Arrest and rights

Activists decry the arrest of People’s March editor saying he was denied several fundamental rights

Kochi and Thrissur

INTERNAL SECURITY has often been the cover for the State to clamp down on people with an ultra-Left background. In the latest case, the editor of a Kerala based pro-Maoist monthly, People’s March, was arrested a month ago from his office in Trikkakara near Kochi.
The 68-year-old editor, P. Govindan Kutty is on an indefinite hunger strike in judicial custody to highlight the human rights violation. But barring a few activists of the People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL), civil society in the highly literate state still seems to be completely unmindful. The PUCL activists have threatened to launch an agitation near the Kerala High Court protesting against the unlawful manner in which the arrest was carried out.
The Kerala Police and Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan have said that a close watch is being kept on activists demanding the protection of Kutty’s rights. They have also said they would not allow anyone like him to run any publication that voices dissent against State atrocities. Authorities at the Central Jail in Viyyur are reported to be injecting glucose drip to Kutty as he is determined not to break the fast. Activists say he is often straitjacketed to inject the drip.
At the time of filing this report, he was being shifted to the Government Medical College in Thrissur. According to PUCL state president PA Pouran, Kutty is continuing his fast alleging that even the minimum legal procedure was ignored and the basic rights of a prisoner, including access to a lawyer, had been denied him. When he was arrested and remanded to judicial custody in December, the authorities insisted that he could talk to his lawyer only in the presence of jail officials. Kutty, who was a government servant, had come in contact with Maoist thought while working in Andhra Pradesh about two decades ago. He returned to Kerala five years ago and launched his small publication, which sells only a few hundred copies.
The publication has never been proceeded against and meets legal requirements such as registration with the Registrar of Newspapers for India and has permission to be carried at concessional rates by the postal department. Charges against Govindan Kutty are framed under Sections 134, 124A, 133B of the Indian Penal Code and under the 1967 Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, which has never been used against a journalist. One of the main charges against Kutty is that he wrote an article some five years ago hailing the Maoist attack on the then Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu.
Human rights activists say the arrest and the consequent developments raise several disturbing questions. “First of all, it exposes the palpable intolerance being shown by the police and the present government in Kerala towards any kind of dissent. The second is the scant respect for human rights and the fundamental rights of every citizen, including prisoners. The third is the selective and arbitrary manner in which the civil society in Kerala, including intellectuals and the mainstream media, seem to behave even on issues where fundamental rights are violated,” says NP Chekkutty, noted journalist and editor of Malayalam daily Thejus.
PUCL’s Pouran says Kutty was arrested soon after the Andhra Pradesh Police picked up two Maoist activists, Malla Raja Reddy and Suguna, from Angamaly near Alwaye on December 17 last year. The two were living among construction workers from outside the state. The AP team had come in plainclothes without informing local authorities as required by law, and was attempting to get away with the two until the local people stopped their vehicle. It was only then that the AP Police agreed to produce the two in a court and get a transit warrant. Such secret raids seem to have become a routine affair. In June 2007, another Maoist, Raja Mouli, was forcibly taken by a group of AP policemen from the Kollam railway station. He was not produced in any court and his body was recovered two days later in Andhra Pradesh.
THE KERALA Police, which raided the offices of Govindan Kutty alleging he was helping Malla Raja Reddy find shelter in Kerala, still maintain that he is a man of terror. But they could not find any evidence to link him to Reddy and hence the decision to charge him for an article written five years ago.
It is also said the police manipulated the mainstream Malayalam media to demonise Kutty. The stories about his personal life were carried without his version. Only a handful of media houses took his version of the story, thereby highlighting the police’s blatantly false claims.While opposing his bail application in the Kerala High Court, the police said Govindan Kutty was providing ideological backing to Maoists of different streams for the last fiveyears and his release would help Naxalism grow in Kerala.
But the home department has no answers as to why they allowed him to engage in such activities for the past five yearsand what prompted his arrest in December.“We are not against taking proper legal action against him if he is guilty. But throwing basic human rights to the wind in the name of Naxal raids is not justified,” said Pouran.

A River Reborn

Life along the Chaliyar shores

Nine years after Gwalior Rayons was forced to close down in Mavoor, KA SHAJI tracks the Chaliyar’s crystal clear waters

CHALIYAR, KERALA’S fourth longest river, on which five lakh people living in Mallapuram and Kozikkode districts depend, has been revived. Subjected to pollution over a hundred years, the Chaliyar bore the brunt of Aditya Birla Group-owned Gwalior Rayons’ effluent discharges of pulp and fibre. As one study put it, the water had turned “a thick viscous brown soup”. Today, nine years after the factory was closed down following the public outcry, the water is clear as the 169-km river flows westward through the terrains of Mavoor and Vazhakkad.
Time was when people living on both sides of the river had fallen victims of cancer and respiratory ailments. The swell in the catch from the river is a clear indication of the recovery from a 40-year spell of choking under toxics. Locals and environmentalists say they do not remember any instances of mass fish mortality in recent years though it was common till the winding up of the factory.
In 1958, when the world’s first democratically elected communist government was voted in, Chief Minister EMS Namboodiripad was keen to make a political statement given the perception that communists would more likely shut down factories through strikes and were not capable of introducing industrial progress. So an agreement was signed with one the biggest industrial houses of the time in 1958, and by 1963 Gwalior Rayons Silk Ltd became functional.
It was then the biggest private venture in the state, igniting hopes and stoking dreams of jobs and development for the locals. Various kinds of sops were offered to the factory. The first casualty of it was the Chaliyar. The company was given a free hand to take maximum water from the river for industrial use and to empty the wastes into the same river. The people of Mavoor had to give away 200 acres of land to the company at Re 1 per cent (Rs 100 per acre).
Protests against the factory began as early as 1965 with the formation of the Chaliyar Defence Committee. By then, there were reports of cattle dying after drinking the toxic river water. But it was only in May 1999 that the factory finally suspended production after it was found that the effluents contained harmful chemicals above the permissible level. Though the closure of the factory had rendered about 2,000 workers jobless, today they are happy that they have regained their access to the river. Fishing has now become a profitable business; cattle population is increasing; the health expenditure of the locals is witnessing a drastic fall and people can swim and bathe freely in the river.
“It is not just that several of our favourite fish varieties are back, they even taste better,” says Babu Varghese, one of the leaders of the agitation against the pulp factory. Varghese was among the few who started the Save Chaliyar Campaign, a public movement that fought for the closure of the factory. Leaders of the campaign are now happy as some of the locals — who had then dissociated themselves in the name of industrialisation and job opportunities — have started experiencing the benefits of a toxic-free life.
What was also destroyed with the advent of the factory was the forest wealth of Wayanad. Before the rayon factory, the rubber plantation of the Vaniyamkulam Rubber Company in 1902 and deforestation for plantation crops like tea and coffee by the British since 1910 had taken their toll on the local ecology. The rayon factory made things worse. Between 1963 and 1974, bamboo and other forest wood was given by the state government to the factory at a subsidised rate of Rs 1 per tonne. Power was given to the company at 40 paise per unit and no charge was levied on the water taken from the river. It is estimated that the subsidies alone were worth Rs 3,000 crore.
“The factory that consumed about 90 percent of the bamboo wealth of Wayanad by paying a nominal price to the government and throwing its fragile ecology out of gear had caused illnesses ranging from respiratory diseases to skin rashes and cancer to the people living close to the river,” says C. Surendranath, a journalist who risked his profession to lead the campaign. “There was not enough fresh air to breath. Diseases devoured their victims at a frightening pace. Malformed babies, failing vision, retardation of mental faculties were common,” recalls Abdurahman, who operates a country boat linking Mavoor and Vazhakkad.
THE CHALIYAR struggle was unique in many respects. It won ultimately against an industrial giant that was least concerned about human beings and environment. It had ultimately given rebirth to a dying river,” says environmentalist Sugathakumari. Interestingly, mainstream political parties including the CPM, the Congress and the BJP, along with their trade unions, had tried to weaken the protests and support the Birlas.
KA Rehman, president of Vazhayoor panchayat, was the rallying point of the agitators. Working relentlessly, Rehman finally succumbed in January 1999 to cancer he had contracted by the emissions from the factory. An indefinite relay fast was launched and Grasim halted production in May 1999; the industry was formally closed in 2001.
There was an immediate drop in bronchial diseases among children within two years of the factory’s closure, says PK Dinesh, a local physician. Though the area is now free from the pungent smell of sulphides, victims of Grasim still haven’t received any compensation. “Everybody is happy with the closure of the factory but no one is asking the industry to compensate,” says Surendranath. That might require another struggle.

`Leader' returns

Leader In A Spot

Former Kerala CM K. Karunakaran had to swallow his pride before he could return to the Congress. But his love for son Muraleedharan promises to give him a hard time, writes KA SHAJI

TWENTY-TWO MONTHS have gone by since the death of a former college teacher who waged a tireless war for about 30 years against veteran Congress leader Kannoth Karunakaran and senior police officers allegedly responsible for the “disappearance” of his only son at the peak of the Emergency. TV Eachara Varier, a Hindi professor at Thrissur Government College in Kerala, believed till he died that the arrest and custodial death of his son Rajan had occurred with the consent and knowledge of Karunakaran, then the state home minister and an iron-willed proponent of the Emergency. Though some judges found Karunakaran and his trusted police officers responsible for the “disappearance” of Rajan, who was arrested for yet-to-be proven Naxalite connections, the judicial process finally exonerated them for want of evidence. But till his end, Varier kept a plantain leaf and a bowl of rice waiting for his beloved son.
If love for his son led Varier to became a powerful symbol of resistance against extra-judicial killings, Karunakaran’s career started grinding to a halt as he began to shower favours on his son, K. Muraleedharan.
Known as a king in Kerala politics and a king-maker at the national level, Karunakaran used his best wiles to ensure Muraleedharan became a minister, the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee chief and an MP. A novice, Muraleedharan had nothing except his father’s backing to help him up the power ladder. In his attempts to install Muraleedharan as his successor in Kerala politics, however, Karunakaran had to lose much, including his relationship with the Nehru-Gandhi family, his bargaining power within the party, the political growth of his daughter Padmaja, and the support of a number of second-rung leaders who had once kept his faction in the party alive and kicking. But, finally, the son let him down. Having left the Congress in 2005 with his father to form the Democratic Indira Congress- Karunakaran (DIC-K), he merged the party with Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) in November 2006 without consulting his father. The NCP, which was till then part of the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF), began to stare at political wilderness soon as the LDF and Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan decided to exclude it from the front due to its association with Karunakaran and Muraleedharan, against whom a series of corruption charges are still pending.
Realising that there would be no future without being in either the LDF or the Congress-led United Democratic Front, Karunakaran, referred to as Leader by his followers, recently ended his honeymoon with the NCP and returned to the parent party. But as the NCP’s state unit chief, Muraleedharan is now turning into an ardent critic of his father. In his often vociferous opposition to Karunakaran, Muraleedharan has outsmarted Achuthanandan and other political opponents. Today, Karunakaran has to plead for mercy at 10 Janpath for an honourable existence in the party. Until recently, Sonia Gandhi was to him just a madamma (a derogatory term in Malayalam used to describe a foreign woman). He had also once remarked that no one could gain the skill needed to ride an elephant without training, even if they were married into a family of mahouts.
For her part, Sonia Gandhi is also well-aware of the need to keep Karunakaran well reined in. Though there was a press statement from Delhi on revoking his party membership, Karunakaran is yet to get any position in the party or in the government. The Congress high command was also lukewarm to his request to hold a rally and a merger conference. Though he has been permitted to hold a small meeting, none of the party’s heavyweights is going to attend it. Oommen Chandy and Ramesh Chennithala, the Congress’ top leaders in Kerala, are lobbying in Delhi against making Karunakaran yet another power centre in the state unit. Age-related ailments and lack of popular support are making survival difficult for him.
Now let down by his son, the veteran politician stands humbled. Once famed as a master-tactician, who used to wear opponents down to exhaustion before proceeding to have his way, Karunakaran now himself feels tired. For about two months, he was seen standing at the doors of 10 Janpath with folded hands. Mark his words: “A close analysis of the Indian political scene would reveal that only the Congress can carry all sections along. The Congress and India are not different. If the Congress weakens, India will become weak too. I have no difficulty in admitting my mistake in criticising the Congress.”
Karunakaran’s unabashed promotion of his offspring was on full display on the eve of the 2004 general elections. He not only ensured that Padmaja got a ticket but managed a seat for himself in the Rajya Sabha and a berth in the Kerala Cabinet, then headed by AK Antony, to Muraleedharan. Later, Muraleedharan was a candidate in an election to the Assembly. The situation forced octogenarian CPI leader Veliyam Bhargavan to say: “Be thankful that Karunakaran has only two children. What would happen if he had a dozen children and 100 grand children? Kerala has only 20 Lok Sabha seats and 140 Assembly seats.”
Sections within the Congress view Karunakaran’s weakness for his progeny with tongue-in-cheek sympathy. “Why are you blaming him? At least in this respect, he is following the Nehru-Gandhi tradition. Those who are against Muraleedharan and Padmaja are silent on Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka,” said a prominent Congress leader, who wishes to be anonymous. But even Muraleedharan opposes Padmaja’s political career. A former chairperson of the Kerala Tourism Development Board, Padmaja has taken a temporary break from active politics, unable to withstand her brother’s verbal attacks.
Over half-a-century of Karunakaran’s political career is proof that he thrived on controversies and never backed down from a fight once a challenge was thrown at him. An autocratic administrator and a four-time chief minister, he was accused of corruption in several scandals. A probe is still on into alleged kickbacks in the import of palm oil from Malaysia in the early 90s when he was in power. Apart from the Rajan case, Karunakaran had to face allegations of involvement in two other murder cases. The first is related to the infamous Thattil estate murder case in which a plantation owner was murdered in the 60s; the second one was related to the fatal stabbing of Azhikodan Raghavan, a former CPM state secretary. After the Emergency, he had to resign from the CM’s post following adverse remarks by the Kerala High Court in the Rajan case.
IN THE 90S, there were attempts to link Karunakaran to the alleged espionage case involving an official of the Indian Space Research Organisation. While a CBI probe found the entire case a fake. dissidents in the party used the controversy to defame him and to unseat him with the support of the then Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao.
An extremely religious man, Karunakaran drives on the first of every Malayalam month to the famed Guruvayur temple to pay his respects to Guruvayurappan (Lord Krishna). He firmly believes that Guruvayurappan comes to his rescue whenever he faces a grim situation. His penchant for fast driving once almost cost him his life. He has always preferred a Mercedes Benz and a few years back the Benz could have taken his life. It was dawn, the road was empty, and the Benz was racing at breakneck speed towards Thiruvananthapuram. It skidded, rolled over and turned over thrice. The VIP passenger in the back seat lay crumpled when he was pulled out, so badly hurt that he had to be taken to the United States for treatment. He was in bad shape when he returned and nobody thought that he would be the same Karunakaran again. But he went on to show an astonishing recovery by sticking to an ayurvedic regimen.
Though he is extremely religious, his detractors accuse him of telling lies when in political crisis. The state High Court has blasted him for claiming that his police never arrested Rajan. Years after, when newsmen approached him to comment on the demise of Varier, he shouted: “Who is this Varier? I don’t know him. What was his contribution to the country? Had he won any Padmasree award?”
Born on July 5, 1918, Karunakaran studied up to his matriculation, learned drawing and became a professional artist. He was initiated into politics through the Kochi Rajya Prajamandalam and he became part of the freedom struggle. A member of the Congress working committee since 1964, he preferred to remain in the rival camp of AK Antony. While breaking way from the Congress around three years ago, he somehow managed an assurance from the CPM’s controversial state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan that there would be room for him and his son in the LDF. Little was Karunakaran to know that the man who gave the guarantee would not be able to circumvent his rivals in the LDF, Achuthanandan and Veliyam Bhargavan, when he knocked on Pinarayi’s doors again.


Adults in 2008

Seventeen, going on eighteen. The world is their oyster but India has a special place in their hearts.
talks to ten Indians on the cusp of innocence and the grown-up challenges of life

DAUGHTER OF a domestic servant, of an agricultural labourers, of a doctor, of a businessman. The son of a handicraft dealer, of a caretaker. From Shillong and Siliguri to Srinagar and Kochi. Voices as gloriously diverse as India, who have their age in common, and the fact that they have dreams of shaping their destiny — and that of the nation and the planet they inhabit — when they take the first tentative steps towards adulthood in 2008. The year when they can cast a vote and, in case of girls, marry. Their hopes, frustrations, ambitions, likes and dislikes are varied but there is a harmony in their collective vision of tomorrow.


APRIL 18, 1990

``I WANT TO be a biotechnologist as I’ll be able to contribute to the betterment of society,” says TC Rejitha, the daughter of agricultural workers. Her aim is to get a PhD and then engage in research. “Various epidemics have surfaced even in hygienic Kerala, making a mockery of its public health credentials. I hope research in biotechnology will find solutions.” Rejitha is now at the end of her preuniversity course and is also undergoing a course set up by the SC/ST department of the Kerala government and IIM-Kozhikode to boost the potential of young talent.
Why are you so concerned about society, I ask. “From childhood, I’ve been watching how the meek in our society struggle to survive. I can say proudly that I belong to a segment that has faced discrimination because of caste and class. But I have always dreamt of an egalitarian society where everyone would have their share,’’ she says.
Rejitha is a close observer of the political system in India and is adamant about the need to change the course of students’ politics. “It must be free from the influence of self seeking and corrupt political leaders. Patronage must not be a criterion to choose student leaders.’’ She also wants an end to the commercialisation of education where only the children of the rich can study and prosper.
“The relationship between parents and children must be friendly and free from all kinds of force. Gone are the days when parents commanded and children just obeyed,’’ she opined.
Rejitha is ready to take any risk to help anyone with a genuine problem. “I hate inequality. In today’s India, the gap between the rich and poor is widening. Caste and income considerations are not allowing people with real potential to succeed. Caste is the number one enemy of our country.’’
Rejitha is worried about the fate of India. She is concerned about growing violence against women and the attack by upper castes on SCs and STs. She is also anxious about the growing clout of the US. “Imperialist hegemony, like in the case of Iraq, must not be repeated,’’ she says. In the meantime, she finds pleasure in witnessing India’s emergence as a world power. Another matter of pride is that India is still united despite sharp divisions of caste and community.
While upholding her strong leftist convictions, Rejitha is unhappy about the developments in Nandigram. “This is not the way to ensure industrialisation. Agriculture must be the foundation of any economy. Otherwise we would all starve,” she says. The carnage in Gujarat and the inability of the country to punish perpetrators like Modi is shocking. She’s also concerned about the number of sex scandals in Kerala and the delay on the part of authorities in arresting those responsible. “Our political system must be free from vested interests and corrupt elements,’’ she says.
Rejitha has extreme regard for Medha Patkar and Arundhati Roy. The positive thing about her home city of Kochi is its readiness to accept different cultures and ways of life. “There is not much discrimination,” says she.
In the case of marriage, she feels it would be better if there is a consensus between the person and his or her parents. “Imposition of parental decisions is not right. The boy or girl must have a say.” In the case of inter-religious marriages, she wants protection for the right of the concerned individuals. She is against dowry and lavish weddings and maintains that girls ought be self-reliant. “A decent job is necessary.’’ Rejitha goes to both temples and churches. She has fear of god but no faith in rituals.