Sreejith’s solo protest which lasted 783 days saw people thronging to support him after news spread on social media.

The one man battle which shook Kerala A look back at Sreejiths two year long protest
news #Justice for Sreejith Thursday, February 01, 2018 - 21:11

With the end of Sreejith's protest, which lasted for more than two years, what Kerala witnessed is a unique fight for justice. The sight of the frail man sitting in front of the Secretariat, day and night made people who walked past him curious, sympathetic, which, in due course, developed into empathy. This is the first time that a solo protest has lasted for 783 days and perhaps this the lone one which survived the mounting pressures, changing times and indifferent people.  

Background

Sreejith’s brother Sreejeev was taken into custody by the Parassala police in May 2014, on being accused of theft. Days later, Sreejeev died at the Medical College Hospital, Thiruvananthapuram. While police officials maintain that Sreejeev consumed poison, his family accused the officers of murder and cited custodial torture as the reason for his death. In 2016, the Police Complaint Authority investigation found that the death was caused by custodial torture and the police version of events was false.

In September 2016, the Kerala government asked the Director General of Police to hand over the probe to a Special Investigations Team (SIT). Meanwhile, Sreejith and his family were given a compensation of Rs 10 lakh by the government. In November 2017, Sreejith was informed of a CBI enquiry into the case from the Home Department. But later the state government received a letter from CBI stating that this was not a case of 'rare and exceptional nature warranting an investigation by the CBI'.

Protest Ends 

On Wednesday when the 30-year old ended his protest, he was visibly content. With his beard, uncut hair and determined eyes, he has become a symbol of perseverance. Secretariat, the state administrative headquarters, witnesses scores of protests every day. There were people who opted to sit in front of it for days fighting for various causes There was even the Adivasi Nilpusamaram (standing protest of tribal people) which attracted state-wide attention. But what differentiated Sreejith’s protest was that it was one man’s battle against an institution.

The death happened at the time of the previous United Democratic Front Government. Soon after the 2016 May Assembly elections, the Left Democratic Front came to power. Nothing deterred him, even the fact that it is not common that the accused in custodial death cases have been brought under law. He received no support from anyone when he began and resorted to fasting many times during the protest. To a few media persons who got used to seeing him every day, he even told them that he had seen the policemen who had made his brother, 25-year old Sreejeev, consume poison in jail.  On humanitarian grounds, watching Sreejith protest was not an easy sight, thinking of the mental agony he would have undergone after his brother’s death and the struggle thereafter for justice. 

Even when the CBI took over the case, about which the draft notification came out on January 19, Sreejith was firm that he would end the protest only after the CBI takes his statement. "I have trust in the CBI. They have registered a fresh case of unnatural death. Since my demand is met and the CBI investigation has begun, I am ending my protest, ' he told media persons outside the CBI Thiruvananathapuram office. Sreejith and Remani quickly left the place and reached the Secretariat.

The government's invitation to meet this man, who is neither influential nor financially well off, was solely because of the growing support the protest received.

The CM assured all support including its interference in vacating the stay that the police personnel who are accused of custodial torture had gained earlier from the High Court.

The meeting was on January 15. On the same day Remani also had moved the court seeking a CBI probe in the case and disciplinary action against the police personnel. 

On January 19, in a rare gesture, the representatives of the CM office reached the venue of Sreejith's protest and handed over the copy of the notification from the CBI.

Sreejith has had clarity on what he needed, the national investigating agency to conduct probe into the death of his brother. "I won't get convinced even if the state government announces a fresh probe by forming a special team. My demand is that the CBI should conduct the probe,” he had emphasised. 

The media, though, has been reporting about Sreejith's plight from the beginning. Further, social media support brought the protest to the wider attention of the people of the state. The protest saw people flocking into Sreejith's protest venue, declaring solidarity with him. Many had even displayed solidarity by changing their Facebook and WhatsApp displays.

“I had lost one of my sons. Now I feel that I have many sons, all those sitting around me are my children," Remani had told TNM when she and Sreejith during the peak of the protest. But the social media people also stepped back after the CBI took over the case.

Veteran journalist and activist BRP Bhaskar says on the protest, “For two years he was fighting alone. But eventually after this social media got into it, almost the entire Kerala got involved in it…Very often promises are made, based on promises agitations ended, then people would find that it won’t work out. Even after the CBI started the probe, he refused to pull it until the CBI recorded his statement.”

He added, “We need to learn from his experience. Perseverance works and if the public identify themselves with such agitations, they will succeed.”

 

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