The death of an Ayyappa devotee has become a matter of conflict between the BJP and the state government and police in Kerala. This after the body of a 60-year-old Sabarimala pilgrim, who went missing more than two weeks ago, was found at Kambathumvalavu in Plappally.
The body of Sivadasan, a resident of Mulambuzha in Pandalam, was found in a gorge in the forest at Kambathumvalavu, near Laha around 16 kilometres from Nilakkal on Thursday. The body was reportedly discovered by a group of women, who came to cut shrubs. Sivadasan’s two-wheeler was also found near his body.
A dawn-to-dusk hartal has been called for by the BJP on Friday in Pathanamthitta after his body was found. Taking to Facebook, BJP President Sreedharan Pillai wrote, “The BJP has called for a hartal to protest the cruel murder of Sivadasan during the police manhunt in Pathanamthitta and nearby localities.”
Sreedharan Pillai alleged that the Sabarimala devotee was on a moped with Lord Ayyappa’s picture when the police attacked and beat him to death. He also alleged that the police did not act when Sivadasan’s family went to file a complaint. “BJP’s accusations have now been proved because the body has been found,” he wrote.
The controversy, meanwhile, has boiled down to the date when the Sivadasan went missing and also whether the police delayed taking action on the complaint filed by his family.
While the BJP claims that Sivadasan went missing on October 17, the devotee’s family have said that he went to Sabarimala on October 18.
A complaint filed by Sivadasan’s son Sarath at the Pandalam police station on October 25 states that Sivadasan left home on October 18, and that he never carried his mobile with him while going to the temple.
“On October 19, he called my mother around 8.00 am. My father said that he was in Nilakkal and on his way back. When he did not reach back, we called on the number from which he had made the call. The person who picked the call said that they were devotees from Tamil Nadu and my father had used their phone. On October 21, we searched nearby areas, but could not find him,” Sarath said in his complaint. The family searched for Sivadasan at the sannidhanam, at hospitals and other places before lodging the complaint.
The police have denied the accusations that Sivadasan died due to police action and have said that his death was an accident and that his two-wheeler was found by a gorge. Denying the BJP’s accusation that Sivadasan died following a police lathicharge, District police chief T Narayanan said, “The police crackdown on protesters took place on October 16 and October 17. But Sivadasan started from his house only on October 18.”
Despite getting the dates of Sivadasan’s journey wrong, Sreedharan Pillai maintains that the devotee was a victim of police action. “On October 18 and 19, police had done many small lathi charges and had driven away devotees from Nilakkal. Sivadasan carried a placard that said ‘Save Sabarimala’ and police would have driven him away,” he told TNM.
However, T Narayanan denied this. “No lathi charge took place in Laha or nearby on October 18 or 19," he told TNM. He also pointed out that the police lathicharge even on the previous day took place at Nilakkal and towards Pamba, not Laha.
Laha is around 16 km from Nilakkal, and Sivadasan was on his way back home to Pandalam, police say. On Friday evening, a preliminary post mortem report from the Kottayam Medical College was recieved by the police. "From the preliminary reports, it has been found that the person fell from a height because of which there was bone rupture on the thighs. The bleeding caused by this caused his death," the SP said.
The BJP and Sivadasan’s family have now demanded an inquiry into the death and also a probe on why the police did not take the family’s complaint seriously.
Speaking to the media, Sivadasan’s relative named Manikandan alleged that the police had not taken the family’s complaint seriously. “We don’t know what happened. He goes to Sabarimala every year and at that time he doesn’t take his mobile phone. The police did not inquire when we gave a complaint. If they had, this would not have happened.”
The BJP has alleged that the family went to three different police stations to file a missing person complaint but no official took it seriously.
*Editor's Note- This copy was updated at 19.30 with details of the post mortem.