Revenge or moral policing? What killed 19-year-old Rafi in Kerala's Thrissur

Rafi’s family allege that Rafi was hospitalised for two weeks after he was physically assaulted by two men last month.
Revenge or moral policing? What killed 19-year-old Rafi in Kerala's Thrissur
Revenge or moral policing? What killed 19-year-old Rafi in Kerala's Thrissur
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"If he had passed away from some illness, that would have been different. But my child was brutally beaten up and suffered for more than two weeks before he passed away. Was it an age for him to leave us like that?" asks 60-year-old Sarah. 

Sarah's only grandson, 19-year-old Rafi, died on August 4, after battling for his life for over two weeks in the ICU of the Jubilee Mission Hospital in Kerala’s Thrissur district.

On the road leading up to Rafi’s home in a quiet neighbourhood in Karuppadanna, a series of posters have been put up by a neighbourhood action committee formed after the incident, which condemn the CPI (M) for moral policing.

Rafi’s mother, Noorjahan, alleges that Rafi, who used to work in a welding shop near his home, died after being assaulted on by two men belonging to the DYFI, the youth wing of the CPI (M). Shafeeq and Manzoor, got into an altercation with Rafi and beat him brutally some days after he was picked up by Excise Department officials on suspicion of narcotics possession, alleges Noorjahan.  

Though she filed a police complaint on July 17, a day after the incident, the two men have still not been arrested by the police because of their political connections, she alleges.

The CPI (M) for its part denies allegations of brutal assault, and says that the two DYFI members had got into a minor disagreement with Rafi while trying to put some sense into him, but had not injured him in any way.

What happened on July 16?

According to Noor Jahan, Rafi left home after lunch on July 16, a Sunday, to meet some friends. He and four friends were spending time close to Rafi’s house when the two DYFI men, who also live in the neighbourhood, approached them.

Initially, Rafi and his friends didn’t know why the two men had come, and so spoke to them cordially. But when Shafeeq and Manzoor began to attack Rafi, the other four friends fled.

Rafi's house in Kauppadanna

Injured and with his clothes torn, Rafi told his friends he could not go home in that state and went to a nearby river to clean up. But when Rafi waded into the water, he fell unconscious.

By the time Rafi was taken to the Jubilee Mission Hospital, says Noorjahan, he was paralysed, after sustaining injuries to his spine, chest and shoulder.

Noorjahan says that Rafi’s friends first said that he had injured himself when he slipped and fell into the river. But when Rafi briefly gained consciousness and told her that he had been attacked, the friends too admitted the altercation.

Was Rafi killed due to moral policing?

A few days before the incident, Rafi was picked up by Excise Department officials on suspicion of possessing drugs, but was let off because they found no trace of any illegal substances in his possession.

Noorjahan alleges that this was the reason Shafeeq and Manzoor attacked Rafi. “When Rafi gained consciousness in the hospital, he told me that he had given Shafeeq and Manzoor’s names to the Excise officials,” she says.  

"My son was just 19. The two people who attacked him are over 30 years old. We don't see why they should have a vengeance on my son, who was never in part of their friends circle. That is exactly why Rafi engaged with the men when they came to speak to him. Little did he know that they would harm him," she adds. 

The Irinjalakkuda police have registered a case of physical assault against the two accused. They maintain that Rafi’s case is one of moral policing. Rafi's post mortem report cited death due to injury on his cervical spine as the cause of the death, noting that there were several injuries on his spine and breastbone.  

The CPI (M), on the other hand, is insisting that Rafi’s death was the result of an accident.  

The two DYFI members, says CPI (M) Mala area secretary Rajesh, only approached Rafi to “advise him to mend his ways.”

"Rafi was picked up by Excise officials for using ganja and our men had questioned him on it when they ran into him that morning. But it is not true that they attacked Rafi. That boy went to some river and dove into it. He was hospitalised, and only later he died. Our men didn't attack him," Rajesh said. 

Rajesh alleged that opposition parties and the media were trying to tag Rafi's death as a case of moral policing, only to take political leverage out of it. 

"They want to politicise the issue and attack the LDF government saying there is moral policing in the state. After Jishnu's and Vinayakan's deaths, they are hoping to tag Rafi's death like that, only to attack the government. We won't let this happen," Rajesh said. 

A distraught family

Noorjahan alleges that Rafi’s attackers are being protected because of their powerful political connections.

Rafi's mother Noorjahan

"One of the accused's father is a CPI (M) branch secretary of this area. That's why the police is trying to save them, saying Rafi died after he jumped into the river. We then filed a complaint with the SP, but they are still running free. Can they get away with this because they have political connections?" Noorjahan asks. 

For Rafi’s family, the lack of action on their complaint is an added burden on top of the loss of Rafi. Noorjahan is the only other earning member in the house, struggling to make a living by selling milk from the solitary cow she owns. While Rafi’s welding job did not bring in a regular salary, the Rs 300 he earned for each job was greatly needed to run the household.

“Rafi was our only hope,” says Noorjahan. “We wanted to send him to the Gulf and were hoping that he will find a good job there. He was going to start the proceedings to apply for a Visa. Now what do we do? He is gone and we are neck deep in debt after spending nearly Rs 5 lakh on his treatment."

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