Ideology,murder and breaking parole: Kerala’s only Naxalite in jail speaks out

Joseph Chelat was convicted 18 years ago for a murder, he spent 10 years outside breaking parole.
Ideology,murder and breaking parole: Kerala’s only Naxalite in jail speaks out
Ideology,murder and breaking parole: Kerala’s only Naxalite in jail speaks out
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The murder of Kanjiramchira Somarajan in Alappuzha in 1980, is perhaps the last murder executed by Naxalites in Kerala. In 1985, a district court acquitted many of the accused in the case, and some of them were awarded a six-month imprisonment.

But when government went for an appeal to the High Court in 1987, 22 of the 28 accused in the case were awarded with life imprisonment.

The order was unusual - since 22 people were awarded life imprisonment at the same time.

The case also had a lot of political implications: Not all the 22 accused were Naxalites - the list also included some Congress members.

This created quite a furore, with many asking whether the police and/or the then government had plotted against the Congress men. Critics said that the CPI(M) led EK Nayanar government (1980-81) falsely trapped Congress members in the case intentionally.

Moreover, the ‘Naxalites’ who were arrested in the case were also said to be part of the cultural movement of Naxalism, and not its political action.

Of the 22 accused, some died, some were released, and presently, only one of them is still in jail: 76-year-old Joseph Chelat, the only Naxalite prisoner in Kerala at present.

Joseph is currently out on a one-month parole, and as he spends time with his family and meets visitors, he spoke to The News Minute about his life, and the infamous murder case.

The arrest

Joseph started his political life even before he turned 20, by forming a trade union in his father's coir factory. He was never fit to be a rich father's son, and social service was his way of life.

“It was in my 20s that I got attracted to Naxalism,” says Joseph. “To live without knowing others; problems is easy, but to work selflessly for society is different. I understood that after coming to the politics,” he adds.

Joseph was a theatre artist and had been an inevitable part of the plays by PM Antony, a well-known playwrite and social activist, who was also a part of Naxalite movement. Many of their plays that criticised religion and politics had been banned in Kerala.

The man who was murdered - Somarajan, a coir factory owner and a Zamindar - was once known for his cruelty, according to Joseph. “He used to exploit his labourers by not giving salary, and also sexually exploited the women labourers. He had good connections with government and police. Whoever stood against him was physically attacked,” Joseph recounts.

“Before his death, there was an incident where Somarajan brutally assaulted a man named Thomas, because of some business issues,” Joseph claims.

But Joseph stresses that he was not aware about the plan to kill Somarajan. “In the Naxalite movement, there is a group to execute certain political plans, and some other groups for cultural activities for social reformation. I was involved in their theatrical group, where we played socially and politically relevant plays,” Joseph says.

“But when a case occurs, the police catch us as it is easy for them,” Joseph says.

The prisoner claims that not only is he innocent, but he did not even know about the political group’s operations, or about the planning of the murder.

Joseph breaks parole

It was much later, Joseph says, when he came to know that he and PM Antony were also named as accused in the case.

During the trial, Joseph married Ponnamma and they had a baby. Then, he was convicted by the court in 1989.

“We all went to jail. In 1992 when a group of theatre enthusiasts petitioned the government for the release of PM Antony, the AK Antony government released him,” Joseph says. But all the others remained in jail.

Meanwhile, Joseph had come out a couple of times on parole, and in 2001, he decided that he didn’t want to go back.

“I had some physical ailments, and all three of my daughters were studying. Ponnamma was struggling hard to bring them up. All this made me hesitant to return back to jail. But I was not absconding, I was here at home and walked around out. For almost 10 years, I remained at home, supporting my family. Even police knew that I was at home, but suddenly, in 2010 they arrested me again from my house,” Joseph says.

By this time, almost all the other accused in the case had completed their term of imprisonment and were out.

The future

Out on parole for the first time since 2010, Joseph is the only Naxalite prisoner now in Kerala. “I need to go back on May 15, and I will do that. I don’t know when will I come out, but I have no regrets,” he says.

“But I wish I could be out soon and live freely with my family rest of my life,” he adds.

As TNM was speaking to Joseph, he had a visitor: 75-year-old P Babu, who was a Congress district committee leader in 1980, and also an accused in the case.


Babu maintains that none of the arrested were the real accused in the case.

“For last few years we were trying for a reinvestigation into the case so that we could at least tell our younger generations we are not criminals. I was in Guruvayur when that incident happened, but nobody listened. I was in jail for life imprisonment, I lost my government job by the time I returned. But until my death, I will fight for a reinvestigation,” Babu says.

Edited by : Ragamalika Karthikeyan

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