remains the youngest prisoner to have served time on death row as per the Death Penalty India Report released last week.
Lawyer Hashmath Pasha says the resident of Kurubarahalli village in Kolar district, who was one of the first members of the notorious Dandupalya gang arrested by police, was named as accused in 48 cases, including theft, dacoity, murder and rape.
Apart from the cases where he was given death, he has been acquitted in all cases but three. In two of those cases, he is serving life imprisonment, while in one case of murder, he has been sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for 10 years. He is lodged in Hindalaga jail in Belagavi.
The gang, whose members are related to each other, has been linked to criminal activities since the 1930s. The 33-year-old lost parents when very young, and his sisters are married to alleged members of the gang.
A police report on the gang accuses it of 74 murders, including of 40 women. At its height at the time of the 1999 arrests, the gang was said to have more than 30 members, including women and children. They were known to stab, behead people they robbed, and often to rape them.
“The 33-year-old was arrested in 1999, when aged around 18 according to police. The cases registered against him were reported from 1996. It shows he was a minor then,” Pasha says.
In 2015, Pasha approached the Civil Court in Bengaluru praying that his client be considered a minor in criminal cases linked to him. A school headmaster, C M Naryanaswamy, testified that as per their records, the accused was born on August 16, 1982. The court is yet to pronounce its verdict on this.
While police insist he never enrolled in school and is illiterate, retired DSP Chalapathy, who carried out arrests of the Dandupalya gang in 1999 agrees he was around 18 when held. “We arrested him on December 9, 1999, for a dacoity and murder,” he says.
Police say he admitted to a theft and dacoity at the time, but admit that perhaps he was not aware his gang had murdered two persons during the dacoity. They also admit that information provided by him had helped them arrest other members of the gang.