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Under a cloud of suspicion

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The CPI(M)’s moral posturing over extrajudicial killings in BJP-led States will now sound hollow

It was the first ‘encounter’ killing by the police in Kerala. Nearly 50 years ago, ‘Naxalite’ Varghese, whom his admirers later called the Che Guevara of Kerala, was shot dead in the jungles of Wayanad.

In the wake of the Naxalbari uprising in West Bengal at the time, the police of the Communist-led Kerala government launched an anti-Naxalite drive in the State. It was in that drive that Varghese, 31, was killed on February 18, 1970. He had been a Communist Party of India (Marxist) activist before he turned a Naxalite. Varghese was instrumental in ending the centuries-old system of bonded labour of the tribals by local landlords.

At the time, the police claimed that Varghese had opened fire on them and they had shot him in “self-defence”. Forty years after he was killed, this terrible lie, employed frequently these days by the police and security forces across the country, was exposed by Constable Ramachandran Nair (in photo). It was Nair who had pulled the trigger on an unarmed Varghese. Troubled by his conscience, the former CRPF constable revealed that he had shot Varghese point blank on the orders of the Inspector General of Police, K. Lakshmana. Based mainly on Nair’s testimony, a CBI Special Court in Kochi awarded life imprisonment to Lakshmana on October 28, 2010. He was 75 years old then.

Recent incidents

Exactly nine years after Lakshmana was sent to jail, three suspected Maoists were shot to death on October 28 by the Thunderbolts, a special anti-Maoist unit, in the Agali forests of Attappadi in Palakkad district. Another suspected Maoist was killed the following day. As predicted, the police said that the suspected Maoists were killed during a gun battle between the armed irregulars and the Thunderbolt commandos.

These shootings were the third ‘encounter killings’ with Maoists after the Pinarayi Vijayan-led government came to power more than three years ago. Mr. Vijayan, who is also the Home Minister, said that the four Maoists had been killed by the police in “self-defence”.

Retired High Court judge B. Kemal Pasha was among the first to call these extrajudicial killings. He said that suspected terrorists and Maoists should be produced before the law, not shot at sight. Human rights activists have called the killings “state-sponsored murders”. Neither in the Attappadi ‘encounters’, nor in the Nilambur or Vythiri ‘encounters’ previously was a single policeman reported wounded, they pointed out.

Tellingly, a five-member fact-finding team of the Communist Party of India (CPI), the second largest party of the Left Democratic Front government, alleged that the Thunderbolts had shot dead three of the victims while they were eating lunch in the jungle. The CPI also alleged that the fourth suspected Maoist, an ailing Manivakasam, said to be the leader of the group, was taken into custody and gunned down by the police.

A high moral position

Though Kerala is not alien to custodial deaths, ‘fake encounters’ — extrajudicial killings that are common in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, U.P., Andhra Pradesh, among other States — are a new phenomenon in the State. Barring a few minor incidents, there has been no Maoist violence in Kerala since the Emergency. Instead, hundreds of people have lost their lives in political violence, mainly in targeted killings by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the CPI(M).

For the only Communist-led State government in the country three ‘encounters’ in three years is a political shame. The CPI(M)’s moral posturing over extrajudicial killings in BJP-led States will now sound hollow. The CPI deserves praise for its strong stand — it has taken this position risking the wrath of its governing partner, the CPI(M) — that the Attappadi killings were fake, for extrajudicial killings are among the worst kind of human rights violations.

K.P.M. Basheer is a Kerala-based independent journalist

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Printable version | Dec 15, 2019 11:45:47 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/under-a-cloud-of-suspicion/article29872085.ece

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