Book Excerpt
From unemployment to inadequate police action, Ullekh NP details the cycle of violence that Kannur is caught in.
PTI File photo of relatives of BJP activist Remith

Earlier, crime followed a cyclical pattern, explains Jacob. In the 1980s, it would start around 15 October, peak by December and peter out by March. After the reaping season of October, the farmer was relatively free and essentially unemployed for the next three or four months. ‘Such people can easily be lured with money.

Though I haven’t heard of the CPI(M) having to bribe youths to do their bidding, other parties routinely did it. Both the Congress and the RSS used to do it,’ Jacob states. Cat-calling, or harassment of women, by such dawdling men also led to clashes. And after the summer rains of March, all would go back to the fields and have no time for criminal activities.

Jacob has tracked vendetta crimes of almost 500 years, collecting data from British and earlier archives. The data is stunning: 80 per cent of such crimes took place from October to March.

Now, with people opting for tertiary-sector jobs, the trend is changing, but what contributes to the incidence of crime is, still, unemployment. As Sasidharan and others have pointed out, it is the lower classes that fall for the trap of political parties which offer them a certain new identity and recognition in exchange for engaging in partisan violence.

Scholars have noted that due to the abysmal factory output and therefore jobs, especially in North Malabar, the brightest ones enter government or highly paid private sector jobs. The rest mostly manage to secure jobs in the Gulf region and send back money, which triggers a competitive consumerist culture; flashy cars, luxury homes and high consumption of everything from fancy gadgets to exotic food products are reflective of this trend. Those who get left out either do odd jobs and stay content, or become cannon fodder in the competitive and violent politics of the districts.

A random analysis of the leaders of the killer squads of the CPI(M), the Congress and the BJP–RSS over the past twenty years with the help of a police officer who wants to remain anonymous reveals that not even 1 per cent of them make it to leadership positions. They are often made to feel important by their leaders who support their families in times of crises, which include imprisonment or threats from rivals. In the prime of their youth, they are offered money and perks, but gradually, they are sidelined based on their crime records and the public perception that they are gang leaders who assist their party in carrying out attacks on rivals.

In the case of the RSS, the sample was limited because a good majority of them were recruited from elsewhere, leaving no trace of where they came from. Yet, the perception is that the pracharaks—the new ones—who come from elsewhere have no commitment to the places where they are briefly based and therefore act most indiscriminately in promoting violence. O.K. Vasu and A. Ashokan, both of whom were targets of bomb attacks after they left the BJP to join the CPI(M), state openly that the RSS pracharaks from elsewhere these days are an irresponsible lot. Ashokan, while he was with the RSS–BJP, had to thrash a pracharak named Pavithran who had come to his locality and ordered that the CPI(M) workers be killed in retaliation for some violence far away, he says.

O.K. Vasu alleges that a very senior leader of the RSS from Kathiroor was directly involved in the killing of Raju Master in Panoor in the late 1970s. Sashidharan, a key accused in the attempt to murder P. Jayarajan and a witness in the Kathiroor Manoj murder case, has been allotted five Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) officers for his protection. It’s another matter that the RSS leaders accuse even topmost CPI(M) leaders of having a criminal past.

Mostly, however, the ringleaders of the killer squads are often left on the fringes once their utility expires.

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The inadequacy of police action is another major Achilles heel for Kannur. For almost 30 lakh people, there are just over 3000 policemen in the district notorious for its cyclical violence.

So is the paucity of police vehicles, say the officers posted in the district. The absence of a comprehensive riot-tackling scheme—though one has supposedly been in place since the late 1990s—continues to be a cause for worry, says Jacob.

Jacob concedes that policemen—including those under his command—used to accept the list offered by the accused party, primarily because they lacked the wherewithal to investigate and trace the real culprits in most cases. He remembers that in the Edakkad police station, one of the subinspectors had given him a list of the accused, which carried the name of one who was already dead. ‘Such was the nature of investigation,’ he says, adding that in the T.P. Chandrasekharan murder case, the police refused to accept the list offered by the accused party, the CPI(M).

These days, though, the deputy superintendent of police (DSP) P. Sadanandan of Kannur says that the police tend to accept the list given by the victim’s party, who often name big leaders with the hope of making the case ‘stronger’.

Though the police are more or less prepared to prevent revenge murders, it is the orchestrated nature and the meticulous planning behind the attacks by the communal outfits that are a major menace in Kannur, says Jacob. ‘Organizations such as the RSS, PFI and Jamaat-e-Islami go for such strikes because they want the attention of the crowd. They deliberately create problems to fan communal hatred,’ he says.

The proximity to Mahe poses another challenge, he goes on. The police then can’t search immediately for the culprits because Mahe is a Union territory. If the killers flee there, they are able to escape the police radar. The availability of cheap liquor and drugs smuggled from Mahe to Kannur through the sea route or through the river has also contributed to the rise in crime in the district. ‘People under substance abuse and alcoholics are routinely used as hired guns,’ a Thalassery based police officer tells me in an interview.

The police and forensic officers say that they can often identify the political affiliation of the culprits from the stab wounds of the victim. The CPI(M) squads usually come in large groups and launch a no-holds-barred attack on their targets. Which is why their victims bear numerous cuts.

The RSS-affiliated ones, who are often well-trained, go for precision killing, slashing the arteries on the wrists or the popliteal artery just behind the knee joint. Lately, most killers have been hurling bombs to disorient the victim and then hack them around the ankles before going for the head and the throat. The PFI killers even use surgical knives and often slash the victim across the belly so that he bleeds profusely to death. The use of surgical knives, physicians and forensic experts tell me, requires sufficient training. Unlike swords and other traditional weapons, these cannot be used by the untrained to ‘produce results’. Most parties practise their killing styles using dogs and other animals, according to senior police officers and forensic surgeons I interviewed in Kannur.

The last of Jacob’s main theories for the political violence in Kannur was a lack of communication between police personnel—but thanks to the advent of cell phones and the Internet, this hurdle has been eased in the past decade or so.

(Excerpted with the permission of Penguin Random House from the book ‘Kannur: Inside India’s Bloodiest Revenge Politics’ by Ullekh NP)

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