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Sunday, January 23, 2022

Kerala violence: 150 held; KITEX accuses govt of vendetta

At the labour quarters of Kochi-based KITEX Garments, late-night Christmas celebration on Saturday triggered protests from a section of workers, leading to a clash. As the company's security personnel failed to control the situation, police stepped in.

Written by Shaju Philip | Thiruvananthapuram |
December 28, 2021 4:34:46 am
The workers, who were allegedly inebriated, trooped outside the residential quarters, assaulted nine policemen, set fire to their vehicle and damaged a few other vehicles.

The number of migrant workers arrested in connection with the attack on police in Kochi on Christmas night rose to “at least” 150 on Monday even as their employer, KITEX Garments, alleged that police have singled out innocent workers from north and north-eastern states while allowing local workers to go scot-free.

Police denied the allegation of targetting any particular section.

At the labour quarters of Kochi-based KITEX Garments, late-night Christmas celebration on Saturday triggered protests from a section of workers, leading to a clash. As the company’s security personnel failed to control the situation, police stepped in.

The workers, who were allegedly inebriated, trooped outside the residential quarters, assaulted nine policemen, set fire to their vehicle and damaged a few other vehicles. Police on Sunday took into custody 164 migrant workers from their premises and recorded the arrest of 24 of them.

Additional SP, Ernakulam rural, Anuj Paliwal, who is heading the probe, said, “We have so far arrested at least 150 migrants. Among them, 24 persons, who were arrested on Sunday, were remanded in judicial custody. We are processing charges against others and only later it can be revealed whether the rest of them would attract non-bailable offenses.”

“We are also verifying the role of more people in police custody,’’ he said.

Addressing the media in Kochi, KITEX Garments managing director Sabu M Jacob said police have arrested 151 “innocent” people. He said, “Of the 164 persons taken into custody, CCTV footage of the incidents showed that only 13 persons were involved in violence. We have also handed over another 10 workers to police.’’

He said police have deliberately taken into custody migrant workers. He said 984 workers were based at the residential quarters, of whom 499 were from Kerala and 485 were migrants. Police have raided three quarters, avoided those from Kerala and nabbed 164 persons without any evidence against all of them, Sabu alleged.

On KITEX’s allegation, Additional SP Paliwal said the migrant workers were arrested based on evidence obtained from CCTV footage and other visuals of the attack. “We haven’t shown any discrimination in arresting the workers. The probe will reveal whether the arrested are innocent or not,’’ he said.

Stating that there was no racial or communal angle behind the mob violence, Paliwal also said, “The accused persons hail from all north and northern states.”

Sabu, who has a running feud with CPI(M), the main partner in the ruling LDF coalition in the state, as well as main opposition Congress after his charitable outfit Twenty20 wrested power in four local self-governing bodies in Ernakulam, said, “Innocent workers were made scapegoat only because of political animosity towards me and my firm. The Kerala government will be answerable to north and north-eastern states for having jailed their innocent workers who have come to Kerala to earn a living.”

If Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan is a man of conscience, Sabu said, the innocent workers should be released.

Sabu alleged that by hunting down migrant workers, the state government was targeting KITEX, and its Twenty20. “Only the culprits should be arrested. To settle scores with me, the government and political parties are exploiting the situation. They are thirsting for my blood. I am ready to close down my business. Kerala would be answerable to the arrest of innocent workers from 10 other states. This is a wrong and dangerous message to other states,’’ he said.

He said the KITEX management will give legal assistance for the innocent workers and will fully cooperate with police action against the culprits.

Sabu also released a break-up of the 164 workers — both arrested and in custody: of 151 workers whom the company claims are innocent, 62 are from Jharkhand, 29 from Assam, 14 from Odisha, 13 from West Bengal, 11 from Uttar Pradesh, and the rest from other states.

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