In most Kerala campuses, there is an unspoken understanding about which walls are reserved for which political group’s campaign. A row over this led to the gruesome murder.

He was stabbed in the heart Maharajas students recall murder of SFI activist
news Political violence Monday, July 02, 2018 - 18:50

Still reeling under the shock of their friend being hacked to death on campus, students of Maharaja’s College in Kochi travelled to Idukki to bid farewell to their dear classmate. It will perhaps take many months for those who witnessed the gruesome violence – which took place near the back gate of the college on Sunday night – to come to terms with losing Abhimanyu.

Nikhil, a second-year student at the college and a member of the Students Federation of India (SFI) was painting the walls at the back gate with a few others on Sunday evening.

“We were standing near the college back gate, opposite to the IMO blood bank. Late Sunday evening, we saw some guys who did not look like they were studying at our college, sticking posters on the wall. We told them people from outside can’t participate in any college-related events and can’t stick posters. This escalated to a verbal argument between us and the group. But around 10 pm, the issue was resolved and we stayed back to complete all our work to welcome the new batch,” Nikhil told TNM.

The other group had two students who belonged to the Campus Front of India, the student wing of the PFI.

However, what the students hadn’t realized then was that their troubles were far from over. The group, made up largely of outsiders, returned to Maharaja’s, but this time armed with weapons.

Recounting the horror that unfolded at midnight, one activist from the Kerala Students Union (KSU), who did not wish to be named, said, “When the SFI people took down the Campus Front posters, these outsiders attacked them with weapons. Abhimanyu was not there then. Hearing about the attacks he and a few others came from the hostel to the back gate. It was during the fight that Abhimanyu sustained an injury. I went to hospital to see him along with the others. He sustained a really big injury in his chest area and by the time he was taken to the hospital he was nearly gone.”

Of walls and violence

Arguments and even violence over which group gets to use which wall inside the college campus and fill it with their political writings, paintings and posters is not new to Maharaja’s, one of the most prestigious colleges in Kochi.

In most Kerala campuses, there is an unspoken understanding about which walls, and which portions of the campus, are reserved for which political group’s campaign. Student political groups such as SFI, the student wing of CPI (M), KSU, student wing of Congress and ABVP or Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the student wing of the BJP, mark walls where they have ‘exclusive rights’ to stick their posters, paint political messages or carry out other forms of party campaigning. 

In most campuses, SFI and KSU – that are more active than other groups – get a larger advertising space.

And as a rule (unspoken, but understood), no party will encroach the advertising space of another - whether it is for an induction or a campus election.

“Although we have had issues with political writings and posters in our college, violence over breaching the unsaid rule has never happened. This is the first time,” says Mridhula, the Chairperson of the Students Union told TNM.

For a few years now, the walls near the back gate of Maharaja’s, where Abhimanyu was murdered, has been the exclusive territory of the SFI, according to Mridhula.

“Paintings and writings are usually done during the beginning of an academic year to welcome the new batch of students. SFI has for years now booked the back gate walls to campaign with its writings and paintings. We mark the walls well in advance before any other group can stake claim. KSU has other areas in the college where they paint. Neither of us have breached and used the others’ walls,” Mridhula says.

On Sunday night too, students spent the day by the walls, writing messages and painting them ahead of the arrival of the new batch. This was when a few members of the Campus Front of India stuck posters on SFI walls and this turned into an argument between the two groups, Mridhula alleges

Campus Front of India began its activities in Maharaja’s only in 2017.

“They began operating only last year and are not very strong in Maharaja’s. For years now, it has been the SFI and the KSU. Even in the group that came to stick posters on the walls, there was only one Maharaja’s student. The others we believe were SDPI (Social Democratic Party of India) members,” Mridhula adds.

Criminals from outside

Mirdhula, Nikhil and other students from the college believe that the attackers were not part of their college.

“They looked like 30 – 40-year-olds and were not from our college,” Mridhula says.

Police officers too confirmed that out of the attackers, one had just taken admission in Maharaja’s the previous week and the other was to join on Monday.

“Our initial investigations reveal that the rest are outsiders. A probe is on. Soon, the culprits will be caught,” the police official said.

Pitiable campus politics 

Reacting to the incident, Youth Congress leader and former member of the KSU Sherin Verghese said that although the situation that had led to the death of a student was terrible, it was sadly not surprising.

“Campus politics has been deteriorating over the years. It is not a rosy picture where all student parties participate with equal power and democracy prevails. These campuses in Kerala, be it the Thiruvananthapuram University campus or Maharaja’s, are the headquarters of student political violence,” he says.

Sherin believes, in most cases, the victims of such violence are those who come from tribal areas of the state.

“Young kids who join these colleges from tribal hamlets in Idukki, Wayanad and other areas, I have noticed, get carried away with the political climate in the colleges. These young men are energized by the importance and purpose given by the parties that they join and they get too invested in it,” Sherin adds.

Sherin says that certain campuses turn into ‘red bastions’ and disagrees with Mridhula’s assertion that all groups respect the ‘wall boundaries’.

‘Many a time SFI activists do not allow students of other parties to campaign in any way. In Thiruvananthapuram colleges, SFI workers turn violent if banners, flags or symbols of other parties are put up on the campus. And when students wish to oppose this, they join outfits such as Popular Front/SDPI and rebel against the red rule with their own brand of violence,” Sherin notes.

 

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