The most important question is why were the police in a hurry to evict the couple as on the same day the court gave a stay on the eviction.

Kerala Couple Rajan and Ambili takung selfie with sons
news Controversy Tuesday, December 29, 2020 - 21:41

Rahul (23) appears detached from the world outside, he stares into the distance as he struggles to speak amid sobs. Sitting in a tiny room of the shed where his family of four lived for a year, he is inconsolable as he recalls how his father and mother died.

Rahul’s neighbour forces him to have some kanji. Rahul takes a few minutes to gulp down a spoon of it. “My pappa (father) is someone who would never attempt suicide. Suicide is not the solution for anything he would say,” he says as his words get cut.

Rahul Raj’s parents, Rajan (46) and Ambili (40), succumbed to burns after they were accidently immolated on December 22 when police officials went to their house to evict the family living in Neyyattinkara in Thiruvananthapuram. On a three cent piece of land, the family had been living in a small shed. With an asbestos roof for cover, the shed has two tiny rooms and a small kitchen. Rajan died on Sunday night, while Ambili succumbed on Monday evening.


Rahul and Hari 

The couple’s death has shocked Kerala and has led to much anger against the police and a woman who had filed the complaint against the couple. When Rajan poured petrol on himself and Ambili, and held a lighter in his hands, it was a policeman who moved in to remove the lighter and seems to have accidentally lit the fire. While the police’s lack of empathy and disregard for safety is one aspect of the story, the most important question is why were the police in a hurry to evict the couple.

Read: Kerala couple’s immolation: Shashi Tharoor, Chennithala criticise police

“The police could have waited half-an-hour more, so that the stay order would have come,” say Rahul and his 17-year-old brother Renjith. Their accusations that the police were acting at the behest of a woman named Vasantha, who had filed a land dispute case, is backed by the fact that a stay order in favour of Rajan was given by the Munsiff court in Neyyattinkara just as the eviction was going on. 

As Rahul sits in the shed, the crowd outside is burgeoning. Shouting slogans against the police, chastising them for ‘overreacting’, the crowd also demanded Vasantha’s arrest.

The anger was palpable and understanding the risk that things can go out of control, police took Vasantha into preventive custody on Tuesday evening.

Read: Kerala couple’s immolation death: Woman who moved court to evict family, detained

Vasantha lives in a house next to Rajan’s.  

How it all began

Rajan moved into the area called Netta Thottam in Neyyattinkara over a year ago. Until then, he had been living in his mother’s house which was a little less than two kilometers away. Initially, he had set up a makeshift tarpaulin until he built a proper shed. Netta Thottam is a place where families from Scheduled Caste communities live in large numbers. Rajan had to leave his mother’s house, allegedly following constant complaints filed by Vasantha.

Rajan’s neighbour Hari and his mother Thulasi alleged that Vasantha targeted Rajan, claiming that his carpentry work used illegal means. Rajan had made an almirah for his sister Rani during her wedding and had completed the work for the same at his mother’s house.

“Vasantha then had complained to the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau and the Kerala State Electricity Board claiming that Rajan had bought wood to make the almirah in an unauthorized manner and had stolen electricity. At one stage, he wasn’t even able to go for work because he got caught up with settling those issues as she kept filing complaints,” Hari says.

Finally, Rajan created a shed on a piece of land he believed was the government's poramboke land and moved there with his family.

“Rajan told us that the land was poramboke land as per panchayat records and that is why Rajan had dared to live there. No one lived in those three cents prior to Rajan and his family, Hari adds.

Vasantha’s youngest son had threatened Rajan six months ago, Hari alleges. “He came with petrol to set them on fire, that time the local people intervened. They have assets worth many lakhs. Vasantha’s intention was to torture the family and to make them leave the house so that she can buy the land for a meagre amount of money. She has done this with others too,” Hari says.

Rajan’s mother Thulasi spoke even as she tried to console her grandsons. “I never thought that things would become like this, I would have never asked him to leave if I knew. My son had to settle case after case filed by Vasantha, he never got any justice,” Thulasi tells TNM, unable to control her tears. 


Thulasi (Right)

“He approached the Collectorate and the Human Rights Commission he had told me. It was from Vasantha’s brother’s shop that my son bought wood to make the almirah. But her complaint was that he brought the wood in an unauthorized way. I don't know what caused the vengeance, but my son and his wife are gone,” she says.

Both Vasantha and Rajan belong to the Christian Nadar community. Thulasi alleges that she once had an argument with Vasantha. “This is a place where mainly Dalit families live, but she claimed that she would not let Dalits live in the area. I told her that everyone, all humans have the same rights. This might have made her angry with me and my son. She had even filed a complaint that my son had put mud on her wall. I finally asked my son and family to shift as we were being constantly harassed by visits by officials to probe Vasantha’s complaints. This began disturbing Ambili’s mental health further. I thought a change would make her feel better. Who is there now to take care of me and my grandkids now?” she asks.

However, Vasantha’s advocate K Sivaprasad maintains that the land is not poramboke but was bought by Vasantha in 2006. “She had paid the land tax till 2019 and had presented the tax receipt at court while filing the case,” he says.

Family points finger at cops

“It was the police who caused their death by trying to take the lighter away. That woman Vasantha told the police that she will deal with the consequences of the eviction and they acted on her word. My pappa won’t ever attempt suicide, he used to say suicide is not a solution for anything,” Rahul tells TNM.

The video of Rahul digging his father’s grave and pointing his hand at the police, has created much heartbreak and outrage in Kerala. “Can’t I bury my father here? You all caused his death,” the young man can be heard saying.

Neighbours say that it was when Rajan and family were having lunch that the police tried to carry out the eviction. Their food was left half eaten as the family rushed out to deal with the police.

Though Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has promised a house and funds for the kin, the deaths have raised serious questions on how a section of society- the marginalised and the poor- still have no access to land or housing, despite various government schemes. It has also exposed the double standards of a police force that may never have entered a posh colony or apartment and their insensitivity while dealing with such evictions. 

Read: Kerala couple’s immolation: CM Pinarayi promises to build house, fund education of kids

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