Evicted from Kerala home, Dalit family become latest flashpoint in power struggle within ruling LDF

By TK Devasia

The tug of war between the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the CPI, the two senior partners of Kerala’s ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF), has taken a new turn with the latter offering protection to a Dalit family thrown out of their home this week, allegedly by CPM workers.

Mariyappan, a daily wage worker, and his family, including two girls aged between one and three, were reportedly pushed onto the street at Murikkadi near Kumali in Idukki district by CPM workers on 4 December and their house converted into an office despite an injunction issued by the Peerumedu magistrate’s court.

While the police have registered a case against CPM Murikkadi branch secretary Bineesh and three other party workers under Scheduled Caste Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, the CPI has taken to supporting the family. The party accommodated the four-member family in the house of a party worker temporarily. CPI Kumali area secretary Saji Vempattil said the family would be shifted to a rented house soon.

“Mariyappan (33) has been living in the house for the last 30 years. The CPM workers threw them out for his step-brother, who staked claim for the house after converting to Islam few years ago. We will support Mariyappan till the house is restored to the family,” the CPI leader told Firstpost.

The daily wage labourer Mariyappan and his family were thrown out of their home on 4 December. Image courtesy: TK Devasia

The CPI has also decided to launch an agitation in this connection. Saji said the mode of agitation will be decided in consultation with party district leadership. Meanwhile, the CPM has removed the party boards from the house following intervention by the State Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

Local CPM leaders denied any role in the incident. Party Peerumedu area secretary R Thilakan said the eviction was the result of a family dispute between Mariyappan and his step-brother, Muthu alias Muhammad Salman, who is working as a teacher at Murikkadi.

Thilakan said that the house originally belonged to Muhammad Salman. He allowed his step-brother to occupy it temporarily. The CPM leader told Firstpost that Mariyappan agreed to vacate the house when police called a meeting three months ago to amicably settle the dispute.

“Muhammad Salman occupied the house when Mariyappan failed to keep his word. We have nothing to do with the incident. It is an issue between family members,” Thilakan said, adding that the CPI was dragging his party into the incident as part of its strategy to gain political upper hand.

He said that the CPI has been trying to swell its cadre base by maligning the image of CPM. Thilakan said that his party’s junior partner was making an attempt to broaden its base in Idukki district by dubbing the CPM as a party of encroachers.

The two have been at odds ever since Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan stopped the eviction drive launched by the Revenue Department, which is under the control of the CPI, following the demolition of a cross installed atop a hill, allegedly encroached by a Christian evangelical group in the hilly district.

The row between the two snowballed into a constitutional crisis when the CPI boycotted a Cabinet meeting last month to protest against the alleged attempt by the chief minister and his party to shield former transport minister Thomas Chandy in the wake of adverse remarks against him from the high court over the encroachment of a lake at Kuttanad in Alappuzha district.

The home of the Dalit family was converted into an office. Image courtesy: TK Devasia

Though Chandy finally resigned, the issue is still haunting the Pinarayi government with the high court admitting a petition demanding the resignation of the chief minister over alleged loss of collective responsibility of his Cabinet. Citing the court observations, the petitioner has described Pinarayi as usurper of power.

Even though the Murikkadi incident is considered as a minor local issue it gains political significance from the CPI’s decision to offer support to the Dalit family. Political observers believe that it may help the CPI to open a new front against the CPM over the Dalit issue.

The track record of the CPM with regard to Dalits has not been good. A series of Dalit harassment cases involving party workers have prompted human rights and Dalit activists to raise questions about the CPM’s approach towards the vulnerable section of the community.

Though the party has been advocating Dalit rights, its activists have been reportedly treating them as untouchable in many places, especially in Kannur district, the cradle of communist movement in the state. A glaring case is the persistent hounding of a woman Dalit auto-rickshaw driver in Kannur district by the party’s trade union wing.

The woman, Chitralekha, was forced to leave her native place after she suffered repeated attacks for 15 years. A solidarity mission commissioned by Feminists Kerala Network to determine the facts behind these attacks, found that it was part of untouchability prevailing in the region even now. Their investigation revealed that it was the result of a fascist atmosphere created by the CPM in the area, where many villages are controlled by the party.

The attitude of the CPM cadres towards the Dalits even developed into a big fight between the CPM and the Dalit groups in Kannur when the party enforced a tradition of exempting Dalit houses from an annual ritual in the Azhikkal Pampadi Aalinkeezhi Temple after it assumed control of the shrine.

Women activists expected a fair deal from the Pinarayi government since a major theme of the LDF campaign was protection of women. Their hopes were belied within a month when two Dalit girls, who complained about harassment from CPM workers, were arrested and sent to jail on a complaint by a party worker that they trespassed into their office and attacked them with sharp weapons.

The CPI is trying to project the eviction of the Dalit family from their house Murikkadi as a case of the CPM’s intolerance towards the Dalits. CPI Murikkadi area secretary Chellappan pointed out that the CPM cadres had also evicted a Dalit family from their land in the area a few months ago.

Murikkadi CPM branch secretary Bineesh, against whom a case has been registered in connection with the incident, is also an accused in the case. Chellappan said his party was not expecting any action against Bineesh and others involved in the cases as "the police are under the control of the CPM". He told Firstpost that the CPI may have to wage a long struggle to ensure justice for Mariyappan and his family.