Remembering Varghese, Kerala’s first ‘encounter’ victim

Hardly a year to go to the 50th anniversary of the February 18, 1970 death of Naxalite Varghese, the first `encounter killing' of a Maoist in Kerala, has come the death of C.P. Jaleel at the hands of Thunderbolt, an anti-insurgency commando group.

Varghese was left dead, face down, on a rock--which later came to be known as Varghese Paara--in the then dense Thirunelli jungle. Constable Ramachandran Nair had, in a shocking public confession in 1998, revealed that he had shot Varghese point blank on orders from his superiors during the height of the anti-Naxalite drive of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Varghese, whom a large section of Adivasis of Wayanad back then considered as their Peruman (saviour), was instrumental in ending the centuries-old system of bonded labour of the tribes people.

Jaleel's body was left dead, face down, in a resort at Lakkidi, 60-odd km away from Thirunelli. Lakkidi, which used to receive the highest rainfall in Kerala, is the gateway to Wayanad, and is a favourite with young, weekend travellers.

Apart from the ideology they believed in and their relative young age (Varghese was 31; Jaleel, all of 26 years), there is a common thread between the two: the circumstances in which they died. Both died in a “shoot-out” with the security forces who claimed that they had to shoot them to death “in self-defence.”

Jaleel's brother C.P. Rasheed has alleged that the young activist was shot to death in cold blood by the commando unit. Human rights activist and former Naxalite, A. Vasu, has alleged that it was a plain case of `fake encounter'. The staff of the Upavan resort on Friday told the media that it was the commandos who had opened fire first. There was no attack on the resort and the two Maoists had come to demand food and some cash and that they had behaved well.

Punishment after 40 years

Forty years after Areekkad Varghese was shot to death in the Thirunelli jungle in an `encounter', K. Lakshmana, who retired as Inspector General of Police, was sentenced to life imprisonment, at the age of 75, by the Central Bureau of Investigation Special Court, on October 28, 2010. Judge S. Vijayakumar relied on the accounts of Constable Ramachandran Nair and another constable, Mr. A.K. Mohammed Haneef.

Judge Vijayakumar observed in his verdict: “It is proved beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt that Varghese, who was caught alive, was brutally killed by A1 [Ramachandran Nair], who was a stooge at the hands of A2 [Mr. Lakshmana], who on his order/command brought about his plan. It is thus satisfied that the theory of Varghese's death in police encounter is an advance defence moulded as a pretext to commit the crime.”

The judge also said that the chances of the Naxalite leader, who was alone in the forest, engaging in an encounter with a team of armed policemen “were remote.”

Constable Ramachandran Nair had, in an interview with this reporter in 1998, said that ever since the `encounter,' he had lived with the deep guilt of killing Mr. Varghese. “This guilt will follow me until my last breath,”he had said. He died in November 2006.

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2022 1:48:59 AM |

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