Ninety-six killings in two decades, the death count split evenly. Justice long delayed; the law taking its course; rivals drawing their hitmen from the same social pool. If these are the political dimensions of the turf war between the CPI(M) and the BJP-RSS in Kannur, Ground Zero of the violence in Kerala, there’s a deep, personal element, too. hich begins after the slash of a sword, or the flash of a bomb. It’s the anguish and the helplessness of the survivor. Of the parents, wives and children of those killed and of the alleged killers themselves.
Many of them may be supported financially — sometimes legally —- by their political patrons but when it comes to grief and trauma, they are alone. Many of them walk like ghosts, and privately admit that they took the blame to protect their party and their leaders.
As The Indian Express travelled through Kannur, cutting through rival “party villages” — from CPI(M)’s Pathippalam to RSS’s Makkoolpeedika and onwards to the red bastion of Panoor town — it also came across this one question hanging heavy in the humid air. Why do only the footsoldiers and their homes face the brunt of the political violence here?
The search for answers will lead you to Geetha in Pinarayi, whose husband P V Raveendran, a “CPI(M) sympathiser” was killed by bombs hurled allegedly by RSS workers during an election victory march last May near Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s home.
It will take you inside a Toyota Innova in Chokli, a village bordering Mahe in Puducherry, where Muhammed Shafi settles down for an “open chat” but is soon lost for words. Shafi is out on parole while serving a life term for the murder of a former CPI(M) leader who dumped the party.
Then, there’s Joji, an ex-RSS worker who was an accused in the killing of a CPI(M) worker 14 years ago before being acquitted. And, Pradeepan, who completed a life sentence in the 1999 murder of teacher and BJP leader K T Jayakrishnan — Pradeepan now heads the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) at the same school. Also Read | For turf war, RSS, CPM draw their footsoldiers from same social ranks in Kerala | Click here
In Pinarayi, Geetha is still struggling to recover from her husband’s death. “When innocent people are butchered in Kannur, the culprits are not convicted. The CPI(M) supported us with Rs 10 lakh. But I don’t know how to go ahead in life,’’ she said. Her two sons — Jithin, a daily-wage worker, and Rakhil, a private firm employee — are her only source of emotional support.
Shafi was the fifth accused in the murder of CPI(M) rebel T P Chandrasekharan in 2012. Last month, he got out of jail on parole, to marry the woman he was in love with. The wedding was attended by around 3,000 people, he claims, while pulling out photographs of local CPI(M) leaders, even the son of state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan. Also Read | Kerala political murders: Why law doesn’t take its course | Click here
For the wedding, the groom reached the venue in an Audi, owned by “a friend”. But days after, Shafi was struggling to come to terms with the tag “Kannur killer”.
“The way people stare at me… when I stood before all of them at my wedding, I felt I shouldn’t have got married at all. Like everyone here, I wanted to go to the Gulf after Class 10. But there were some cases against me that forced me to stay back, drive an auto, then work as a daily-wager. Who wants to be a killer?” said the 31-year-old, his eyes filling up.
Joji, the former RSS worker, says he had to leave Koyudu, his village, after the acquittal. Today, he is a sculptor, who wants everyone to see the multi-faced elephant he created from concrete in the middle of a pond at the Jagannatha temple in Thalassery. “I am still struggling with the trauma of what happened. What all I went through in the last few years, what made me flee my village and live here, nothing could be told in a day or two,” said the 33-year-old. Also Read | In Kerala war, how RSS and CPI(M) are two sides of the same violent coin | Click here
Eighteen years after he was convicted at the age of 28, Pradeepan says all he wants to talk about is the Mokery government school, where he is president of the PTA. Even if it’s the same school in which Jayakrishnan was hacked to death in front of his students. “I am a former student of this school. When I returned from jail (in 2011), the number of students had dropped from 600 to 50. Now, we have over 1,000 students,” said Pradeepan, a history graduate. Asked about the case, he said, “What is the point in claiming innocence now?”
When The Indian Express asked leaders from both sides about the trauma that the relatives of victims and the accused were facing, their answers told the story.
Senior RSS leader V Sasidharan said, “This trauma may be a reality. We live in a community, we support each other. That is all that is possible now,” he said. CPI(M) MLA A N Shamseer said, “Trauma? It has to be managed, adjusted, what else can we do?”
Both are quick to claim that their organisations provide financial and legal support to “help the needy, fight cases, support families and their children’s education, meet medical expenses”. Local CPI(M) and BJP-RSS leaders say they mobilise funds after each killing, and that fund-raising campaigns often rack up crores. They claim that while the CPI(M) raises fund through bucket collections, the BJP-RSS gets money “from Delhi”.
But why does this violence leave the party offices largely untouched while many leaders remain in the shadows?
The CPI(M) headquarters in Kannur town, a two-storey, wooden-floored mansion, has no security guards or even a CCTV camera. You need a torch at night to find the mud path that leads to the RSS’s district office.
P Jayarajan, the CPI(M) district secretary, said, “We are not killers or criminals. You may not witness this kind of commitment and such affectionate people. In many cases, friends of the victim take revenge for the family. This is how spontaneous killings happen in our beautiful villages.” Jayarajan was the target of an attack by alleged RSS workers in 1999, when his right arm was nearly cut off, but he still doesn’t have any official security cover.
K K Balaram, RSS state leader, says he has never faced an attack. A lawyer with an office in Kannur town, he says top leaders are not targeted because many issues are “local and spontaneous”. “But there are threats. We do not allow our leaders to travel alone when there is tension,” he said.
The Indian Express asked both leaders if they would take responsibility for this endless cycle of killings in Kannur.
Balaram smiled at the question. “We are all morally responsible for the killings, isn’t that what you meant? Hardly any killings are planned at the top level,” he claimed.
Jayarajan paused for a moment, and replied with a straight face, “Only when we fight against the Fascists.”
(With Shaju Philip)