Sujith's murder hacks at Kerala's politics of bloodlust

CP Surendran
CP SurendranMar 16, 2016 | 16:11

Sujith's murder hacks at Kerala's politics of bloodlust

To understand what happened in Kannur in north Kerala, where on the night of February 15 a 27-year-old RSS activist Sujith was murdered, in keeping with the rituals of political murders in the state, by a million cuts, we need to know that fate works its devious tricks on many fronts seemingly unconnected. That ideology, usually a prime suspect, is just one of them.


The popular theory in Kerala - which is facing Assembly polls in April - that explains the killing is the abiding violence of the CPM versus RSS politics typical of Kannur. It is just one of the nails in Sujith's coffin.

In the past decade alone, close to 90 political murders have occurred in Kerala. The CPM claims, with a measure of pride, that 60 per cent of the victims are from its cadre. Nearly 30 per cent of the victims are from RSS/BJP fold. The rest are, to use a facetious psephology metaphor, Independents.

Kannur's political violence began in the 1980s. One of the sensational murders is of a schoolteacher, KT Jayakrishnan, a supporter of the RSS, on December 31, 1999. A bunch of men with CPI(M) connections waded into the classroom, and hacked him to death in front of the students. So much for Marxist-Leninist humanism.

There have been murders and counter murders since, and the ferocity of the killings is tribal in its demands and satisfactions, as is perhaps becoming of political parties that demand extreme loyalties. These translate to extreme justice as well.

For men like Sujith for example, their emotional world is fully integrated with their political world. There is no separation of the self from the argument. The reason is the romance.


I remember once, years ago, making fun of the CPM leader Pinarayi Vijayan at a "friendly" gathering. I narrowly escaped a beating. Kerala's literacy rate might be high, but its tolerance threshold is low.


Almost always short swords are used to carry out human sacrifices in Kannur, as are long knives and hand axes. An iron harvest.

Killing is almost always a collective labour, as in a factory. It has got a touch of the proletarian pathos to it. A bunch of men, around 15 in number, surround the taboo-person and cut him up. The violence, if you watch some of the videos, fuels itself by the act. Each cut and thrust is more angry than the one before. Something, or someone, is being concluded. A totem is being honoured by offerings of blood and flesh. Underlying it all is a crude Stalinism at play: one man, one problem; no man, no problem. 

Almost predictably, both the killers and the killed are in their 20s. Because this is the hot-blooded, not-yet-married group that lends itself to the taxing demands of the passion-politics. 

Most of these youngsters are from the middle class or the lower middle class background. Most of them have a student-activist past. There is only a limited number of these candidates in a small district like Kannur, naturally. As a result, the leaders of both parties have to be exhibitionist in the ardour of their demands. You have to qualify rather bloodily to meet their recruiting standards. It's a cult. And both parties draw from the same stock. 


This is the reason why you will see, unlike other places in India, in Kannur, the guy who holds up the red flag dissolving in time into a slightly older guy wearing the RSS shorts. It's the same man. But a different party. The cause does not matter. Because, it will change. But the extremity of the demands is vital for loyalty to be won and sustained. Murder feeds murder. 

Sujith, for instance, was part of Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) - affiliated to the CPI(M) outfit - and had a following of his own among the youth.

The RSS offered him a more acute sense of purpose. Instead of a foreign ideology, Marxism, which is all but dead, they pointed out the double standards that a secular party invariably has to resort to in order to appear fair to the varied denominations of people.

The RSS offered Sujith simple solutions to his confusions. A seeming honesty of outlook. Every country has its preferred race and religion, for example. Why shouldn't India? The unity of its thought integrated Sujith into one solid, clear minded machine, ready to carry out the party's agenda. Of late, he had been able to convert young CPI(M) followers into his new faith. This kind of conversion is a matter of extreme seriousness in a place like Kannur. 

It could deserve death. To be sure, he would be a name in the CPI(M) hitlist. But very often an act of final justice is cumulative; other reasons come into play. 

A few days ago, B Kemal Pasha, a justice of Kerala High Court, was invited to a seminar, where he talked in the context of the personal law that the Muslim women are discriminated against. He said, men can have four wives, why not a woman four husbands? It was meant well. But it's easy for good intentions to sound off in the age of the social media.

Well, a leading Malayalam daily, picked up the comment from social media and used it reportedly in relation to the Prophet. The item has since then been pulled out from their website following massive protests by Muslim and secular organisations. And the newspaper has issued an unconditional apology for offending Mulsim sentiments.

So how did the Prophet, an ever brooding and cloaked presence these days, come into play in Sujith's murder? How does Justice Pasha's comment explain Sujith's parents watching the slashing of their son's body before their eyes?

Enter Sebastian Paul, in a seemingly unrelated development. Paul is a secular CP (I)M player and a parliamentarian. He wrote a piece in another newspaper run by a Muslim management, critiquing the offending item, and quite clearly, he was trying to win over the sympathy and support of the minority with one eye on the elections. Now, another Sujith introducing himself as a journalist over the phone, asks Sebastian Paul for a reaction on his piece. 

The audio clip in Malayalam is a study all by itself. It makes clear Sujith's political nature and the fact that he is bright, and tenacious. It could almost be the other, deceased Sujith. The question he asks Sebastian Paul is direct. You are protective of the sentiments of Muslims when a newspaper makes comments about the anti-women nature of the Muslim Personal law and the Prophet's own many marriages, right?

The unsuspecting Sebastian Paul says: Yes.  

So, Sujith, asks when MF Hussain, or someone else, depicts a naked Hindu goddess in his art, why are the Hindu sentiments not worthy of your protection? 

Paul tries to laugh off the question at first. But Sujith is persistent and has him wriggling. He is unable to give a satisfactory answer. Finally, Sujith rings off, saying, Paul must stop acting like a thinker and deceiving people into a false sense of tolerance. In short, according to Sujith, Paul is a fraud.  

This clip has no central relevance to Kannur. But the fact remains that the political air of Kerala is volatile and that this was a week that waited to ignite. Certainly, the RSS is making good use of the clip. The propaganda must infuriate the CP(I)M. Because the RSS propaganda based on the clip is directed at youngsters - potential recruits. 

The right to free speech is conditional on the right to offend. We can't say the Hindu sensibility could be offended because most of us are Hindus in this country anyway, and that minority feelings must be protected at the risk of intellectual self-deception. Both ought to be meat for the stand-up comedian. Or the tragedian. 

I am assuming here that all these factors, and none in particular, came to the aid of fate, finally thrusting its many swords from many directions into one body at 11.45 pm on the night of February 15, as Sujith ran about and rolled in the courtyard of his family, in death's throes. It was a death foretold. Only the chronicling took some time.  

As of Wednesday, eight people have been arrested in connection with the murder. All of them are CPM workers, according to reports. That Mr P Jayarajan, a senior and thuggish CP(I)M leader, from Sujith's area is now being arrested and questioned by the CBI for his involvement in the murder of another RSS activist a few years ago, could be considered as adding a local colour to the killing.

But the real reasons why Sujith died should be a national debate, just as Rohith Vemula's state-assisted suicide has been, even though they were for different reasons. Both have to do with tolerance at a very basic level. Tolerance of caste, tolerance of gods, tolerance of flags. What's the Prophet, Pope or the Party if they are not, among other things, the stuff of mirth?

Last updated: March 17, 2016 | 16:17
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