Where Reds and Saffron keep fighting - and killing

March 30th, 2008 - 1:02 pm ICT by admin  

By Jeevan Mathew Kurian
Kannur (Kerala), March 30 (IANS) In ‘god’s own country’, there is one place known as hell. Here, close to 200 people have been killed in violence involving the Marxists and Hindutva activists over 40 years. And no respite is in sight. No one seems to want the wave of brutal violence that has enveloped Kannur district, specifically the Thalassery area, a known bastion of the ruling Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M).

Ever since the first victim fell dead in 1968, there has been no end to the brutal turf war raging between CPI-M supporters and those of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP).

This month, the shadow of Kannur travelled to distant New Delhi when CPI-M activists and RSS sympathisers clashed outside the Marxist headquarters, raising temperatures in parliament.

A truce of sorts has now been called in Kannur. But no one knows how long this will last.

“See the profile of those killed. Ninety percent had only school education and more than 80 percent belonged to backward classes,” said T. Sasidharan, a Kannur S.N. College professor with a doctorate on the Kannur violence.

According to Sasidharan, the official toll in the murder saga stands at 174. No one has any count of the numbers badly injured or maimed for life. There have been convictions, but these have not stopped the violence.

The brutality is what stands out in Kannur, a district of 2.25 million people with a sizeable Muslim population.

Victims are killed with swords, small axes and locally made bombs. They are murdered in planned and targeted strikes. Some are attacked in their homes; some have been killed while travelling.

There is one silver lining: women are never targeted.

The murder of RSS activist Vadikkal Ramakrishnan by the CPI-M in 1968 in Thalassery, a town 20 km south of here, is considered the first political murder in the district.

The end of the 1970s, the start of the 1980s and the years between 1998-2000 saw the violence peak.

The last big outbreak of violence was early this month when three days of mayhem claimed seven lives. Calm was brokered at an all-party meeting March 15.

Some blame unemployment and social backwardness for the violence.

Thalassery witnessed a Hindu-Muslim riot in 1971, when the CPI-M came out to protect the Muslims and lost a worker, U.K. Kunjiramam, in the process.

“Despite this, the violent rivalries in the 1970s were between the Congress and the CPI-M. It was after 1977 that clashes between the RSS and the CPI-M became intense,” said Sasidharan.

The reason for this remains a matter of speculation.

“The RSS wanted to make Thalassery its headquarters in Kerala and it found the CPI-M an obstruction. That is why they are targeting the party,” said P. Jayarajan, a CPI-M leader and legislator.

Some say the violence is due to the region’s political culture. The ancient tribal warrior culture, represented by the martial art Kalarippayattu and the ritual art of Theyyam, must have influenced the violent ways of Kannur.

The CPI-M refutes this.

“Ninety percent of violence in Kannur is taking place in Thalassery. How come that tribal culture common to the region gets confined to a certain area?” asked Jayarajan, partially crippled after an attempt on his life in 1999.

Said Valson Thillankery, an RSS leader: “Peace will prevail if everyone yields a bit.”

Congress leader K. Sudhakaran puts the onus of peace on the CPI-M.

“Lasting peace will be difficult unless the CPI-M changes its style of functioning. They should allow other parties to work. Even after the all-party peace meeting this month, the CPI-M attacked two of our offices.”

The rival sides are ready with details of ghastly acts of the other side — to justify their deeds.

In Kannur district, many villages are known as “party villages” in media parlance. Nothing stirs in these villages without the knowledge of the party concerned. Most such villages are controlled by the CPI-M.

One man from Mangattidam village, about 20 km from Thalassery town, told IANS on the condition of anonymity: “Mostly, quarrels over personal issues turn into political clashes. A majority of those getting killed are not active party workers. They may only be party sympathisers. The workers are difficult to be targeted. They are alert and seldom sleep in their own homes.”

Once someone gets killed, the Marxists and the RSS and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) tend to look after the families of the victims - a sort of pension for life.

“They find jobs for their relatives and provide financial help. This should stop. Otherwise the peace now brokered in the district will not last long,” said the villager.

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