In May 2016, Kailash Jyothi Behra, a migrant worker from Assam who had just arrived in Kerala was mistaken for a thief by locals in Kottayam district and lynched to death. The dastardly act took place within days of the rape and murder of law student Jisha in Perumbavoor in which a migrant was the suspect. Behra's killing in cold blood was seen as a manifestation of public anger.
In fact, when Ameerul Islam, a migrant from Assam was later arrested, tried and convicted in the Jisha case, those villagers in Chingavanam who beat and tied up 31-year-old Kailash, may have even felt vindicated. The mob's collective conscience, or lack of it, would have justified its gory deed, as an eye for an eye, a migrant for a migrant.
In Kerala that is home and workplace to close to 35 lakh migrants from the North-East and the cow belt, Kailash was a child of a lesser god. In the prevailing mood after Jisha's murder, not many bothered to express regret over Kailash's lynching. The lack of civil society remorse for Kailash is what has led to the lynching of Madhu.
Madhu at Attappadi in Palakkad district wasn't a migrant but he became another Kailash. The act of lynching, and worse converting it into a celebration by taking selfies before the act of killing in cold blood, meant Kerala has plummeted to new depths of depravity.
Those 16 men, who have now been arrested made death a public spectacle because 30-year-old Madhu was not an equal in their worldview. He was a poor tribal, mentally ill, who would often allegedly steal. This time, he was accused of stealing rice and groceries worth Rs 200 from a local grocery store. Madhu's crime was he wanted to kill his hunger. The 16 merchants of death signed his death warrant in a kangaroo court where he was first questioned after he was tied up with his own lungi.
The post-mortem revealed multiple internal injuries, including broken ribs. The image of a tied-up Madhu, helpless and awaiting his end, is proof that a part of Kerala's civil society has regressed. From a football-loving state to one that loves a blood sport. As a fellow citizen from Palakkad, I hang my head in shame that this happened in my home.
For the tribals in Attappadi, Madhu's murder is proof that having been pushed to a corner in their own forest land, they are now being pushed out by the settlers from across Kerala and even Tamil Nadu. From constituting 90% of Attappadi's population in the 1950s, they are now reduced to 34%. The land - some 10,000 acres, according to activists - has been forcibly taken away from tribals, killing their livelihood. The settlers aren't touched because they are affluent votebanks. The irony of the settler stealing land from the tribal, now accusing the tribal of stealing rice, may be lost out on many in Kerala.
But the mobile-armed mob isn't the only creature coming for Attappadi. Malnutrition, poverty and poor health indices have been killers as well, 130 infants across 192 tribal hamlets in the last five years. Incidentally, it was the high infant mortality rate in Attappadi that led to Prime Minister Narendra Modi comparing Kerala to Somalia during the 2016 Assembly Election campaign.
The remark then hurt Malayalee pride and Keralites hit back at Modi, accusing the PM of insulting the state. In hindsight, it was a mistake to go after Modi instead of working overtime in Attappadi to prove him wrong. Though the PM was using a terrible comparison, he was also showing a mirror to Kerala state for the mishandling of Attappadi. Today, Madhu is the collateral damage of little work undertaken to improve tribal lives.
The saving grace is that a large part of Kerala, shaken by the crassness of the selfies and the brutality of the murder, has reacted with shock. Anecdotal evidence and writings on social media suggest that the image of Madhu with his hands tied up, is haunting fellow Malayalees. For a state that prides itself on social development indices in parts of Kerala barring pockets like Attappadi, Madhu's death reduced everything to empty statistics. It showed that all that 100% literacy has ensured in Kerala was a literate mob. Not an alphabet more, not an alphabet less.
While the attitude of the average Malayalee to migrants reeks of hypocrisy given Kerala's presence in the Gulf, the Adivasis too are bereft of a significant voice in the corridors of power and Kerala society. Over the last few years, Kerala has witnessed a wave of moral policing against other segments too - the LGBT community and even unmarried couples seen in public spaces. It is this ‘Us versus Them’ boundaries being drawn, powered by divisive Whatsapp forwards, that bays for blood.
But hate is not an emotion specific to a Kerala. In the last couple of years, India has seen several instances of hate crimes, enveloped in a religious wrapper. The Indian state has done little to crack the whip which is why the mob of different hues continue to spread hate, both offline and online. God's own country should not waste this opportunity to demonstrate effectively, using the strong arm of the law that it is not prepared to take the stairway to hell.