In Kerala, leftists, church attack CBI’s movie-gilded image (Comment)

February 2nd, 2009 - 9:58 am ICT by IANS  

Kerala’s largest political organization, the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), and best organized religious establishment, the Catholic Church, are venting their spleen on the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). At stake is the agency’s image, which, in Kerala, has been gilded by a series of Malayalam movies.The two powerful institutions trained their guns on the nation’s premier investigating agency after it named persons high up in their hierarchy on criminal charges.

The CPI-M has charged the CBI with targeting its state secretary, Pinarayi Vijayan, in retaliation for the party’s withdrawal of support to the United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre. The Church has accused it of charge-sheeting two priests and a nun in a murder case to appease the courts and the public who have been demanding action.

A poster that appeared in the district town of Kottayam points to convergence of the interests of the two institutions, which have a long history of mutual distrust. It demands that the CBI act justly, and displays the names of four alleged victims of CBI injustice: Father Thomas Kottoor, Father Jose Puthrukayil, and Sister Sephi, who have been charge-sheeted in the Abhaya murder case, and Pinarayi Vijayan, who has been named one of the 11 accused in the Lavalin case.

Both cases were entrusted to the CBI by the judiciary. Kottoor, Puthrukayil and Sephi were arrested in November last year. A high court judge later granted them bail. In the Lavalin case, which relates to alleged irregularities and corruption in a deal with a Canadian company, there has been no charge-sheet or arrest yet. However, the CBI has informed the court that Vijayan, who was minister at the relevant time, is accused No. 9.

Abhaya, a young nun, was found dead in the well of a Kottayam convent in 1992. The CBI came into the picture after the local police and the crime branch of the state police had written it off as a case of suicide. A CBI officer, who concluded that Abhaya was murdered, took voluntary retirement, alleging he was under pressure from a superior to close the case as one of suicide. Another CBI team, while coming to the same conclusion, said the murderers could not be found.

Court orders on petitions filed by Jomon Puthenpurackal, a social activist, and by Abhaya’s father compelled the CBI to constitute new teams to investigate the case, leading to the three arrests nearly 17 years after the crime was committed. The Church claimed the priests and nun were innocent and exhorted the faithful to pray for them. It also organized anti-CBI demonstrations.

Conscious of the damage the Lavalin issue can cause in the run up to the Lok Sabha elections, the CPI-M has deployed its full force to spread the message that the CBI move against its leader was politically motivated.

There have indeed been cases where the CBI’s role has smacked of partisanship. However, the agency still enjoys a high reputation nationally since it is regarded as less politically contaminated than state government agencies.

In Kerala, the CBI has enjoyed an even higher reputation than elsewhere for two reasons. Many people believe it cracked open some murder cases which the state police attempted to suppress. Some Malayalam movies boosted its image.

The earliest case on which the CBI’s local reputation rests dates back to 1983. It rose out of the death of Peethambaran, an employee of a lodge in Kochi. His body was found lying in a pool of blood in front of the lodge. The police closed the case as one of suicide. A long legal battle by the man’s father resulted in a Supreme Court order for reinvestigation by the CBI.

The agency concluded it was a case of murder and hauled up the lodge owner and three other employees.

Another case entrusted to the CBI relates to the death of Soman, a Dalit sub-inspector, in a police station. The local police wrote off this case, too, as one of suicide. Following agitation by Dalit groups, the case was transferred to the CBI, which booked some police personnel on a charge of murder.

Movie glorification of the agency began with the 1988 film “Oru CBI Diarykurippu” (A CBI diary note) in which superstar Mammootty appeared as CBI officer Sethurama Iyer. Its success prompted the producer and the director to come up with another CBI film, “Jagratha”, within a year.

As the second film failed at the box office, the producer lost interest in the subject. Years later the director, K. Madhu, himself produced a third film, “Sethurama Iyer CBI” (2004), which did well commercially. The fourth in the series “Nerariyan CBI” (CBI to know the truth) came in 2005.

The CBI was able to secure conviction from the trial courts in the Peethambaran and Soman murder cases but its success was short-lived. All the accused in the two cases fought their way up and were acquitted by the Supreme Court eventually. In assessing the agency’s record, one needs to note that it is asked to take up the investigation long after a crime is committed. This means the culprits have the time and possibly the opportunity to cover their tracks.

(2.2.2009 - B.R.P.Bhaskar can be reached at

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