When I was suddenly woken up by an early morning call on March 17, I could not help but feel ridden with guilt as I hung up. Manikuttan, a fellow journalist from Thiruvananthapuram, had just given me devastating news – 57-year-old Madhu, a resident of Thoottikkal in Kollam district had died of a heart attack.
I could not stop thinking that, as a journalist, I had failed him. That as a society, we had all failed him.
Madhu had left the last and longest battle of his life, unfinished. He never received the justice for which had been crying hoarse for years on end. His demand for the truth of what happened to his son was never answered.
On September 13, 2009, Madhu’s son Aneesh Lal, a lorry cleaner, was found dead in a pond near a stone crushing unit close to his house. Madhu believed strongly that his son had been murdered. Before he died, Aneesh was in a relationship with his employer’s daughter, and she committed suicide on the same day.
I vividly remember the first time I met Madhu. It was in November 2015. When I approached a group of people protesting outside the court, literally begging for justice, Madhu was one of the first men in the group I spoke to.
A lean man with long hair and a beard, carrying a bag full of documents, he stood silently outside the Kerala High Court in Kochi. This was not his first or his last such protest. He had already stood outside the homes and offices of so many politicians and police officers, demanding the answer to just one question – how did his son die?
“Around 5.30 pm some people approached Aneesh and asked him to clean a lorry, but since it was a Sunday, he initially refused. But when they insisted, he went. And that was the last time I saw him alive. That night, I saw him in the mortuary frozen,” Madhu told me outside the HC, of Aneesh’s last hours.
On that day, he also told me that only one thing could stop him from protesting, his death. Tragically, less than a year-and-half later, that was just what was in store for him, as his protest was cruelly cut short by a heart attack.
More than once, Madhu was offered money to drop the case, to stop his crusade. As a journalist, I have seen instances where distraught families simply accept the money. And I have never felt able to judge them for it, as their desperation and the fear of fighting powerful people make many accept defeat.
But Madhu was a man who spent his life’s savings to fight the case. A widower, he lived in a shabby shed along with his 80-year-old mother.
He had asked me that day, “Why do I need money? That too money that has the blood stains of my son?”
Madhu was protesting outside the court that day for a single demand – that a CBI inquiry be conducted into his son’s death. Sadly, the court did not see fit to fulfil his demand.
Madhu in a protest outside Ernakulam High Court
The group that protested with Madhu at Kochi left after two days. They conducted another protest in front of the Secretariat, but could not get any assurances from the government or the court. I had to move on too.
I met him again in Thiruvananthapuram a year ago, outside the Secretariat. He came running to me with a bunch of documents and reported the progress in his legal battles. I had to admit to him, as I listened to his agitated report, that I was searching hard for a peg to write another article on his struggle. Regretfully, I could not. I met him a few more times outside the High Court, the Secretariat, Ministers’ offices and so on.
Sometimes he would call me, to complain that he did not receive support for his cause from any side. “Nothing was fruitful, I have no idea from where I will get justice. Now I am tired physically, but I will go on,” he told me a few months ago. He quickly added, “I am not asking you to write the news, but I just wanted to tell you.” It was these words that first rose up in my mind when I heard about his death.
Just a few weeks before the end, he had called me in desperation, crying that the crime branch had closed the file on Aneesh, as there were no evidence of foul play. I immediately called the police too, and received much the same answer – Aneesh had drowned to death, the police said, it was an accident or a suicide. The post mortem report also confirmed that it was a case of death by drowning.
But Madhu firmly insisted that his son was a good swimmer, that he could not have drowned. The desperate father said many of his questions remained unanswered, “They compelled him to go with them to wash the lorry, and he had refused at first. How could it become a suicide then? I strongly believe that it was a murder,” he said in his last call to me.
Gopan, a journalist who was with Madhu in his last hours, said that Madhu had lost all hope when the Crime Branch closed the case. Repeated hunger strikes had made him weaker, which led to severe asthma, and finally a heart attack on Thursday night.
However, there were allegations that the taluk hospital had denied him proper treatment. Gopan said that the hospital kept him outside till the night and did not refer him to a medical college hospital even though they knew that his condition was critical. If that allegation is to be believed, Madhu was denied justice in his son’s death and even his own.
There will be no more calls from Madhu, and I will not meet him outside any courts or offices. He will become just one more face among the hundreds of people in the country who have been denied justice. And from his death I carry with me a burden of despair, regret and anger.