Kodungallur violence

When Red Fades, It Turns Saffron

The Sangh Parivar’s attempts to wrest control of Kerala’s Left bastion, Kodungallur, is threatening to undo the town’s historic legacy of communal harmony. KA SHAJI reports

KODUNGALLUR IS an ancient seat of tolerance and communal amity. This coastal town in central Kerala, with a sizable population of upper caste Hindus, was supposedly where St. Thomas — one among the 12 apostles of Jesus Christ — landed in AD 52 to preach Christianity, and was welcomed by the locals. Later, the port town reaffirmed its faith in the harmonious co-existence of religions when its popular king Cheraman Perumal embraced Islam and went to Mecca for Haj. Even the unique taste of the presiding deity at the ancient Devi temple here caused no communal disturbances. Interestingly, the goddess likes risqué talk, sexual humour and sexually explicit songs. During the annual Bharani festival in April-May, devotees throng the temple and sing ribald songs to the deity. Despite these unusual circumstances, there has been no record of minority communities living close to the temple finding fault with the centuries-old tradition.

However, the situation is different now. Hindutva forces are now trying their best to get control of the temple and sow seeds of intolerance and animosity among different religious and social groups in Kodungallur municipality and its adjoining panchayat areas. The temple administration has been threatened against leasing out land to Muslim and Christian traders to put up stalls during the annual festival. For the last 10 years, lumpen elements of the Sangh Parivar have been forcibly removing the stalls of people from other religions during the annual festival. During the last Christmas season, the Sangh Parivar had enforced an eccentric and illegal ban: no trader near the temple was permitted to sell Christmas stars made out of glittering paper. These stars are traditionally displayed in front of homes to celebrate the arrival of the festival. Whenever India wins cricket matches against Pakistan, the Sangh Parivar uses that opportunity to hold mammoth anti-Muslim rallies. Muslim members of the CPM and its youth organisation Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) are often dubbed agents of the Muslim extremist organisation National Development Front (NDF).

KODUNGALLUR IS rapidly turning into a Hindutva lab. The BJP-RSS are determined to tear apart its rich legacy of communal harmony and social solidarity. “We will not allow them to implement their communal agenda here,’’ says MB Rajesh, state president of DYFI. But Kodungallur is turning into a new flashpoint for CPM-BJP clashes, second only to the volatile Kannur district. With the CPM and DYFI coming out in support of the minority communities and declaring an ideological war against the Sangh Parivar’s hate campaign, Parivar forces started engaging in murder politics. In the first week of July, DYFI area vice-president, Karekkattu Biju was allegedly stabbed to death by BJP-RSS men. The murder was followed by a three-day hartal and widespread destruction of property belonging to followers of the Sangh groups. Shops, houses and vehicles of innocent people were attacked; even pedestrians were not spared. Paramilitary forces have been deployed and an eerie silence prevails in Kodungallur.

“Both the BJP-RSS and CPM are equally responsible for the destruction. The police inaction in arresting the real culprits is equally condemnable,’’ says Oommen Chandy, Kerala’s Opposition leader and top Congress man.

“The CPM never abetted violence. We were just attempting to ideologically fight their hate campaign. Four DYFI activists were killed here in the recent past for fighting the communal agenda of the BJP-RSS,’’ said Rajesh. He also said that his outfit was against murder politics but would not hesitate to give a fitting reply to unprovoked assaults.

Local BJP leader PK Sreekumar goes back to the 80s to trace the origin of murder politics in the region. “A young RSS leader named Satheesan was brutally killed in the beginning of the 80s by CPM-DYFI goondas. They were worried over his ability to win over youth to the RSS fold. The prevailing tension is a sequel to that,’’ he said. According to him, another RSS worker was killed last year by DYFI activists without any major provocation. “The violence will stop once the CPM recognises our right to hold shakhas and conduct everyday political activity,’’ he says. He remained silent when the long gap between the murder of Satheesan in the early 80s and those of 2008 was pointed out. Sreekumar also had no reply when asked about those who killed the four DYFI activists.

The CPM camp says Biju was a clean and honest political activist who never engaged in any violence. “The targeting of people with no criminal background shows the cruel mind of the BJP-RSS men. We are in the process of uniting all like-minded forces to fight their agenda,’’ said CPM’s local leader MA Vijayan.

“In the past, bloodletting in Kodungallur was limited only to the sacrifice of cocks as part of temple rituals. Though blood and belief blends in symbiosis during the Bharani festival, murders are quite new to the region,’’ says TN Joy, a Kodungallur-based human rights activist.

According to him, the volatile situation emerged last year with the advent of a powerful local BJP leader — even his detractors are afraid to name him — who considered muscle power the best way to ensure growth for the party. His first agenda was to take control of the temple. First, he took the contract for conducting fireworks during festivals. “The revenue ranges between Rs 75 lakh and Rs 1 crore while the expense would only come to around Rs 17 lakh,’’ informs Joy. The leader then took control of the right to allocate space for advertisements during festivals. He gets at least Rs 2 crore from this business.

“That leader is behind all the existing problems here. ‘Groupism’ and other internal problems made the CPM’s ranks ineffective in the last three years. The BJP leader used that period to consolidate his position,’’ says K Venu, former Naxalite leader and independent thinker.

Local journalists are also under threat. A passing reference to the criminal past of a BJP leader in an article resulted in the brutal manhandling of Kerala Kaumudi reporter KM Mithran. The house of Somasundaran, the owner of a local evening newspaper, was damaged in response to a series of articles against BJP-RSS activists.

“Only the CPM and DYFI are fighting the Sangh Parivar agenda in Kodungallur now. That is why their activists are getting killed. It is the duty of all secular and democratic forces to fight the communalists’ agenda of segregation in Kodungallur using all democratic means,’’ exhorts Venu. •


jacob said...

Good article Shaji.

I'm a Syrian Catholic living in the UK and it really saddens me to hear of the communalisation of Kodungallur. This a town which has a special place in the heart of Christians in Kerala because St Thomas landed there.

I always thought Kerala would spared much of the communal trouble in other parts of India, but it seems communal elements are now establishing themselves in Kerala too.

Anonymous said...

Christianity in kerala is affected not only by external forces but also by internal problems in the church.Church is not bothered about the society they need only money from christians. Christians are remaining as a miniscule minority community in India since Independence 1947.This shows the failure of Catholic Church which is the major church operating in this country bcoz catholic church concentrated its efforts only in gaining spiritual personnel for their own corporate services & not for the development of the Indian society.How many Sr. Nirmalas church has got & how many congregations like Sisters of charity?.Church has lost its vision.

Anonymous said...

Allways journalist are woried about RSS/BJP. Near Chavakad and Guravayor you can see Islamic fundmentals were grown top.
DYFI/CPM they are the majour terror Kerala.
DYFI and NDF are main man slaughters in Trissur district

Anonymous said...

this report is proved that Mr shaji is cpm/ndf supporter... because he is only blaiming about bjp/ bjp leader... he is not written a single word againist cpm/ndf..y mr shaji???? u scared...plzz... u must written honest reports...because im from kodungallur i know that what is happening there...

Anonymous said...

am manoj from dubai.mr shaji you are currect because am a active dyfi person i know what happen in kodungallur politics,kodungallur dyfi=ndf that is currect,

manu said...

am manoj from dubai.mr shaji you are currect because am a active dyfi person i know what happen in kodungallur politics,kodungallur dyfi=ndf that is currect,

shanil said...

no you are not correct. you are pointing AR Sreekumar. He also had suffered a lot form the CPM DYFI criminals. He is only struggling to live from those criminals who do anything for money. Yes he is a good man that you people cannot understand in your view he is a BJP RSS person if you think outside from that view you also will accept it.

shanil (Thushar) said...

you are pointing Mr.AR SREEKUMAR. But it is lack of knowledge or with political blindness of CPM in you that you are keeping a big truth. Mr Sreekumar is only struggling to live. if we want to live in Kerala we want to defend with CPM DYFI = criminals that is a big truth. not only for living for keeping our culture. Mr.Sreekumar is a good person. He is a leader and a leader should be like him. Their is so many things you can learn form. NOW YOU ARE AGAINST HIM BECAUSE YOU DID'NT KNOW ABOUT HIM TRY TO UNDERSTAND HIM CLOSELY THEN YOU WILL GAVE YOUR LIFE FOR HIM. NOT FOR THE POLITICS

Anonymous said...

am prince from dubai,mr shaji you dont know about mr A.R.SREEKUMAR. HE IS THE KING OF KODUNGALLUR.OUR SREEKUMARETTAN.....

Rajan Menon said...

Dont critcize about Religions and Parties. Try to live peacefully at Kodungallur. This is a sacred place of Hindus, Christians and Muslims. You think about 30-40 years back . What A BEAUTIFUL PLACE . YOU SIT UNDERNEITH THE BANYIAN TREES ( AALMARANGAL )YOU WILL BE IN YOUR DREAM WORLD AND WILL GIVE VERY PEACE OF MIND. YOU CAN TRY NOW . MY ENOUGH FRIENDS TOLD ABOUT THIS. and now bad elements only spoiled the soil of Kodungallur. First you all wake up. Bring your next generation children with good thaughts. A GOOD KODUNGALLUR WILL COME. A good well wisher