Kozhikode: Kerala police on Friday arrested two persons in connection with the death of Madhu, an Adivasi youth whose death sparked widespread outcry in the state, and took five others into custody for questioning.
Madhu, 27, died in a police vehicle after being violently attacked by a mob that accused him of being involved in a minor theft.
Photos of Madhu and some of his alleged attackers have surfaced on social media, inviting public outcry. One among them is of a man – later identified as Ubaid, a local youth – who is seen taking a selfie with a disheveled Madhu and another man in the background. In the photo, Madhu’s arms are tied up.
Responding to the outrage over his death, the state government on Friday ordered a magisterial probe into the incident. The announcement came from A.K. Balan, the minister for welfare of scheduled tribes.
Currently, a police team headed by inspector general M.R. Ajithkumar is conducting an investigation.
Madhu, a native of the Adivasi village of Kadukmanna in Attappadi, died while on his way to a hospital. Minutes before his death, he reportedly vomited in the police vehicle, allegedly as a result of physical torture.
Some in the Malayalam media, quoting the FIR registered by the police, also reported that Madhu told the police about the harassment he underwent at the hands of the people who handed him over to the cops. He reportedly informed the police that he was “beaten up” and “kicked” by members of the mob. He also reportedly told the police that he was verbally abused.
Madhu was handed over to the police by a group of locals, who reportedly physically attacked the Adivasi youth. Madhu was accused of stealing some food items, including rice. Some reports also suggest that Madhu had mental disabilities.
Besides arresting two – K. Hussain, a trader, and P.P. Abdul Kareem – the police have also taken five others into custody for questioning. Police believe, according to media reports, that around 15 people were involved in the incident, and the search for the others accused is underway.
Meanwhile, the local youth who took a selfie while Madhu was being harassed has been linked with the local MLA, N. Shamsudheen. The allegation popped up after an image surfaced of Ubaid participating in Shamsudheen’s election campaign, also an Indian Union Muslim League leader. Shamsudheen has, however, denied any links and demanded action over the death without any political influence.
Widespread condemnation, protests
Various Adivasi groups held protests in the area and blocked roads. At one point, the protestors even blocked the ambulance carrying Madhu’s body for postmortem, demanding the arrest of all the persons involved in his harassment. The protestors, which included Madhu’s family members, later allowed the ambulance to pass following assurances from the authorities that their demands will be met. The postmortem, however, will be conducted on Saturday.
Criticism against Madhu’s death is getting stronger in the state, with chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, other government functionaries, writers and artists expressing their dismay over the incident.
In a Facebook post, chief minister Vijayan condemned the incident. “It is highly condemnable that an Adivasi youth died in Attappadi due to physical attack,” he wrote. The chief minister added that the state government will take “strict action” against the culprits. “Instruction in this regard has been given to the state police chief,” he said, adding “that such attacks are taking place in Kerala is damaging the socio-cultural progress that we’ve achieved.”
Expressing a similar opinion, T.M. Thomas Isaac, the state’s finance minister, said, “The helplessness visible in the eyes of Madhu, and that merciless mob will haunt Kerala for long”.
Attappadi, in Kerala’s Palakkad district, is a reserve forest area where a large segment of the state’s Adivasi population lives. The region has been in the media for various Adivasi-related issues, including malnutrition among Adivasi children, infant deaths and sexual exploitation of Adivasi girls and women.