New Delhi: The death of a couple, who died from burn injuries after accidentally immolating themselves while attempting stop an eviction drive in Thiruvananthapuram, has triggered a widespread row in Kerala, with opposition parties blaming the police for the incident, following which the state government has extended a helping hand to their orphaned children.
The couple, Rajan (47) and his wife Ambili (40), died at the government medical college and hospital in Thiruvananthapuram after they suffered multiple organ failure on Monday.
The video of the their two teenaged children, Rahul and Renjith, crying outside the hospital for help to cremate their father at the disputed land as per his last wish went viral on the social media, following which many offered to help them construct a house of their own.
As the opposition Congress took up the matter and criticised the police for the incident, chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan announced that his government will protect the children of the couple.
The children have alleged that it was the police who caused their death. “My pappa (father) is someone who would never attempt suicide. Suicide is not the solution for anything he would say,” Rahul reportedly said.
Land dispute case
The family had been living in a small shed in an area called Netta Thottam in Neyyattinkara – a place mostly occupied by families from Scheduled Caste communities. A woman named Vasantha, who was also their neighbour, had filed a complaint against Rajan in a land dispute case, News Minute reported.
Among various instances of alleged harassment, Vasantha had complained to the vigilance and anti-corruption bureau and the Kerala state electricity board claiming that Rajan had stolen electricity and made a wooden almirah illegally. However, according to another neighbour of Rajan’s, Hari, the almirah was made at Rajan’s mother’s house.
According to the report, Rajan was not even able to go to work as complaints filed by Vasantha kept on piling up.
According to local media, Vasantha – who is now in police custody – had asserted that she would prove that the land is hers and would not give it to anyone who displayed “goondaism”.
Hari told News Minute that Rajan had held that it was the government’s land and moved in a shed he made in it with his family.
Six months ago, Vasantha’s youngest son had come with petrol to set the family on fire, the report added, citing Hari. “Vasantha’s intention was to torture the family and to make them leave the house so that she can buy the land for a meagre amount of money. She has done this with others too,” Hari alleged.
However, according to Vasantha’s advocate K. Sivaprasad, Vasantha had bought the land in 2006 and had paid the land tax till 2019 and also presented the tax receipt at court while filing the case.
Following Vasantha’s numerous complaints, officials would visit Rajan’s house several times, which led to a deterioration in Ambili’s mental health. Thulasi, Rajan’s mother, alleged that she once had an argument with Vasantha about Dalits living in the locality. “She [Vasantha] claimed that she would not let Dalits live in the area. I told her that everyone, all humans have the same rights. This might have made her angry with me and my son,” Thulasi alleged, as per the report.
Police’s alleged role
According to the police, the incident occurred on December 22 when the police and an advocate commission appointed by a local court had gone to Rajan’s house to implement a judicial order to evict him and his family from the land that belongs to the government based on the complaint of a neighbour. Earlier in June this year, there was an attempt to evict the family from the disputed land.
When the police personnel approached them, Rajan doused himself and his wife in kerosene and warned them not to come closer.
While Rajan held a lighter in his hands, a policeman moved in to remove the lighter and seems to have accidentally lit the fire. Media reports have raised questions over “why were the police in a hurry to evict the couple”. “Why couldn’t the police wait for the stay order in favour of Rajan?” asked media reports.
This is the stay order than Rajan secured from court, on the same day as eviction- December 22. Why did the police not wait for the court's decision? pic.twitter.com/195Bvw94d5
— Saritha S Balan (@Sarithasbalan) December 29, 2020
(With inputs from PTI)