Kalpetta, Kerala: On Monday, two men, hailing from the neighbouring districts of Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram, succumbed to their injuries at Kerala’s Thiruvananthapuram Medical College Hospital. The two have nothing in common, except the fact that they were the latest victims of lynchings in the state.
The victims – Anil Kumar from Kollam and Ajesh from Thiruvananthapuram – died after they were lynched in separate incidents. While Anil Kumar was attacked in an alleged incident of violent ‘moral policing’, Ajesh was lynched on the suspicion of theft.
Police arrested accused in both the cases. Ten people were arrested in Kollam, while six others were held in Thiruvananthapuram case.
Anil Kumar, 42, a jeep driver from Valakom of Kottarakkara taluk of Kollam district, was brutally beaten by a group of men on December 13, when Kumar was visiting a female friend’s house. He was later shifted to Thiruvananthapuram Medical College Hospital, where he died early morning on Monday. The mob allegedly attacked him on suspicions of him having an affair with the woman.
In the other case, Ajesh, a 30-year old man with mental health issues from Thiruvananthapuram, was kidnapped and fatally assaulted for nearly seven hours by a group of men – mainly auto-rickshaw drivers.
The incident took place after, Sajimon, a native of Malappuram, lost his mobile phone and Rs 40,000 from a bus stand in Thiruvananthapuram city. Sajimon and some rickshaw drivers suspected Ajesh for the theft.
The group of rickshaw drivers, in turn, later kidnapped Ajesh from a street and forcefully moved him to his house, where Ajesh was living alone. The group hoped to ‘recover’ the stolen mobile phone and money from the house, but they could not find anything at Ajesh’s house.
In his house, Ajesh reportedly went through brutal physical harassment by the group, who hanged him, beat him with sticks, filled his mouth with a piece of cloth to prevent him from screaming, and burned his abdomen and private parts with a hot metal object.
Ajesh managed to leave the house in search of help after the group finally abandoned him. He was then found by locals and the police, who moved him to Thiruvananthapuram Medical College Hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries early morning on Monday.
Police have arrested six men in connection with the crime, and are in search for the seventh accused.
The latest incidents suggest that Kerala is also not immune to the ‘culture of lynching’. Suspicions of indulging in love affairs or extramarital relationships, or theft, may lead a person in Kerala to become a victim of a lynching, including at the hands of the police, as many incidents in the recent past have suggested.
Local media is taking serious note of the latest incidents of lynchings, despite the lack of public attention due to the ongoing protests against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act.
“These two killings have brought Kerala, which is proud of its culture and progressive thinking, to the extreme level of shamefulness,” wrote the state’s leading newspaper Malayala Manorama in its editorial on Wednesday.
Mathrubhumi, another Malayalam newspaper that also discussed the issue in its editorial, said, “it is getting proved that the literate Kerala is in no difference with north India when it comes to intolerance and mob violence. The only difference is in reasons (behind the violence)”.
The death of Anil Kumar and Ajesh took place, coincidentally, on the same day that a Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the state police crime branch filed, before a judicial first class magistrate court in Ernakulam, the charge sheet in connection with another ‘lynching’ case – a custodial death, which took place in April last year.
The 1,000-page charge sheet names nine police officers as accused, including four who are facing charges of murder.
Sreejith, the victim in the case, was taken into police custody from his house by the accused officials Santhosh Kumar P.P., Jithin Raj and Sumesh M.S. at around 10 pm on April 6, 2018. The officers allegedly started harassing Sreejith from the very beginning of the custody.
The infamous case was widely discussed in the state, both for Sreejith’s proven innocence – he was mistakenly arrested for another Sreejith – and the alleged involvement of several police officials in the crime.
There have been, however, similar cases charged against the state police, since Sreejith’s murder.
The ‘likely’ targets of lynching
Perhaps two elements that can be identified as common in some of the recent incidents of lynching in the state are attacks against individuals with mental illnesses and violence in the name of morality.
Like Ajesh from Thiruvananthapuram, Madhu, another victim of a mob lynching who died last year, also faced mental health issues.
Madhu, 27, died in a police vehicle after he suffered a violent physical attack by a mob, who accused him of being involved in a minor theft. After his death, some photos, showing a helpless Madhu and some of his alleged attackers, emerged on social media, and prompted public outcry.
There have also been many incidents of violence in which victims were targeted for their purported ‘immoral activity’, like premarital or extramarital affairs – similar to what the mob charged Anil Kumar with.
Earlier this month, a male journalist who was also the secretary of the Thiruvananthapuram Press Club, was arrested by police after he allegedly barged into a woman journalist’s house, and moral policed and assaulted her. M Radhakrishnan, the accused, was later charged under sections 143, 147, 451, 323, 342, 354 and 149 of the IPC.
An article in the NewsMinute last year, however, said, “sociologists, psychiatrists and rights groups … have reason to believe that only a specific section of people are being targeted” in the lynching incidents in the state. “Dalits, migrant workers, transgender people and women”.