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Trigger-Happy Police

Trigger-Happy Police

K. Satchidanandan is a well-known Indian poet. I would not be wide of the mark if I say that there are not many who have read as many books as he has. Few people can speak with authority on world poetry as he can. He was once Secretary of the Kendriya Sahitya Akademi. I have heard him speak on several occasions and I came with the distinct impression that he was what I said at the beginning an "Indian poet", not a Malayalam poet.

In the latest issue of the Malayalam journal Mathrubhumi, he wrote a small poem titled Janikkathaval (The Unborn). Few poems have touched me as this one. It is Satchidanandan's tribute to four Ajitas. In the footnote to the poems, he lists the four with the same name.

The first is Ajita Kesakambali who was one of the earliest people in recorded history to deny the existence of God, spirit, soul, a non-material realm, the afterlife, reincarnation, absolute moral values and karma. He lived in the sixth century BC. He was a contemporary of Lord Buddha and Mahavira. Not much is known about his life except that he was ascetic who abjured physical pleasures. The second Ajita is still alive. Her picture which appeared in the Malayala Manorama in the early seventies is still etched in my memory. She was one of those involved in the Naxalite attack on the Pulpally police station. She was caught with her parents Kunnickal Narayanan and Mandakini, who was a Marathi, and one Philip M Prasad. She wore a khakhi trouser, a loose shirt and held a gun. She was, perhaps, forced to pose for the photograph.

Both her parents are no more. Ajita is now a social activist. Her views on all social issues are eagerly sought by the media. She is also a writer and public speaker. In short, she is one of the few whom I respect for her views, though I may not always agree with them. What a loss it would have been if, instead of arresting the family, the police had shot them at close range and declared them as killed in an encounter. But not so lucky was one of their comrades -- Varghese.

He was caught and killed by the police. Decades later, when the pricks of conscience became unbearable, a retired policeman revealed how he was forced by his superior to kill him. The confession resulted in the punishment of one who is now behind bars in Kerala. To return to the poem, the third Ajita is a woman whose details I am not aware of. She also wore a trouser in the only photograph I have seen of her. The picture showed her body lying on the ground in a lush-green area. She was one of the two who were killed by the Kerala Police in a forest area at Nilambur in Kerala. Devarajan was another person whose body was found with multiple wounds nearby.

No other state has as much media presence as Kerala. At one time Kottayam, a small town, was considered the media capital of India. No other town had as many publishing houses as this one. Every other month, a particular newspaper claims that its circulation has increased by so many lakhs and the nearest newspaper was behind it by a little less than a million copies.

That these figures are all cooked up is a different matter. What I can't understand is why these newspapers have not sent their ace reporters to Nilambur to investigate how the so-called "encounter" happened. Instead, they all have been quoting the police. It was the same police which claimed that Varghese was killed in an encounter in the seventies. The media merely repeated the cock and bull story until policeman Ramachandran Nair spilled the beans.

The same thing has happened this time also, though there is a slight difference in the two cases. The police have given two versions of what happened in the Kurulai range under Padukka forest station in Nilambur on the night of November 23. Since this column is not an attempt to dissect the police version, let me go by the police theory. The police got a tip-off that a dozen Maoists were camping in the forest area. On the basis of the tip-off, the police surrounded their camp. Suddenly, the Maoists saw the police and they started firing at the uniformed men. In retaliation, the police fired at them in which Koppa Devarajan, a member of the Central Committee of the CPI (Maoists), and Ajita, alias Kaveri, were killed.

A mass-circulation Malayalam daily has started a series on this. That is what the Malayalam papers do. When they cannot report the truth about the killing, they publish a series to fill space. The reporter would later submit the series for awards and when the reporter gets it, the newspaper would tom-tom it as a great achievement. The fact is that a reader like me would like to know what exactly happened there. Who killed whom? From the details available in the public domain, the Maoists first fired at the police. Did any policeman get injuries? No, no one got injured. What kind of weapons did they have? There is no clarity. The police claimed that they were well-armed. In that case they could have harmed the police. All that they could capture from them was a pistol. On the other hand, there is evidence that Devarajan and Ajita were shot with an assault rifle that armed security men use.

There is also evidence that they were shot while they were trying to flee. If they were holding guns, they should have been somewhere near the bodies. As the story goes, the rest of the Maoists disappeared from the scene. Why could not they be apprehended? It is said that the deceased were not physically well and that is why they could not run away like their comrades. Now, what were they planning in the jungle? The police rely on hearsay. Did they have any evidence that they were planning to strike big?

I do not know under what law it is an offence for people to go to forests. What is more amazing is that there is no remorse about what happened. The state government is brazen about it. Worse, the Leader of Opposition, Ramesh Chennithala, has come out in support of the police. In the Oommen Chandy government he was in charge of the home department. It's only the CPI which has criticised the Pinarayi Vijayan government. Why are the rest of the political spectrum, the media and other civil society organisations supporting the government? It is no secret that Maoists do not have any strength in Kerala worth the name. They have not done anything that causes concern. The fact is that they do not enjoy any groundswell of support. They cannot function in a vacuum.

I understood this when last year I visited Ottappalam. I happened to visit Kongad where the Naxalites committed a heinous act decades ago. A landlord was caught, tried and punished. He was beheaded. What's worse, his penis was cut and placed in his mouth. I met a relative of the landlord who also told me that he was not a good man. He used to torture his tenants and workers. Decades after the incident, there was no one to speak a good word about the landlord. What does this suggest? The Naxalites or the Maoists rise up only when the situation is congenial to them. The situation in Kerala is not at all congenial to them. No, I do not support either Maoists or their ideology because I am a democrat who believes that a solution to any problem can be found in democratic manner.

The Maoists do not believe in non-violence. The Communist ideology also does not approve of Gandhian methods. Yet, nobody looks down upon the Communist leaders simply because their ideology supports violence. In India we follow the rule of law which means the law is supreme. It does not discriminate against anyone. Everyone is equal under the law. The police have no right to take the law into their own hands. Also, they cannot shoot and kill. Unfortunately, that has been happening. I have read about Pinarayi Vijayan making a claim that the Maoists are strong in five districts of the state. There is a monetary angle to the claim. The Centre has endless resources to spend on security. So the easiest way of getting money from the Centre is in the name of beefing up security. That is what Vijayan aims at when he says that so many districts in the state are "Maoist-infested".

Vijayan belongs to a party which is against capital punishment. Recently its Politburo member MA Baby wrote an article defending the party's line. This was in the context of the Supreme Court letting off the hook an accused in the rape and murder of Soumya. The court took the stand that  it was not conclusively proved that he pushed her down from the moving train. In a country where the apex court looks for foolproof evidence while convicting a person, how come nobody is bothered about the injustice involved in killing two persons in the name of preventing the Maoist growth? Far more dangerous than Maoists are communalists who have been trying to vitiate atmosphere in the name of religion. But the state is not bothered about them.

Now come to think of it, what would have been the situation if the government before and after Independence had dealt with the Communists as the LDF government has been dealing with the Maoists? Would EMS Namboodiripad have become the first elected communist Chief Minister in 1957? Incidentally, who was the Chief Minister when Varghese was killed in a cold blood? Was not he EMS? It may appear curious that the day the newspapers carried reports about the killing of Ajita, they also carried page after page details of the life and time of Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

What was Castro? He was a revolutionary. One of his closest aides was Che Guera. I have read Che's Bolivian Diary while I was at college. If one travels in Kerala, one would find posters and cut-outs depicting Che at many places. In fact, I was stunned to see a huge flux board featuring the Latin American revolutionary whose portraits adorn fast-selling T-shirts. Castro and Che also spent time in jungles trying to overthrow the government system they hated.

In other words, they were like the two Ajitas, one let off and the other killed. The Modi government claims to be a robust government. It wants to be known as a muscular government which will organise surgical strikes at the slightest provocation. It favours a policy of annihilation against Naxalites. Left to itself, it would treat the whole Communist lot as expendable. Their ideological gurus like Guruji Golwalkar had identified the Communists as no better than the minorities who needed to be shown their place as second-class citizens of the country.

It is strange that a Communist government behaves like the BJP government and comes down heavily on people against whom there are no criminal charges. Maoism or Naxalism needs to be fought and finished on ideological grounds. Give the tribals the dignity they deserve and access to their forests and other natural resources and no Naxalites would be able to misguide them.

Alternatively, treat them as people to be shunned, to be marginalised and to be pushed out of their native land and  there will be more Ajitas. To return to Satchidanandan's poem, who is the fourth Ajita? She is not yet born. She will take birth if the governments, both at the Centre and in the states, ill-treat tribals. Let there be no mistaking.

The writer, a senior journalist, can be reached at   ajphilip@gmail.com

(Published on 12nd December 2016, Volume XXVIII, Issue 50)#