When Everyone Became a Maoist in Kerala

February 8, 2015

[The following two articles – one by Ajmal Khan, and the other a statement from DSU, focus on the spate of arrests of activists and others in Kerala, where the space for democratic dissent is shrinking alarmingly – Ed.]

1. When Everyone Became a Maoist in Kerala – Ajmal Khan
2. DSU Statement on the Arrest of Jaison Cooper and Thushar Sarathy


When Everyone Became a Maoist in Kerala

By Ajmal Khan

The Kerala police is on the hunt for Maoists for the last one year. Innocent Adivasis and Dalit boys, people working among tribals, human rights activists, people who respond to daily injustices and human rights violations, and even people who “look like Maoists” are being picked up everyday.

What does it mean to be a Maoist in Kerala? To answer this, one needs to closely look at an analysis of the so-called Maoist incidents and arrests that have happened. There are many questions that have remained unanswered in the fog that has been spreading since last year under the label “Maoist”.

The recent Maoist story in Kerala starts after the look out notice which was displayed in the limits of Mananthawadi Police station in Wayanad district in April 2014. The notice carried the names and pictures of around 40 people, including a few alleged Maoist guerrillas and a number of social and human rights activist who are active in the mainstream political sphere in the state. Included were the names and pictures of: Adv. P A Pouran, state general secretary of Peoples Union for Civil Liberties, N Subramanian, a social activist with more than three decades of public presence, Adv. Thushar Nirmal Saradhy, president of the Jankeeya Manushyvakasa Prasthanam , M N Ravunni, general convener of Porattam, CRPP member Nikhil, CHRD member KK Rajeesh, RDF President Sugathan, Secretary Ajayan, Joint Secretary Devarajan, C. Ajithan, a trade union activist in public life for more than two decades, activist Karthikeyan, Vilayodi Sivankuti, Jaison Cooper, and Adv. Manuel.

All of the above are public individuals who have a public life and appearance in Kerala society and are known for actively engaging in and responding to different socio-political injustices that have been taking place. This look out notice was contested and condemned by the larger civil society which was shocked at the treatment that was inflicted on the political activists. It was also a reminder to the activists by the state that engagement in activities deemed “against the state” would have the displayed result. This development has to also be understood in the context where people are waking up and starting to raise their voice against both the injustices that have been historically imposed upon them as well as the new forms of injustice that are being manifested in recent times. All the names on the notice also shared the characteristic that they were from outside the mainstream political parties and, in fact, were their enemies and posed a threat to them in many ways.

Beyond the mainstream narratives of welfare, development, castelessness, communal harmony and the celebrated Kerala model of development, there are hundreds of active social movements that are going on in the state, movements that are led by Adivasis and Dalits for land, against exploitation and violations of even fundamental constitutional rights. (These are political movements and should not be imprisoned to the category of old social movements or new social movements). The recent standing up struggle by Adivasi Gohtra Mahasabha in front of the Kerala secretariat was one of the historic struggles of its kind.

These movements are populated by people evicted and displaced by different projects such as Kadikudam, illegal mining and quarrying in Ambittan Tharish, movements against big road constructions and against tolls for roads and bridges, movements led by women workers for dignity against exploitation and gender based discriminations, youth on the roads for freedom to love (the larger movement created as Kiss of Love) and against fascist attacks and moral policing, the voices of victims of Endosalfan in the district of Kasargodu, Muthanga and Chengara land struggles, Plachimada struggles against Coca Cola company and many others. All these are happening outside the mainstream feudal, aristocratic, casteist, communal and male chauvinist mainstream political discourse and parties in the state: the Congress, CPIM, CPI, Muslim League and other parties are either together or singly collaborators in their opposition to these struggles. So, people are left with no option other than to mobilize themselves against the oppressors, a political establishment that includes a huge and powerful gang of industrial and business groups, leaders from various parties, corporations, dominant religious and caste groups and the media. Historically the governments in Kerala have tried to curb democratic rights; and Naxalite/Maoist links has been one of the historical reasons for this. This is the context in which Maoism took birth or re-birth in Kerala.

The Government of Kerala is prepared to combat the Maoists in a big way. I happened to visit my hometown police station at Kalikavu a few months ago with a friend of mine. It is located on the Western Ghats, allegedly the hub of Maoists in Malappuram. I was shocked to see the police station. It looked like some national security border with big sacks and security arrangements. The level of security arrangements made me curious. I asked one of the police constables in the station what was happening there, why there was so much security for our station. He said, “You don’t read news papers? Our station is one of the targeted stations by Maoists!”

It is an established fact that the CPI Maoist has presence in the Western Ghats and Nilgiris in Kerala. This is also the context in which the Central Government increased funds to combat the Maoists. The Government of Kerala has also introduced the Salwa Judum model to give training and wages to Adivasi youth to monitor Maoist activities in the tribal hamlets. They are called home guards from the tribal community and are paid Rs. 500 per day.

In July 2014, Mr. Jonathan Bold, a Swiss national, Left sympathizer, and student of International Economic History at Paul Bairoch Institute of Economic History in Geneva came on a tourist visa to Kerala. He was arrested in Thrissur after attending a commemorative meeting held for Maoist leader Sinoj at his native place in Thriprayar. Since the police failed to establish any alleged connections, the Kerala High Court quashed the case registered against him and he was released.

In December 2014, Keralaeeyam’s office was raided. Keraleeyam is a magazine which mainly focuses on agriculture, health, environment, human rights, education and gender-dalit-adivasi issues from Thrissur since 1998. The office was raided on the pretext of alleged Maoist connections. About 40 armed police personal descended on the office located in Thrissur town in the dead of the night for the raid and seized copies of Keraleeyam, pamphlets and notices of events conducted by Keraleeyam, books and other documents. The police took into custody Ajlal (Marketing Manager, Keraleeyam), Viswanathan Alathu (environmentalist), Santhosh (Youth Dialogue activist) who were present in the office at the time of the raid. The three were subjected to intense questioning and detained at Thrissur East Police Station until the next morning.


Jaison Cooper and Thushar Sharathi

Recently Jaison Cooper, one of the noted figures among the social activists, a blogger who is actively engaged in a variety of people’s struggles in Kerala and Tushar Nirmal Sharathi, lawyer and President of the People’s Human Rights movement, were picked up by the police is Kochin and Calicut: Jaison Cooper in Ernakulam from his office and Adv. Thushar Nirmal Sarathy from Calicut, while he was addressing the press about a protest program to be held there the following day against the increasing violations of the fundamental rights of the people in the state. Subsequent allegations of connections with the allegedly Maoist attack at Kalamasseri were brought. Both of them have been active in the solidarity committee with Koodankulam anti nuclear movement, movement for the displaced in Mulampilly, People’s movement against the Paliyekkara toll booth, Plachimada people’s movement against Coca Cola, Collective in solidarity with the victims of Endosulfan pesticide, committee against Aadhar, Committee for the protection of Western Ghats, Committee against moral policing, Committee for the release of Dr.Binayak Sen, forum demanding justice to Madani etc. Both of them are being kept under remand even when there is widespread protest against the arrest of social activists.

Two days later two students, Uday Balakrishnan, who is active with youth dialog, (a youth platform which was created couple of years ago) and Shahaid Shameem with the Student Islamic Organisation and Solidarity Youth Movement, were picked up by the police in Kannur district while they were returning from a program which was conducted in solidarity with the Tamil writer Perumal Muruagan. They were accused of alleged involvement with Maoist movement in the state; later it was explained by the police that “they had appearance that they look like Maoist” – that is why they were picked up.

Apart from all of these cases, there are a number of Adivasi and Dalit youths being picked up on alleged Maoist connections on a day to day basis, which does not even get reported as news. You can be a Maoist if you engage with any movement which questions the mainstream development and its effects. If you go for a solidarity meeting that is conducted on any issues worldwide, if you even have curly hair or your clothes are not washed, you can be a potential Maoist as explained by Kerala police and you can be booked under UAPA in Kerala. The state, with all the other allies, are suppressing the voices that are rising up against historical suppressions and its new forms in the era of neo-liberal development. The label of Maoist will be granted to anyone who dares to raise this voice.

The writer is an activist based in Mumbai.


DSU Statement on the Arrest of Jaison Cooper and Thushar Sarathy


Condemn the branding, profiling and witch-hunt of people’s activists, intellectuals, lawyers and civil libertarians!

Resist the extension of Operation Greenhunt and its urban avatar to Kerala!

The Kerala government in the recent past has been seized with a frenzy as it has gone on a witch-hunt of several activists, intellectuals and civil libertarians. The latest ‘catch’ are two well-known activsts of Kerala – Jaison Cooper and Thushar Sarathy – who have been vocal on a whole range of issues from displacement of adivasis, rights of muslims, dalits and labourers as well as environmental concerns.

On 30th January, the Kerala police along with the Special Branch arrested Jaison Cooper (who is also a blogger) from his workplace in Ernakulam. On the same day, advocate Thushar Nirmal Sarathy, who is the secretary of CRPP in Kerala and the secretary of Janakiya Manushyavakasha Prasthanam (Peoples Human Rights Forum), was also arrested from Kozhikode while he was addressing the press for a protest programme against increasing violation of fundamental rights in the state. Both of them have now been charged under the draconian UAPA for their supposed ‘Maoist’ connections. Jaison Cooper has also been remanded in police custody for the next 6 days.

The Kerala police in a dastardly manner also raided the residences of Thushar Sarathy, Advocate-activist Manuel Joseph, artist-activist and Jolly Chirayath, the convener of Sthree Koottayma (Women’s Collective). Just 10 days prior to his arrest, Thushar Sarathy had in fact complained to the government about the police tapping his phone. The impunity with which police carries out these raids is clear for everyone to see as these raids were conducted without even displaying any warrants!

Quite ridiculously, the police is now claiming that they found literature ‘praising Maoism’ with Cooper as evidence of his Maoist connections. The police also took away several case files from Thushar Sarathy’s residence without even recording the list of ‘seized items’. And if all this was not enough, the Kerala government and police has now audaciously named several activists, including 17 activists of the organisation Porratam, and is threatening that more arrests will follow. DSU strongly condemns the arrest of Jaison Cooper and Thushar Sarathy, the raids in the houses of several activists and the open threats to many more activists by the draconian Kerala Police.

This is not the first instance of motivated attacks and hounding of people’s activists by the anti-people Kerala government and its police force. The blueprint for the branding of people’s activists as Maoists and their witch-hunt had already been under-preparation for the past two years. These are some of the actions of the Kerala police as it has gone on a rampage against several organisations and individuals:

(1) Two years back, social activists Roopesh and Shiney were witch-hunted by the police which escalated into an appalling slander campaign and hounding of even their children and family.

(2) Last April, in a targeted attempt at vilifying activists, a ‘look-out notice’ of supposed ‘Maoists’ was circulated by the Kerala police carrying the names and pictures of prominent activists from across the state. And then, this was accompanied by incessant media trials of these activists.

(3) Last July, the police seized tapes of several bulletins of Samakalikalam, a popular current affairs programme broadcast by the Kochi unit of All India Radio claiming that they contain ‘subversive messages in support of Maoists’. Bringing to fore the undeclared emergency that prevails where even media persons are not spared, Aradhana, one of the producers of the programme was questioned for several hours by the NIA.

(4) Again, last July a Swiss national Jontathan Baud was arrested by the police after he attended a meeting that commemorated a Maoist leader. It was only after pressure mounted on the govt after condemnations worldwide that Baud was released. The Kerala High Court later quashed the FIR against him and reprimanded the police for filing the case without any substance.

(5) Last December, the office of Keraleeyam, a magazine that focuses on tribal issues was raided by the police. The copies of the magazine, the computers in the office and several pamphlets were all seized and taken away. The police also forcibly kept three staff workers in custody before releasing them after several hours of questioning and intimidation.

(6) Then again in December, two college students were arrested and charged under the draconian UAPA. When asked about the lack of any evidence against them, the police simply retorted that the literature snatched from their houses showed that they were attracted to Maoist ideology! This in fact truly exposes the fascist character of the state where an individual is incriminated for her or his thoughts. Both these students still continue to languish in prison.

There are many more of such incidents and in fact the timing of this concerted witch-hunt is hardly surprising. The deployment of huge battalions of para-military forces and specialised combat forces like the Thunderbolt in the Western Ghats accompanied by increased combing operations in their supposed bid to ‘cull out Maoists’ lays bare the scheme for the extension of Operation Greenhunt here. It is no coincidence that this is happening at a time when vast tracts of land are being leased out to big corporates and numerous SEZ projects are being given clearances. And with the extension of Operation Greenhunt in the adivasi hinterland of Kerala, it was only a matter of time before its urban avatar – gagging voices of dissent, rounding up intellectuals, activists, civil libertarians – followed soon. Anyone who is vocal against this ‘development’ which is in the interest of big corporates are branded as Maoists and hounded in a bid to criminalize dissent. The speedy implementation of this criminalization of dissent amply reveals that the agenda of the Congress regime in Kerala is no different from the Brahmanical Hindutva fascist forces at the centre.

This routine exercise practiced by the state by unleashing brute terror upon the people who speak against its policies is not new to us. Jaison and Thushar’s arrest is similar to the abduction and arrest of Dr. G.N. Saibaba, who was instrumental in mobilizing considerable opinion against the state’s war on the dalits and adivasis of Central and Eastern India, or the abduction and arrest of Comrade Hem of our campus who merely articulated the same through his songs and plays. There are hundreds of political prisoners across the length and breadth of our sub-continent whose only apparent ‘crime’ is talking about the most oppressed sections of the society and their aspiration for an alternative society. But such arrests also reveal the schizophrenic fear of the state of the intensifying resistance of the people which will raise to the ground the very foundations of this oppressive social order. DSU appeals to all progressive and democratic sections to speak out against this McCarthyian withchunt of intellectuals, civil liberations and social activists. We demand that Jaison Cooper and Thushar Sarathy be immediately & unconditionally released.

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