A week after Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan charged the human rights commission with “politicising” the death of a 26-year-old in police custody, one of his ministers has accused the commission of “inhuman” practices. This time the incident in question was over the last rites of a Latvian woman, who was raped and murdered in God’s own country. The 33-year-old victim was reported missing on 14 March and her decomposed, headless body was found among mangroves a few kilometres from the famous Kovalam beach on 21 April. The case hit international headlines since the state police were clueless about the whereabouts of the woman till her body was traced 37 days after she went missing from an ayurvedic centre where she was admitted for anti-depression treatment in February. She didn’t inform her sister, who had accompanied her to Kerala, before leaving the centre. Though the police claimed they had launched a massive search for the victim, it was the sister and the victim’s husband who did most of the investigation, trekking from one end of the state to the other looking for their dear one, even declaring Rs 2 lakh as a reward for those who provided information. Their travails in the state and the police apathy towards them became big news back home in Ireland, where they were settled. Her sister even expressed unhappiness over the way Kerala police treated her and her brother-in-law while knocking at the door of one station to another seeking justice. There were allegations that the Chief Minister refused an audience with them even after his office apparently cleared such a meeting. After this, the police, in fact, initiated a witch-hunt against a social worker who had provided legal assistance to them, though abandoned midway following a public uproar.

Once the victim’s body was found, her sister Ilze expressed the wish that the body be cremated rather than buried as was their custom, since the deceased had wanted her ashes to be sprinkled in their garden back home. But controversy followed the victim even on her final journey. On Thursday, the state government went ahead with her wish, cremating the body despite a stay order for the same from the State Human Rights Commission. The Thiruvananthapuram district president of BJP, S. Suresh, had petitioned the State Human Rights Commission against the cremation since the investigation was not over. He contended that the post-mortem had failed to pinpoint the cause of death. According to press reports quoting senior police officials, “the post-mortem report didn’t reveal much because the body was decomposed”. Interestingly, the state police chief had initially said the victim’s death was a case of suicide. By the time Suresh reached the public crematorium with the commission’s stay order, the pyre was already lit. The cremation was held in the presence of state Tourism Minister Kadakampally Surendran and senior police officers. In its order, the Commission had directed to bury the body in accordance with Christian beliefs and rites. A report has also been sought from the Chief Secretary regarding the matter. However, the minister claimed that such an order from the Commission had not been brought to the attention of the government. “Even if such an order was there, it was totally inhuman,” the minister said. He accused the Commission of stooping to such “low political levels” which is a bane to the state itself. BJP was disrespecting the departed, the minister said, adding, “cremating the mortal remains and conserving the ashes had been accepted under Christian belief”. Surendran also said that the funeral had taken place in the presence of a priest in accordance with the wishes of the sister and partner of the deceased. BJP leader Suresh, however, told newspersons that after receiving the order at 3.30 pm on Thursday, he had handed it over to the police chief around 3.50 pm. But the police chief ignored the order and with the minister in tow went ahead with the funeral hurriedly. Police and the government were trying to hide something, he charged.

The minister also charged the BJP with politicising each and every issue in the state and said the Human Rights Commission was acting in a unilateral manner. In past weeks, the ruling CPM had singled out the acting chairman of the Human Rights Commission, P. Mohan Das, for what they allege working at the behest of some political parties. Das had invited the wrath of the Chief Minister for being highly critical of the way the state government tried to shield some top police officials involved in the custody death of a young man in Kochi. Vijayan had practically told Das to mind his own business. This was followed by CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan and a couple of ministers launching a personal attack on Das. “The Commission chairman should not speak like a politician. If he does so, it is better that he quits as chairman and goes around doing political activities,” Kodiyeri had said. With repeated violations happening and a government bent on justifying its actions, it is certain that the Human Rights Commission will have much to do in the days to come in this last red bastion.

 

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