Inside the police barracks built two decades ago to lodge forces deployed to contain political violence in this volatile region of Kerala’s Kannur district, young men and women now study to crack competitive exams for various jobs.
These youths mirror a changing facet of Panoor region, notorious for political killings till a decade ago. In the four-decade history of political violence in Kannur, the region under Panoor police station limits — a municipality and three panchayats — reported the highest number of killings. Of the 99 political killings in the district from 1995 to 2018, Panoor topped with 17 killings, all till 2009. But, Panoor hasn’t reported any political killing since 2009, indicating how the region is coming out of the shadow of violence.
Official data shows that incidents of political rioting too have come down in the area over the last few years. In 2017, there were 21 cases of rioting, but the figure was down to four in 2018. Attempt to murder cases came down from six in 2017 to two in 2018. On January 3, when Kerala witnessed widespread street fights between CPM and BJP workers over the entry of young women to Sabarimala, the Panoor region did not witness any incident of violence.
Kannur SP G Siva Vikram said, “Besides strengthened patrolling, we have modified the style of policing to address local needs. Police have identified men in the 25-40 years age group and are giving them various kinds of training and engaging them in activities before they stray into violence.”
Vikram said sports tournaments have been organised in sensitive areas with the support of leaders of all parties. “Local leaders and people come together at such occasions and their interactions have diffused the situation. Such attempts have paid dividends.”
Police launched an intensive coaching programme, “Insight”, in July last year. Under the programme, held in 20 centres in Panoor region, 1,200 youths are taking part in regular coaching sessions free of cost. There is also physical fitness training to prepare them for paramilitary recruitment exams.
“These coaching and fitness sessions, in which all political leaders are involved, would help improve the social life of youths. Police are campaigning that each house in the region should have a government employee. Parents were also sensitised about diverting their wards from anti-social activities,” said SHO V V Benny, who is overseeing the ongoing project.
Although police haven’t openly stated that the aim of social interventions is to end political violence, youths have realized the task ahead.
Vidhul T S, a diploma-holder in mechanical engineering who now preparing for paramilitary recruitment exams, said many people are trapped in cases of political violence. “Many of us feel that it is better to keep away from such politics to remain safe. If you are identified with a party, chances of being attacked or falsely implicated in cases are high. We realise that getting involved in criminal cases would spoil our future,” he said.
School teacher-cum-novelist T K Anil Kumar, who has penned a fiction against the backdrop of political violence at Panoor, said the long list of cases, victims and accused involved and their families have become a major liability for political parties. Hence, local leaderships are reluctant to indulge in violence in the manner they used to do in the past, he said.
Kumar said over last few years, several non-political collectives have come up in many villages in Panoor region. Such collectives and clubs, he said, conduct rural festivals and other events in which political rivals share the same venue. Such occasions have gradually contributed towards easing tension and hatred, he said.
E Maneesh, a former local CPM leader and now district secretary of Bharat Dharma Jana Sena, said the arrest of the real culprits in the murder of CPM rebel leader T P Chandrasekharan in 2012 had been a game changer.
“Until then, killer gangs would execute murders and political parties would produce a proxy list of accused before police. The gangs would remain out to commit more killings. This was the practice on both sides. When real culprits were booked in Chandrasekharan’s murder, political parties found it difficult to continue with the ploy of a proxy list.”
BJP district president P Sathyaprakash admitted that the situation at Panoor has changed considerably. “In the history of political violence in Kannur, Panoor and nearby areas had had to pay a heavy price. Both BJP and CPM had suffered huge damage in the region. Now, everyone has learnt from that bloodbath,” he said.
Sathyaprakash said the BJP’s “political resistance” against CPM is very strong at Panoor, which “forced the CPM to lower weapons”. Our strength in the region has contributed for the prevailing peace,” he said.
But, CPM district secretary P Jayarajan said efforts of the state government to bring peace have borne fruit. “RSS and BJP cannot bring back their violent politics at Panoor due to the mass resistance.”