The Kerala government has issued an apology to Nobel laureate Michael Levitt after his houseboat was blocked by protesters for nearly two hours during the Bharat Bandh on Wednesday.
The American-British-Israeli biophysicist who won a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2013 was holidaying with his wife on the Alappuzha backwaters when protesters from Kainakary village blocked their houseboat citing the nationwide strike called by trade unions.
Following the incident, Levitt, who visited Kerala as a state guest, wrote an email to his Kottayam-based travel agent. âBeing stopped by criminals on the backwaters sends a very bad message to tourists. It is as if a bandit stopped us at gunpoint and delayed us under the threat of force for one hour," he wrote.
In the email, which was later released to the media, he also said the person who blocked them "ignored all arguments that tourists were exempted" from the strike. "This person, who did this, ignored all arguments that tourists were exempted and that I am a VIP guest of the Kerala government. He was obviously acting, knowing that he was safe from prosecution. Sadly, this makes me fear that India is sinking into lawlessness," Levitt wrote in the email.
The incident has come as an embarrassment to the state government which immediately took measures to mitigate the controversy. On Thursday morning Kottayam Collector PK Sudhir Babu was sent to welcome the Nobel laureate as his houseboat reached Kumarakom. The Collector conveyed the state governmentâs apology to the couple.
Michael Levitt responded to local media on the controversy, stating that he has âno complaintsâ and that âKerala is beautifulâ.
âKerala life is beautiful, the backwaters are wonderful, the people are very good,â Levitt told local media.
Speaking to media persons in Kumarakom, Sudhir Babu said that the state government would take strict action against the accused persons.
âHe (Michael Levitt) said there is no problem and that he had only reacted because of the temporary discomfort during that time. The government has taken a severe stance in this case. They have taken the issue very seriously. Even if this is a one-off case, the government has said that they will take measures to ensure that such a thing does not happen,â Sudhir Babu told local media.
Four arrested for blocking Nobel winnersâs houseboat
On Wednesday evening, Alappuzha district collector Dr Adeela Abdulla visited Michael Levitt and his wife to collect details of the incident.
Based on their statements, four persons from Kainakary panchayatâs R block have been arrested. The Pulinkunnu police recorded the arrest of the accused and brought them to the station. However, the party affiliations of these workers are yet to be ascertained.
âFour persons - Sabu, Jolly, Ajikumar and Sudhir have been arrested. We are not sure which party they work for. However, we have booked them under sections IPC 283 (danger or obstruction in public way or line of navigation), 342 (punishment for wrongful confinement) and 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention).,â an officer from Pulinkunnu station told TNM.
The state government has also intervened to ensure the safety of the Nobel laureate and his wife during the rest of their stay in Kerala.
After landing in Kumarakom on Thursday morning, the couple were taken to a resort in Kochi where they will reportedly be spending the night and leaving to their home country on Friday morning.
(With inputs from PTI)