Thursday, October 27, 2011

Coconut Trees and Criminal Case

After the arrival and departure of the "Tomato Inspector", our life continued in Chikka Muduvadi, one mile away from our native village and my birth place, Dodda Muduvadi.  It is said that two brothers, Dodda Mudda and Chikka Mudda, meaning elder Mudda and younger Mudda were small chieftains during the Vijayanagar period and ruled from these two villages on either side of the river Arkavati. I was in Second Standard and I remember the class room in which we used to sit, though the face of the teacher is not that clear.  Probably because it was not a pretty face to remember.

The School had a bigger playground and I remember Flag Hoisting functions there on the two important occasions every year, Republic Day and Independence Day.  There were agricultural fields next to the playground.  There was a small piece of land between the playground and the agricultural fields, say about five feet wide and 100 feet long.  Beyond this land there were agricultural lands belonging to one Eraiah.  The five feet wide stretch of land was used as a  pathway by the villagers for going to the fields behind the school.

The school was closed for Dasara Holidays for two or three weeks.  When the school sessions were resumed after the holidays, students and teachers saw a major change in the surroundings.  Along this five feet stretch of land pits were dug and coconut saplings were planted.  Teachers were talking among themselves that Eraiah had his eyes set on this stretch of land for a long time and desired to take it under his control.  He took advantage of the school holidays and got the coconut saplings planted so that in due course he can fence around them and the land would be deemed to belong to him.  In the local language these activities are called ಜಮೀನು ಒತ್ತುವರಿ (jameenu ottuvari) and many farmers resort to such activity to increase the area of the their land, especially if it is government land.  In course of time they would gain control of the land and everyone assumes it is their own.  Of course, the disease has now spread to towns and cities where any available piece of land is grabbed including land on storm water drains!

The matter was reported to the Head Master, my father.  He had returned from the Army after serving in the Second world War before becoming a School Master, and was young and strong.  He used to carry an army cane with him and came out of his room to survey the area, with the cane in his hand.  The action of planting the saplings during holidays enraged him.  Holding the cane in his hand he instructed the students to pull out the saplings and fill the pits, just like an army commander  directing his troops to accomplish a task.  The students duly obliged and the stronger and well built boys were in the forefront.  Within minutes all the saplings were pulled out and the pits were filled with mud.  School session started after the usual prayer.

We heard some shouting and exchange of hot words before lunch break.  The removal of the saplings by school children on the directions of the Head Master had reached Eraiah and he had come for a showdown with the Head Master.   Later on in the evening I heard our father telling our mother that Eraiah had threatened to file a police complaint against my father for destroying crops in his fields and take the matter to court.  Police enquiries were made and Eraiah wanted my father to apologise and allow him to replant the coconut saplings.  Village leaders tried for a compromise but both the parties stuck to their stands.  The matter reached the court.

In those days there was only one court in Ramanagaram having jurisdiction over three taluks - Ramanagaram, Channapatna and Kanakapura.  Though our village was in Kanakapura taluk, for court issues one had to go to Ramanagaram.  There was only one judge in the Ramanagaram court.  He would sit as a Munsiff and hear civil cases for four days.  On the other two days he would sit as a Magistrate and hear criminal cases.  Eariah was a moneyed man and had his own lawyer representing him.  My father was in no position to engage a lawyer to fight his case.  He used to tell my mother that he would fight his own case.  I was too young to understand the issues involved but I remember that there was an atmosphere of fear in our family in those days about the outcome of the case.

After several adjournments the case finally came up for evidence one day.  Magistrate asked my father to bring his lawyer.  My father told him that he had not engaged a lawyer and would conduct the case himself. Eraiah was examined by his lawyer.  Eraiah testified that the school head master had instigated his students to destroy saplings and it had resulted in loss to him.  The charge was for criminal trespass and causing wrongful loss.   The magistrate then asked my father to cross examine Eraiah as he had no lawyer to represent him.  My father asked three questions and Eraiah replied.  The way in which the questions were asked convinced the Magistrate that my father was not trained to conduct the case and his line of questioning was not of much use.  He asked my father to keep quiet and himself asked Eraiah three questions.  The first question was whether the land in which the saplings were planted belonged to him.  He answered vaguely that it did not belong to the school.  Magistrate curtly asked him whether he had any documents to show that the lands belonged to him and he can produce them the next day.  Eraiah had to say that he did not have any such document.  Then the Magistrate asked him as to why he filed a case against the Head Master for something that happened in a land belonging to someone else or the school.  Eraiah had no answer.  Magistrate dismissed the case.

Several years later, when I was studying Law, I realised why the Magistrate dismissed Eraiah's case.  There is an established principle of law which states that "He who comes to seek justice must come with clean hands".  Eraiah's hands were not clean in as much as he wanted to plant the saplings in someone's land.  His motive was faulty ab initito and his case was liable to be dismissed.

Though the problem was solved, two things bothered my father.  First was that Eraih was telling everybody in the village that the Magistrate severely reprimanded my father while hearing the case. Second was destroying the saplings.  He felt that destroying coconut saplings was not good as fruit bearing trees or saplings should not be destroyed for any reason.  He went to Ramanagaram and obtained a certified copy of the judgement.  He waited for an opportune moment and went to Eraiah's house when there were many villagers during his money lending time.  In the presence of all the people, he took out the judgement copy and told Eraiah that if he did stop his mischief, he would go to the sante (weekly village market) and read out the judgement to every single villager.  Eraiah's tirade stopped from that day.

As regards the second issue of atonement for destroying the saplings of a fruit bearing tree, he found a solution by getting ten coconut saplings planted along the border of the school playground.  When I last visited the village with him thirty years ago, the trees were fully grown and laden with several bunches of coconuts.  I could see a glint of happiness and contentment in his eyes.


  1. The surroundings of the school is superbly
    described. The true story touches ones heart.

  2. Liked this post. And thank you for invoking memories of thaata!

  3. very nicely written. i congratulate the school headmaster for his courage and daring to defy the village bully.