After her son went missing three years ago, Velakkattil Indira would never go to bed without checking TV channels for late-night crime bulletins.
When the news finally came, the 64-year-old least expected it. On July 8, 2014, Mundur Ravunni, the leader of the radical outfit Porattam, knocked at her house here in Thrissur district. Without any ado, Indira said, she was told that her 38-year-old son V S Sinoj, a prominent Maoist leader of Kerala, was dead.
A day earlier, Sinoj’s former friends had visited her and told her to be home the next day as Ravunni might visit. “I thought they had come to talk about his marriage or discuss cases. I have heard about women cadres being among them (Maoists). Maybe, I thought, Sinoj had developed a relationship with one of them. I thought Sinoj had sent his friends to get my consent for marriage,” says Indira, a CPM worker.
Sinoj died handling explosives in a forest on June 16 and was buried nearby with full “official honours”, according to Kattu Thee, a Maoist bulletin published in Malayalam. He had been the political head of the Kabani faction of the People’s Liberation Guerilla Army, the armed wing of the CPI(Maoist).
Ravunni said he found the bulletin in his letterbox in Kochi, with a separate message to inform the family about Sinoj’s death.
As Sinoj’s family plans the rituals held after a person’s death, Indira hasn’t given up the hope that he may still be alive. “I want evidence of his death. Where is his dress? He had a unique collection of ink pens, which would have definitely been on him,” she says.
Hailing from a family of CPM supporters, Sinoj got attracted to the ultra-Left movement during his schooldays. In 1990, he became a full-time revolutionary activist after dropping out in the final year of his graduation. Initially, he was associated with the CPI(ML-Naxalbari). Later, he joined the People’s War Group, which became the CPI (Maoist) after merging with the Maoist Communist Centre of India. Sinoj is believed to have identified and recruited many persons in the Maoist movement.
Around two decades ago, Sinoj started staying away from home, making only occasional, unexpected visits. Indira had got used to him missing for days together. “He did not come even when his father died eight years back,” she says.
As the Maoists extended their operations to the Western Ghats of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, Sinoj is said to have received training in guerrilla warfare and armed struggle. The Maoist bulletin announcing his death said Sinoj led a guerrilla life against heavy odds.
In 2009, he was arrested from a tribal colony in Wayanad district on charges of propagating Maoist ideology and instigating tribals to wage war against the State. After being released on bail, he returned home and started living as an autorickshaw driver.
In 2011, he vanished for the last time, after living with the family for five months at a stretch. “He left without informing anyone, after setting on fire all his ID proofs,” says Sinoj’s brother V S Manoj, a CPM local committee member.
Just before going into hiding, Sinoj had been active in the agitation against highway development in Kerala under a build, operate, transfer scheme. He is believed to have narrowly escaped the anti-Naxal force of the Karnataka Police several times, including in 2012, when Maoist Yellappa died in a battle with the police near Hassan.
Since he had always come back earlier, the family kept hoping Sinoj would return this time too. “Every time, he left the family in the same manner. Pointing out the peaceful life led by ex-Naxalites, I used to advise him to abandon the radical way. He never answered, standing silently instead,” says Indira.