It would seem that politicians in Kerala have taken 765 long days to take notice of a protest happening right under their nose.
Was it their blissful ignorance or is this an ugly example of politicians seeking to gain mileage from a family's tragedy? Never mind, that was a rhetorical question.
The man in focus is 30-year old Sreejith who has been fighting for the past 765 days, demanding justice for his younger brother Sreejeev who died in police custody in May 2014. Sreejith has been relentlessly fighting for the cause, believing that the death was not a suicide as claimed by the police but a murder.
25 year-old Sreejeev, a native of Kulathoor, Neyyatinakara in Thiruvananthapuram, was accused of theft and taken into custody by the Parassala police in May 2014. Days later, he died at a hospital. The police had claimed that Sreejeev had consumed poison while Sreejith is firm in his belief that the police killed his brother in custody.
In 2016, the Police Complaints Authority found the police version of the case to be false and concluded that the death was caused by custodial torture. Sreejeev’s family was given Rs 10 lakh as compensation by the government. The Authority had also ordered a Special Investigation Team with officers who have proved their mettle to probe the case. The investigation was to be monitored by the DGP but that hasn't happened till date.
Sreejith started his protest in 2015 and went through many rounds of hunger strike. The present hunger strike, in which he has just been drinking water, has crossed 30 days.
And until recently, not a single political leader came out in support of Sreejith in his lone battle. Rather, they ignored the man sitting right at the Secretariat, the administrative headquarters of the state.
The site is so prominent that no one can claim that Sreejith’s protest was not visible. Also a section of the media has been constantly reporting about the protest. Sreejith's determined face, as he sat at the Secretariat for days together, unwilling to give up his fight, has been a painful sight for passersby who have to go past him on the busy road in the capital city.
While Sreejith did not elicit any response from the political class, on Friday, things suddenly changed.
DYFI, the youth organisation of the CPI (M) which heads the ruling Left Democratic Front government in the state, declared that they will take up the protest and announced their backing for the young man.
DYFI District Secretary I Saju, District President AA Raheem and Kunnukuzhi Ward Councilor IP Binu, spoke to Sreejith. The DYFI’s sudden support was with the declaration that ‘nobody who fights for justice should be denied'.
The DYFI's move prompted the BJP’s youth wing Yuva Morcha to rise up to the occasion. The Yuva Morcha's leaders also visited Sreejith. Yuva Morcha, for the first timein 765 days, urged the government to order a probe in the custodial death of Sreejeev. They even issued a warning that if the government plays with the life of Sreejith, it will be forced to pay a big price.
The Youth Congress kept mum. However, a senior Congress leader grabbed the opportunity to gain some eyeballs. Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala, beat all his contemporaries in other political parties and his own rivals in the Congress, to visit the protest site on Saturday. Though Chennithala tried to look concerned, he was slammed by the public for his political "stunt". In a video, one of Sreejith's friends can be seen asking the leader about his sudden interest in the case when he'd looked the other way in 2014, a time when he was the Kerala Home Minister.
The flurry of activity can be attributed to Asianet TV channel's story on Sreejith which was shared by many on social media. Even actor Nivin Pauly, one of Kerala's biggest stars from the current generation, tweeted in support of Sreejith. The public outrage about the tragedy and the indifference shown towards Sreejith seems to have shaken the political parties from their slumber.
“The issue has been given a lot of importance by the media. The politicians' sudden tears is nothing but a drama with an eye on political gain. The sincerity in the political move is zero. Now that it has been presented as a sensational issue, the political parties may have thought that it could blow up to a bigger issue in the coming days and that they should jump into it. If they were sincere, the protest wouldn't have lasted for so many weeks. Sreejith’s demand would have been met by now. With the intervention of the politicians, he would have got justice by now,” social activist and SUCI leader Shajir Khan said.
Incidentally, the media on Saturday reported that the Centre had informed the State government that the CBI can’t take over the case. In a letter to the Chief Secretary on December 22, 2017, the Centre has said that “this is not a case of rare and exceptional nature warranting investigation by the CBI."
Sreejith is not fooled by the "concern" the political parties are bestowing on him. However, he hopes the attention will serve some purpose.
“Everyone who has been passing by me, saw me. But this is for the first time that people have come to me. However, I am happy and feel hopeful that this change will have the intended result. Earlier, there was social media support for me, but somehow that vanished. This time, with all the attention, I hope that there will be a change in the authorities’ attitude. For a man like me who is fighting an isolated battle, the support is a happy change," Sreejith told TNM.
“The government should realise that there is value for a common man’s life. The police has been given silent sanction to kill people inside the cells. If I don’t get justice my life will end here,” he said.
While one hopes that the interest taken by the political parties will benefit Sreejith's fight ultimately, their reasons for jumping into the scene so late remain despicable.