Death of Kerala veterinary student: SFI lands in the eye of political storm

Suspected death by suicide of student of Kerala Veterinary and Animal Sciences University at Pookode, allegedly due to ragging and assault by SFI activists, has rendered the left student organisation vulnerable to strident Opposition criticism

Updated - March 01, 2024 04:23 pm IST

Published - March 01, 2024 02:47 pm IST - Thiruvananthapuram

Youth Congress activists taking out a protest march to the Vythiri police station on February 28 following the suspected death by suicide of student of Kerala Veterinary and Animal Sciences University at Pookode in Wayanad, Kerala.

Youth Congress activists taking out a protest march to the Vythiri police station on February 28 following the suspected death by suicide of student of Kerala Veterinary and Animal Sciences University at Pookode in Wayanad, Kerala. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The Students’ Federation of India (SFI) has found itself at the centre of a political storm in the aftermath of the suspected death by suicide of J.S. Sidharth, a second-year student at the Kerala Veterinary and Animal Sciences University (KVASU) at Pookode in Wayanad district of Kerala.

Sidharth’s death, allegedly due to ragging and assault by SFI activists, has rendered the left student organisation vulnerable to Opposition criticism that it routinely used wanton violence, social shaming, public trials, smear campaigns, inquisitorial methods and intimidation to sustain its “stranglehold” on college campuses.

Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan appeared to weigh strongly in favour of the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) strident condemnation of the SFI’s “cult of violence”.

Speaking to reporters after calling on Sidharth’s family in Thiruvananthapuram, Mr. Khan, who is also the Chancellor of State-funded varsities, accused the SFI of “living a lie” by unleashing violence to stifle dissent, contrarian political views and free speech on college campuses.

Mr. Khan quoted the famous Russian communist dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn to underscore his accusation. “Violence cannot conceal itself behind anything except lies, and lies have nothing to maintain them save violence. Anyone who has once proclaimed violence as his method must inexorably choose the lie as his principle”, Mr. Khan said.

‘Scapegoats’

The Governor said SFI activists were “aggressors and victims at the same time.” The party uses them as foot soldiers to brutalise political opponents. The “impressionable youth” scarcely realise that their handlers are scapegoating them for narrow political ends.

Mr. Khan said the students invariably became accused in police cases. As years pass, the youth find it impossible to get police clearance for passports and jobs. Most end up staring down a blind alley, he said.

Consequently, Mr. Khan said, the youth have become further beholden to the leaders who have exploited their gullibility for the party’s ends.

He said they had no other recourse but to rely on their political masters to escape prosecution. Mr. Khan said students and their families get caught in an inescapable and endless vicious circle that casts them permanently under the party’s thrall.

‘End political violence’

“Kerala’s enlightened population should put an end to political violence for the sake of future generations”, Mr. Khan said.

He said Sidharth’s parents were dissatisfied with the police investigation into their ward’s death. They were sceptical of the severity of the provisions slapped on the accused SFI activists.

“I will write to the State Police Chief about the family’s apprehensions and monitor the case”, Mr. Khan said.

Mr. Khan had repeatedly confronted SFI black flag protesters in public. The SFI was on a warpath against Mr. Khan for allegedly stacking university syndicates with Sangh Parivar nominees.

Mr. Khan condemned the cult of violence, which he said had manifested in scores of political murders in Kerala.

“Recently, the High Court had slapped double legal jeopardy on two party leaders who had initially got off lightly for the murder of Revolutionary Marxist Party (RMP) leader and their former colleague T.P. Chandrasekharan”, he said.

Wake-up call: Satheesan

Leader of the Opposition V.D. Satheesan said Sidharth’s death was “a wake-up call” for society to rally against the campus violence perpetrated by the SFI at the behest of the CPI(M) leadership.

He alleged that SFI leaders had put Sidharth on “public trial” because he had socialised on the campus with a senior female student.

“The innocent act discomfited an SFI leader who wreaked vengeance by assaulting, shaming, and publicly humiliating the student,” Mr. Satheesan said.

He demanded that the police bring the college teachers who “condoned” the SFI’s highhandedness to book.

Mr. Satheesan alleged that the CPI(M) subverted the police to insulate the suspects from prosecution.

Campaign issue

He said the Congress would make Sidharth’s death and the SFI’s “chokehold” on campuses a campaign issue.

All India Congress Committee (AICC) general secretary K.C. Venugopal and Youth Congress Kerala State president Rahul Mamkootathil called on Sidharth’s family. Union Minister of State for External Affairs V. Muraleedharan and other BJP leaders called on Sidharth’s family on Thursday.

Bid to wipe out case: Chennithala

Meanwhile, Congress Working Committee (CWC) member and MLA Ramesh Chennithala has demanded that the government form a special investigation team led by an officer of IG rank to probe the case.

Speaking to reporters in Kozhikode on March 1 (Friday), Mr. Chennithala alleged that there is an attempt by CPI(M) leaders to “wipe out” the case. He said CPI(M) leaders led by former MLA C.K. Saseendran had “threatened” the DySP who was investigating the case and were attempting to save the suspects under police custody.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had earlier ordered the Kerala Police to constitute a special investigation team (SIT) to probe the case. Law Minister P. Rajeeve and Revenue Minister K. Rajan said the government would not shield wrongdoers.

The police have booked the accused for abetment of suicide, voluntarily causing hurt, assault with dangerous weapons, illegal detention, wrongful restraint, wrongful confinement and under Sections 3 and 4 of the Kerala Prohibition of Ragging Act, 1998.

The police said more arrests were likely in the case. The Youth Congress, Kerala Students Union (KSU) and Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) have announced protests seeking justice for Sidharth.

(with inputs from Kozhikode Bureau)

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