The cold-blooded murder of Sreejith—father of a three-year-old girl—belonging to Varappuzha in Kochi, on 9 April, has raised questions as to whether the guardians of the law in the state have become murderers in uniform.
The Marxist Chief Minister of Kerala, Pinarayi Vijayan has broken his silence at last over the death of a 26-year-old, a victim of mistaken identity, in police custody. But when he decided to react after full 15 days, he was more concerned about the “violations” by the state human rights commission, than by his police, who tortured and killed the young man. While the case would have got a decent burial had it not been for the timely intervention of the acting chairman of the state human rights commission, P. Mohan Das, the Chief Minister chose to castigate him for “overstepping his powers”. The cold-blooded murder of Sreejith—father of a three-year-old girl—belonging to Varappuzha in Kochi, on 9 April, has raised questions as to whether the guardians of the law in the state have become murderers in uniform. Mohan Das was the first to reach the hospital where the police had admitted Sreejith with most of his internal organs damaged. The young man died a couple of hours later. Sensing that the police were trying to cover up the case and save the real culprits, Das alerted newspersons and said the case should be handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). It was Das’ demand for a CBI inquiry that annoyed the CM, who said that “the rights panel should do the task assigned to him. He should not make statements based on his political past.” By the time Vijayan thought it was time for him to react to Sreejith’s death, allegations had come up from the local people that the police had acted at the behest of the CPM leadership of the area. Many believed that the police on their own would not have tortured the young man so much without instructions from above, hence the necessity for Vijayan to see a “political ploy” to malign his government.
The human rights commission has since come out with a reply to the Chief Minister. Chairman Mohan Das said that in the Varappuzha custodial death there had been human rights violation and hence the commission had the right to interfere. “The Chief Minister must have made the statement out of his lack of legal knowledge,” he said, adding “the circumstances present now is that citizens are denied constitutional justice.” The Chief Minister’s accusations against Mohan Das have come at a time when his government is under criticism for human rights violations in the state despite the high moral posturing of the ruling Left Front. In July 2017, Vinayakan, a 19-year-old Dalit boy working with a beauty parlour, committed suicide at his home in Pavaratty, Thrissur, a day after his release from police custody. Several grave wounds were found on his body and head. As usual the government suspended three police officers, offered monetary compensation and ordered a criminal branch inquiry, of which nothing was heard afterwards. On 23 October, another Dalit man, Kunjumon, 39, from Kundra in Kollam, died in a hospital in Thiruvananthapuram after his release from police custody. His mother says he died due to police torture, but nothing happened. A year earlier in October 2016, Kalimuthu, 48, from Salem in Tamil Nadu, was found dead in police custody in Thalassery in Kannur district. He was apparently arrested for some petty theft case. The NHRC had then noted that it was a “case of violation of rights to life of a person”. On 11 September 2016, one Abdul Latheef, a truck driver, was found hanging in a toilet of the Wandoor police station in Malappuram district. He had been taken into custody the previous day, but there is no police record of his arrest. His family had alleged that he died due to torture, but his death was made look like suicide. The case has since been written off. Then there were the infamous encounter deaths in November 2016, when three Maoists, including a woman, were killed in exchange of fire with the Thunderbolt arm of the Kerala police in the Kurulai region of the Nilambur forests. Activists had alleged that it was a fake encounter and the three were shot dead in captivity. The government had no definite answer to this.
The death of Sreejith is ghastly, similar to the murder of P. Rajan, a Calicut Regional Engineering College student, who died of third degree torture while in unlawful custody at a police camp in 1976 during the Emergency. Unlike Sreejith’s, Rajan’s body was never traced. The murder of Rajan had rocked the state then, leading to the resignation of the then Congress Chief Minister, K. Karunakaran in 1977, barely a month after taking charge. Karunakaran, an Indira Gandhi loyalist, was the home minister at the time of the incident. All top police officers involved in the case too had to resign. Incidentally, Kerala was the only state which voted for Congress in that decisive election which saw the fall of Indira Gandhi. At the time, Pinarayi Vijayan himself had experienced torture while in custody and he doesn’t miss any opportunity to talk about those days. Again, he and his party had extracted maximum mileage out of Rajan’s death, leading agitations demanding Karunakaran’s resignation. Still Vijayan rubbished the demand for his resignation by Opposition parties. He also did not visit the house of Sreejith or console his mother and young wife. Instead, he found time to attend the famed Thrissur Pooram, driving past Sreejith’s house in Varappuzha on his way to the cultural capital of Kerala. The demand in the state is now for Pinarayi Vijayan to hand over the home portfolio to someone else. That way, it is being said, the Left Front can claim that at least it has set one thing right.