Editor’s note: Kannur, the northern district of Kerala, hit the headlines for a spate of political violence that saw two murders in just 48 hours last month. The murders have given rise to fears that the cycle of violence, which had ebbed to an extent in the last few years, may be returning to haunt the regions. The new political context – the state ruled by the CPM-led LDF and the Centre ruled by BJP-led NDA – makes the situation in Kannur all the more complex, since the key parties that are involved in the violence are the CPM and BJP. Firstpost travelled to Kannur, probing the historical, sociological and communal dynamics of the political violence in the region. This is the third in a five-part series from ground zero.
What strikes one during a drive from Kannur to Koothuparampu in Kerala is the ‘martyr squares’ dotting villages after villages along the route. These are not memorials of freedom fighters or members of the armed forces who sacrificed their lives for the country as in other parts of the country but monuments of political workers killed in clashes.
With over 250 workers of different parties falling prey to the clashes in the last five decades, almost every village in the northern district has at least one martyr square. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) combine, which are engaged in a relentless battle for supremacy in Kannur, have the maximum martyr squares.
While the CPI(M) honour the victims as ‘martyrs’, the RSS and the BJP fete them as ‘balidanis’. They acknowledge the sacrifice made by the victims by taking care of their families and pay tribute to them at least once in a year by observing their death anniversaries.
The presence of a martyr square in a particular village also indicates domination of the concerned party over the area. If they are marked further by the symbols of the parties and their luminaries, it is clear that they are the party villages where outsiders cannot enter easily.
The parties also reinforce their dominance over the village by painting public places like bus waiting sheds and utility structures like telephone and electric posts in party colour. While these structures in the CPI(M) villages are painted in red, the colour is saffron in the BJP villages.
Party villages came into existence in Kannur in the 1960s when killings and counter killings became the order of the day. The CPI(M) and the BJP started adopting the villages when the series of clashes forced the people to move to safer places.
“The party villages are closed to the outsiders. It is not easy for non-party members to enter these villages. The party men keep a close vigil of all those who visit the village. They are allowed inside the village only after they establish that they are not from the rival camp,” says A Sajeevan, a Congress worker at Thillankary near Mattannur.
He said there were several villages around Thillankary under the iron grip of the CPI(M) and RSS. The two do not allow other parties to undertake any political activity in these villages. If somebody force their way into the village, they will be manhandled, says Sajreevan.
Taxi drivers refuse to take trips to party villages. Manoj Kumar, a taxi driver at Thalaserry, said he had faced intimation from party men several times when he took guests to the party villages even he was not affiliated to any party.
The media has absolutely no entry in these villages. Even if media persons try to enter the village by hiding their identity, they will not be able to gather any information as the people in the village will not talk or allow anything to be photographed.
Anyone who is not a member of the party in the village is isolated. Either he has to live as per the party diktats or leave the village. The party does not allow the villager to cooperate with them. Those who attend any events like marriages and funerals in the houses of such non-members are marked out.
BJP Mattannur block president Rajan said that the CPI(M) workers had killed an old woman for attending the funeral of Uthaman, who was murdered by the CPI(M) men in 2002. The woman who hailed from the party village at Kalathodu was a relative of Uthaman. His son Remith was stabbed to death at Pinarayi recently.
The parties do not admit they control any village. They call such villages as their strongholds. However, the police have identified at least 50 such villages in the district controlled either by the CPI(M) or the BJP-RSS combine.
The BJP disputes the number. Party former state president PS Sreedharan Pillai says that at least 100 villages were under the control of CPI(M) in the district according to his party’s findings. He said that his party men were not allowed to undertake any political activity in these villages.
“The CPI(M) workers confront our workers physically whenever they try to exercise their democratic right in the villages. The clashes in Kannur are mostly the result of such denial of democratic rights,” he says.
The CPI(M) also levels the same charge against the BJP and the RSS. Manoharan, a branch secretary of the party at Pinarayi, said that the Sangh Parivar was holding several villages in the area as their fiefdoms.
The party dominance over the villages has also been leading to several electoral malpractices.
Congress leader K Sudhakaran, who has fought several electoral battles in the district, says that the parties controlling the village were rigging elections by not allowing rival parties to deploy their booth agents in the party villages.
He said that the polling in most of the party villages were unusually high. In some cases, the votes polled were more than the actual number of votes available in the village. Though the election officials are aware of the bogus voting, they keep a blind eye to the practice.
The Congress had dared to deploy polling agents in such villages in the last Assembly election after providing insurance coverage to them. The party took group insurance for 570 booth agents, covering medical treatment and damage to property up to Rs 1 lakh each.
The Election Commission had identified 615 booths in Kannur critical and deployed central forces besides employing micro-observers and web cameras in such booths to prevent bogus voting.
Once a party takes over a village, it enforces an extra judicial power over all the people who live in that village. The party demands unwavering loyalty to the party from each member in the village. In return the parties ensure the benefit of various government schemes to the residents.
A solidarity mission commissioned by Feminists Kerala Network, an NGO, to probe an attack on a Dalit woman auto rickshaw driver in one of the CPI(M) strongholds in the districts, said that the party was maintaining the grip of the villages by creating a fascist atmosphere.
“The CPI(M) exists and thrives in the region through use of such power over entire villages. Anyone who questions the party or goes against its wishes are harassed, alienated, ostracised and sometimes even killed," says the mission’s report.
The report found that the CPI(M) had also adopted similar tactics in the workplace too. The party trade unions such as the CITU wield the same power and use it over the village and people, to control and dictate terms to its members.
Police usually have no access to the party villages. The cops keep a blind eye to all activities in the village, including arms training and bomb making. However, district superintendent of police Kori Sanjaykumar Gurudin denies the allegation.
He claimed that the police have been keeping a close vigil of all the party villages. He said they were routinely conducting raids in the party strongholds and apprehending criminals if any harboured there and recovering arms.
The police turned their focus towards party villages after three main accused in the brutal murder of CPI(M) rebel leader TP Chandrashekharan in May 2012 was harboured in a party village near Iritty. It took nearly 45 days for the special investigation team to nab them.
Though the then UDF government had then vowed to liberate the villages from the control of the parties, it did not carry forward the plan. Political observers believe that the violence in the district could be checked to a certain extent if these villages are liberated from the clutches of the political parties.